(A Maundy Thursday sermon based on John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
It’s Thursday night—let’s follow Jesus to the table.
There Jesus shared a meal with his disciples; he did so because he loved them—“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (v. 1b). When Jesus knew that his time to leave this world was at hand, he got together for a meal with his friends.
We who follow Jesus are his friends; we are also friends to one another. When we get together we get together as friends; as we live our lives we live them together as friends.
In a very real way, though, we are more than friends to each other because we are brothers and sisters in Christ. In a very real way, we are more than friends to Jesus and Jesus is certainly more than a friend to us—he is our Lord and we are his disciples.
So we want to pay very close attention to what Jesus teaches us by his words and through his actions. We want to see how he related to his followers so that we will know how we are to relate to one another.
And what we see is that, on his last night on Earth and with his friends, he got up from the table, removed his robe, wrapped a towel around himself, got a basin of water, and washed the feet of his disciples. What we hear is him saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (vv. 14-15).
So there it is and it is plain and simple—we are to serve one another.
Motivation matters, though. Why should we serve one another beyond the reason that Jesus told us to do so (as important as that reason is!)? We should serve one another because we love one another—which Jesus also told us to do: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (vv. 34-35).
Really, though, love can’t be commanded. It has to be given—and God has given it to us! It has to be caught—and we have caught it from Jesus! It has to be lived out—and Jesus has shown us how to live it out.
To love one another, you see, means to give ourselves up for one another. Love for the Christian is not a feeling; it is rather a life-long commitment that leads us to put others ahead of ourselves. Christian love does not lead me to see others as equal to me; Christian love leads me to see others as better than myself. As Paul said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Christian loves leads me not to want to be served but leads me rather to do everything I can do to be a servant to others. And as Jesus said elsewhere, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-44).
So tonight as we follow Jesus to the table let’s reflect on the fact that we are following him with our lives. Let’s reflect on the fact that his love in us inspires and compels us to pour our love out on one another. Let’s reflect on the fact that his service leads us to lay down our lives for each other.
And let’s ask ourselves the hard questions. What attitudes or prejudices do I need to give up in order to love my sisters and brothers? Do I nurture an inappropriate sense of superiority that is actually an unchristian sense of self-righteousness that keeps me from loving my brothers and sisters? If I see any of my sisters and brothers as unworthy of my love and service am I living out the love of Jesus?
As we come to the table let’s be aware that while it matters who we are as we approach the table, it matters even more who we are when we leave it...