John 13:1-17, 31b-35
“I have set you an example”
This is Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin word, “mandate” – as in, we are “mandated” to do these things that Jesus told us to do.
He said that every time we eat bread together and share wine around a table, we should remember him. Remember his love for us. Remember his giving himself for us. Remember that he, himself, is like bread for our souls, giving us life.
And he said that we should love one another. We should serve one another. Humbling ourselves, getting down on our knees, and washing each other’s stinky feet.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are mandated to do these things. These are the things that Jesus commands us to do.
But if there is one thing that we must learn about Christianity, one thing that we must embrace about the Way of Jesus, it is that his is not a religion of rules and regulations, of blindly obeying commandments and mandates from on high.
Certainly, the commandments can help us along the way by giving us some direction and guiding us along the path of God’s love. Jesus didn’t reject the commandments, but he looked for what was most important – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind… and love your neighbour as yourself. This is the first and the greatest commandment.
But he was also willing to set the commandments to the side sometimes when the circumstances meant following them would be to miss the point of loving.
“Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone,” he said when the people wanted to apply the required punishment for a person caught in adultery.
“The Sabbath is made for people, not the other way around,” he explained when they challenged him for healing the sick and helping the poor on the religious day of rest.
What Jesus did that many religious leaders have failed to do, was that he did not simply teach the commandments. He did not only preach and enforce the rules and regulations. But he showed us what it would actually look like to live according to the spirit of love that is the heart of those commandments.
He set us an example. He enacted and fulfilled the same commandments that he was mandating us to follow.
He was not a hypocritical teacher who says, “Do as I say, not as I do.” He was a true leader, who said, “Follow me, and I will show you how to live.”
When I think about my childhood, I am so grateful for the fact that I was deeply and unconditionally loved – by my parents, my grandparents, my church family, and others.
Because as much as opportunities for education, Sunday School, and such were good for setting me on a good path, I am most grateful for what I learned about how to love from those who loved me first.
Those who did not receive such a gift in their childhood… because they were neglected or abused, because they were not part of a loving community… they usually struggle as adults as well, as partners and parents and community members. Because even if someone taught them that they should be faithful to their spouse and they should put their children first and love them without reserve… no one showed them how to do it. No one loved them first.
Except Jesus. While we were still sinners, broken and wounded, Jesus loved us. He came to us in human form, accepted us as we are, lived with us in community, shared with us generously, and taught us by his love that we are God’s beloved children.
Tonight we celebrate that amazing gracious love of Jesus for each one of us as we wash one another’s hands. When someone washes your hands, I invite you to imagine Jesus washing you – cleansing you from sin, caring for your needs, giving himself in loving service for you because you are God’s beloved child.
And when you wash someone else’s hands, I invite you to imagine yourself in the place of Jesus – enacting God’s perfect, unconditional love for that one person who is standing in front of you.
And when we go out from this ritual and this remembering, may our loving one another continue to be enacted, as we give and receive the love of God in our relationships day-by-day.