John 13.1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday 2013
When Mara and I were married this past October, we received a gift from one of my friends and colleagues. It is a beautiful porcelain washing basin and pitcher with a note attached to it reminding us that the relationship that we share is one that is based upon the service that we give to one another – that the life that we share is one based upon the many different ways that Mara and I will wash each other's feet in the coming years. Of course, I don't mean that the whole reason that we are married and stay married is because how we scrub between each other's toes on a weekly basis. But it is based upon the ways in which we give of ourselves in service to one another. It is based upon how we listen to one another as we communicate our concerns and struggles. It is based upon the things we do for each other when we are sick to help the healing process. It is even based upon things like how I like to make sure that I've picked up the living room before Mara gets home from school after living the bachelor lifestyle for a few days. Our relationship is based upon love, but it is love lived out giving of the self for the sake of the other. Mara and I aren't perfect at making sure that our relationship is lived out in this way of every single day, but my guess is that none of our relationships are lived out in perfect service to one another every single hour of every single day.
This night that we contemplate right her and now is the very night in which Jesus puts on display the kind of loving service that marks good relationships. Yet, it is also the night in which we see just how hard it can be for people like us to carry out this kind of loving service, especially when things start to go wrong. Those people like us are the owners of the feet that Jesus is kneeling down to wash on this night. These disciples, they vow that will never leave Jesus' side. They vow that they will follow Jesus' example. They even vow that they would never betray him. But soon, the disciples will scatter. Soon, the disciples will say that they don't even know him. Soon, one of the disciples in particular will hand Jesus over to be falsely accused, beaten, and executed.
Yet Jesus still calls them friends. Jesus still wants to be in relationship with these people. And that perhaps is why Jesus continues forward to accomplish what has been set before him. Jesus is seeking a relationship with us as well.
That kind of relationship that Jesus seeking with us all demands to be more than a simple exchange where we are concerned with what we are getting out of him. The relationship that we have in Christ is not one based upon how many wonderful and great things we are getting from God. This relationship is based upon loving service where you're as concerned with how you are caring for another as much as how someone else is giving you something you need. And this is a reality that is even born out in our human relationships. If we are only concerned with what we can get from our friend or lover, whether it be how much fun that other person can give us or how that person can give us the sex that we want, then we have turned that other person into a vending machine that dispenses what we want when we want it.
But Jesus wants a different, life-giving kind of relationship. Jesus wants us to give of ourselves as we have been given great and tremendous gifts. Jesus gives of himself for our sake. He wants us to give of ourselves too so that love may actually then be found in abundance, rather than have it be a scarce resource that doled out carefully only when the correct price has been paid. Yet there is something still greater that Jesus gives us as we try to live out that relationship: forgiveness when the disciples fail to follow Jesus and his example of loving service, forgiveness when we fail to follow Jesus and his example of loving service. How do we know that that forgiveness is there? Because Jesus still turns to these disciples, the ones who betray him, deny him, and abandon him and he still calls them his friends – all on the night in which that betrayal, denial, and abandonment is going to take place. He still gives them the great gift of his presence in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. That forgiveness becomes essential in our relationship with God, just as much as that forgiveness is essential in our relationship with each other.
The plain and simple truth is that God has a deep, abiding, unsearchable love for us and the whole of creation. There's not much of a rational reason as to why God loves us so much. God just simply does. And in that love, God gives of God's self to us. God gives to us that very same loving service which Jesus beckons the disciples to on this evening. God loves you. God the Father gives up his very own Son for us. God goes to the very depths of hell for us. And there is nothing you can do about it. Except perhaps, by loving each other in service and forgiveness to each other, as Jesus loves us in service and forgiveness.