Tonight is about love. Well, in fact, this whole weekend is about love. Using a phrase I’ve borrowed from my favorite Christian singer/songwriter, Michael Card, we can say that Jesus is the One who loves us so much that he “would really rather die than to live without us.” Love is at the heart of all that we do and say, all that we pray and sing, all that we remember and enact on these 3 days.
John begins his account of the Passion with these words from Chapter 13: Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And so he sets the stage. It’s like the ultimate director’s note at the start of the world’s ultimate drama.
If you’re wondering why we’re here – It’s about love.
If you’re wondering why Jesus suffered and died – It’s about love.
If you’re wondering how to sum up the whole word of God – It’s about love…
Having loved his own, he loved them to the end, and he loves us so, as well. And it’s that sure, unending, steadfast love that draws us back time and time again, trusting enough to confess our sins, knowing that what we’ll receive in response is nothing less than the complete forgiveness of all of our sins, and that we hear that word and receive it as God’s own word to us each and all. And we should never doubt these words, but firmly believe that through them our sins are forgiven by God – that we stand before God cleansed and forgiven.
When we hear the words of absolution: “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all of your sins” we should not doubt that such forgiveness comes to us in the name and by the command of our Lord Jesus who, in his great love for us, forgives us all of our sins…
Having loved his own, he loved them to the end, and he loves us so, as well. It’s that love that compelled Christ Jesus to a life of service, and that’s at the heart of his call to us and to all the baptized to take up the cross and come and follow me. The way of Christ is the way of utter humiliation. He loves us that much.
As he sat at table with his closest friends on the night of his betrayal and arrest, he demonstrated the depths of his humility. And just as Paul encouraged us on Sunday, in our reading from Philippians 2, to let the same mind be in us that was also in Christ Jesus, so, too, Jesus tells his disciples, after washing their feet, that they ought to wash one another’s feet.
And, look, it’s not a nice thing to do. Feet can be pretty nasty. But that’s the point, right? It wouldn’t involve humiliation if feet weren’t nasty! It wouldn’t require a depth of love, and empathy, and compassion, and a willingness to be vulnerable on the part of the person bearing their feet, and a willingness to be humble on the part of the person washing another’s feet, if feet weren’t often, shall we say, less than our most attractive feature.
Jesus, in great love for them, washes the feet of his disciples, and calls us to demonstrate that same depth of love by doing the same for one another…
Having loved his own, he loved them to the end, and he loves us so, as well. One of the most loving things one can do for another is to feed them, and I don’t just say that because I’m Italian. To feed another is to provide for one of the most basic of human needs. But Jesus not only feeds his faithful disciples, if any of them can really be called faithful – abandoning and denying bunch that they are – but he feeds Judas, too!
Now John doesn’t recount the meal, but from the other Gospels we know that Judas is still there when Jesus shares the bread and cup with them, establishing a new covenant and promising the forgiveness of sins in the eating and drinking of his broken body and shed blood.
Jesus not only serves as host of this meal, but he feeds them with himself as he does for us each time we gather at the Lord’s Table. What could be a deeper demonstration of love than that?…
Having loved his own, he loved them to the end, and he loves us so, as well.
At the end of our time together tonight, as we complete the first part of this 3 day worship experience, we’ll strip the table, and, in fact, the whole worship space, of every adornment, even as Christ Jesus was stripped of his clothing, stripped of his dignity, stripped of his life, after which you’re invited to stay and pray for as long as you’d like into the night.
If you are not staying in prayer, please depart in silence and return tomorrow. At 3 and 7:30 we’ll continue to keep the 3 days together, entering into the contemplation of Christ’s suffering and death.
For now, after a few moments of silence, we’ll sing “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant” #659 in ELW, as we prepare ourselves to wash and be washed, following the example of the One who loves his own to the end.