This is a copy of a talk I gave at the Parish Communion Service on Maundy Thursday, 6 April 2023, and it is based on John 13:1-17. You can download the Service Sheet here Maundy Thursday 2023
A traveller tells the story of how he was a visiting a hospital in Southeast Asia and how he entered just as a young missionary nurse was cleaning the sores of a sick, dirty, elderly man who had been lying in a gutter. The visitor recoiled from sight and said to the nurse “I wouldn’t do that for a million pounds.” She answered quietly, “Neither would I!”
This evening I’m going to speak on John 13, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. I have three points ‘What Jesus knew. What Jesus did. What Jesus taught.’
- What Jesus Knew (13:1-3)
There are three things we are told Jesus knew:
1a. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father (John 13:1). He knew he was rapidly approaching the most important moments of his life – His destiny from the beginning of time. He knew that the pain, the shame, and the agony of the cross lay before him.
If you knew that you would die tomorrow, what would you do tonight? I would spend the time with my family, I’d probably make a few phone calls, send a few emails or texts and I’d make sure my will is in order. I’d probably also video my own funeral talk! Jesus is facing something we cannot imagine. He doesn’t say to the disciples, “Don’t you care about what I’m facing?” His focus is not on himself. He is concerned that they are prepared for what’s about to happen to them.
1b. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (John 13:2). He knew who he was: Jesus, the Lord of the Universe. If anyone didn’t have to humble himself to wash the feet of farmers and fishermen, He didn’t. But because he knew who He was, He wasn’t diminished by showing his love in humble service, he took up the towel and basin and stooped to fulfil the role of a foreign slave – to do for them what they were unwilling to do for him, let alone for one another. Are we as secure in our position as children of God that we can serve without feeling our service is in any way demeaning? Jesus knew who he was. Notice something else Jesus knew:
1c. He knew who was going to betray him (John 13:11). Judas is about to stab Jesus in the back and Jesus knows it. Being stabbed in the back is not that uncommon but what would you do if you knew it was coming? Some people’s motto is: Do unto others before they do unto you. Not Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t distance himself from Judas. He doesn’t point his finger and say to him: “How dare you, after all I’ve done for you?” He loves him to the end. He does everything possible to bring Judas to repentance. He washes his feet with the same tenderness and affection he gives to the other disciples. But it doesn’t soften Judas’ heart. Jesus comments on the pending betrayal, vs10, that all are not clean. This is another opportunity for Judas to repent. But he hardens his heart instead. Jesus knew his betrayer. In verse 26 it says Jesus dipped the bread in the dish and gave it to Judas and exposed him as the traitor.
That was Judas’ final opportunity for repentance. Opportunity after opportunity had been resisted. Satan enters him and Judas leaves to do his evil deed. We learn something about Jesus in all of this. We learn something about how he would have us deal with those who betray us. No resentment, no anger, no bitterness, only sorrow for the awful decision Judas had made and the terrible consequences that would follow.
Some of the CofE Bishops have been photographed today polishing people’s shoes. But Jesus didn’t polish the shoes of his disciples. He washed their feet, just as Pope Francis washed prisoners’ feet. Bishops, wash the feet of NHS workers, prisoners, the homeless, the refugee, the non-believer …
Could you wash the feet of your enemies? Will you serve a person knowing it probably won’t be reciprocated? Jesus knew his time. He knew his Father. He knew his betrayer.
- How Jesus Acted (13:4-5)
“So, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet” (John 17:4-5). I imagine there were a few open mouths, wide eyes and hushed conversations as the disciples realised what Jesus was doing. Without saying a word, he gives them a never to be forgotten lecture. Isn’t this the way we learn our most vivid lessons?
Notice the ‘action’ words in vs4-5.
2a. “he got up from the meal” He left his comfort zone. He made his body do something it may have not wanted to do. My alarm went off at 6:00 this morning. My body didn’t want to get up. But after a lengthy discussion with myself, I made it! To be a servant you have to first get up.
2b. “he took off the outer clothing” To serve others we usually have to lay something aside. Most of us live with a full schedule of activity. I can easily work a 10-12 hour day six days a week. If I’m going to add something unplanned into my diary, such as a funeral, something has to give, Usually admin and emails! Each of us have to give up something, to have time and energy to give to others. Jesus got up – he acted.
2c. “he wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin.” He prepared to meet the need no one else was willing to do.
2d. And “he began.” I like that. At some point we too have to begin. We can think about serving. We can pray about serving. We can prepare for serving. But at some point, we must begin to serve. A little later in John 15:13 Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for his friends”. That’s what Jesus has done for you and me. The time for service is now. So: What Jesus knew. How Jesus acted, and finally:
- What Jesus Taught (13:12-17)
Jesus begins with a question: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Do you? It goes way beyond just getting your feet washed. It goes way beyond just getting your need met. Jesus comes into our lives. He loves us. He receives us. He meets our needs.
And sometimes people think faith is all about getting our need met, getting our feet washed. No, it’s about a personal transformation of character and thinking. It’s about becoming a servant like Jesus.
In John 13:15 Jesus explains the reason he has done this. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” If my experience in God is only about me, I’ve missed something along the way. If church is just about me getting what I want, I’ve missed something quite significant in my journey of faith. In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis talks about this very danger.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable … The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.
In verse 14 Jesus directly and specifically tells the disciples what the point of his actions are. “Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” What does Jesus expect of us? It might be that we wash one another’s feet, but it also means doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of those we encounter. Especially those within our church family.
Before she died, Mother Teresa visited Phoenix, Arizona, to open a home for the poor. During that brief visit, she was interviewed by KTAR, the largest radio station in town. In a private moment, the announcer asked Mother Teresa if there was anything he could do for her. He was expecting her to request a contribution or media attention to help to raise funds. “Yes, there is. Find somebody nobody else loves and love them.”
You wont have to look far. They live next door to you and on your street. You’ll see them in coffee shops and in supermarkets. They are all around us.
We were created to serve, gifted to serve, shaped to serve, and here commanded to serve. That’s what ‘Maundy’ means. It means command. “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus promises “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). What a promise. What a privilege.
The apostle Paul understood this well. In Philippians 2:5-8 he tells us:“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself …”
May God humble each one of us on this most poignant of all nights.
A Maundy Thursday Prayer
You sent your Son into the world,
And before his hour had come,
He washed his disciples’ feet.
You had given all things into his hands.
He had come from you, and was going to you,
And what did he do?
He knelt down on the floor,
And washed his friends’ feet.
He was their teacher and their Lord,
Yet he washed their feet.
Lord God, help us learn from his example;
Help us to do as he has done for us.
The world will know we are his disciples
If we love one another.
Strengthen our hands and our wills for love
And for service.
Keep before our eyes the image of your Son,
Who, being God, became a Servant for our sake.
All glory be to him who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever.