Holy Thursday April 13, 2017
Exodus 12, 1-8, 11-14 + Psalm 116 + 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26 + John 13, 1-15
St Joseph Church, Union City, OK
We are so familiar with this story; and Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th century painting has become such a familiar icon of that night that we hardly ever give it a second thought much less wonder what’s really going on around that table. There had to have been some momentary relief as they escaped the crowds who were always pushing and shoving to get near the master. There must have even been more relief to think that, for at least that night, they would be out from under the critical and watchful eye of those Scribes and Pharisees whose questions, threats, and accusations were getting more and more menacing. So around that table are the ones Jesus has chosen, fragile disciples who were forever getting things wrong, full of themselves and their ambitions, way over confident of their courage, a group with a shady background, and two who would betray him. They look just like us gathered in this church, and we look like them. We get things wrong. We are full of ourselves and our ambitions. We are fragile and not terribly consistent or dependable. We are quick to jump up and recite the Creed, but then something goes wrong when it comes living it. Nonetheless, like them, we are the ones he has chosen, and he knows us just as well as he knew them, and even so, it says here that “he loves us to the end.”
There is a double meaning to those words: to the end in terms of chronology, and to the end meaning until there is nothing left. This is a quality of love beyond human imagination. The love and the knowledge of Jesus flows from words into action as he washes their feet with directions that they are to do likewise. Make no mistake about this, what I am about to do for you and with you is not re-enacting the Last Supper. I am not pretending that I’m Jesus and some of you are apostles. I am doing what he asked for today in this community because this is what the church does and what the church is, a servant who is not greater than the master. In his talk to them, he says that he is doing this so that they may believe that “I AM.” It means quite simply that he is revealing the Love of the Father for them all, for them all – all twelve before Judas left.
A striking detail that we easily miss because we are too familiar with the story is that sharing of the morsel with Judas. It is a final exquisite gesture of love. He gives that dipped morsel to the most despised character in the gospel’s whole narrative. This never-failing love is not exclusive or selective. This is a love that reaches out to the archetype of an evil disciple revealing the unique God and Father of Jesus Christ who loves this world unconditionally. By washing their feet and sharing the morsel of bread he accepts these failed yet loved disciples.
The departure of Judas sets in motion the events promised by Jesus by which he would show them love to the end – till his death. This is the message the Jesus of John’s Gospel leaves his disciples as they gather at his table on the night before he died. It is the same message he leaves for us who gather at this table tonight. We must see that we have been loved to the end by one we have ignored, betrayed and denied as we come face to face with the remarkable understanding of God, of Jesus, and his self-giving love for us. We are the ones he sends no matter how inadequate we feel or incompetently we behave. We are the ones he loves, has chosen, and the ones he has sent for one reason only. To bear witness to a love that is beyond human imagination, but not beyond human experience.