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Lent Reflections @ CEC: Maundy Thursday

Scripture context:

At the Feast of the Passover… Jesus rose from supper and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself about. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. And so he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, you shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do, you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter.”… I now say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


God on his own terms


I grew up amid an interesting mix of Christian traditions. My maternal grandparents belonged to a very large Greek Orthodox church, my uncle was an independent Baptist fundamentalist pastor, and my parents attended a small, inner-city Methodist church because it was in their neighborhood, right next door to their elementary school. Over the course of my lifetime, I have heard many sermons about this portion of scripture, the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed. Most have focused on Jesus as a model of humility and servanthood, which he himself indicates in verses 14-15: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”


In the featured Wendell Berry poem for today, the poet writes of “acts of kindness bespeaking kinship”, and uses the words faithful, self-denying, and humble. Doesn’t this remind you of Jesus? At this reading of the scripture, however, I was most intrigued by Peter’s responses. Initially, he refuses to allow Jesus to perform the lowly act of washing his feet. But when Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me,” Peter enthusiastically exclaims, “Then Lord, not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”(v.9)  Rather than complying with either of Peter’s requests, Jesus gently admonishes him to reconsider the situation in a way more aligned with God’s intents and purposes.


How often we make the same mistake! Based on our assumptions - or our very human desire to avoid discomfort - we sometimes try to tell God what to do and suggest how he might do it. In other words, we attempt to direct our relationship with God according to our terms. It is as if, like Peter, we are saying in effect, “Lord, don’t do this thing, or if you still intend to do it, do it my way.” Jesus himself makes the point that his followers do not always realize or understand what God is doing. We may think we do, and we may consequently (and sometimes enthusiastically) endeavor to “spin” a situation to fit better with our vision of who God is. We want God on our terms, especially if his terms require us to venture outside our comfort zone, to “wash one another’s feet,” as it were.


Regarding this passage of scripture, it is has sometimes been debated whether Jesus’s washing of the disciples feet was a literal or figurative command; in other words, should actual foot-washing be ceremonially included as part of Christian worship, or was Jesus’s action symbolic, indicating that each follower of Christ should minister to others with the attitude of a willing servant? One thing about this passage is crystal clear and not open to interpretation: Jesus commands us to love one another. Not requests. Not suggests. Commands.


As little as we sometimes understand about the nature of God, it is very evident that God understands human nature perfectly. He knows how easily we are tempted to follow our own way instead of his. What could be clearer than Jesus’s words in this passage: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Three times in these few sentences, Jesus emphasizes love for others as the hallmark of the faith that now bears his name, a ministry to those who ascribe to the Christian religion and a testimony to those outside it.


Love. It sent Jesus into this world to teach us to live in accordance with God’s will. It sent him to the cross to die that we might be restored to a right relationship with God. It raised him from death to life everlasting and made it possible for us to walk with him through all eternity.


Love is the very essence of God - on his own terms.


Cynthia Graff

lent booklet (2)
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