‘I give you another commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.’
Some of the most beautiful, hard, and challenging words in the gospel: love one another, love as I have loved you.
Of course the apostles don’t know at this stage quite how Jesus is to show his love. They don’t know that on the cross as Jesus died the love of God is to be glorified. Neither do they know that they have just received a divine tutorial in the art of loving through the events of the Last Supper. They, the apostles, are still hoping that Jesus will find another more worldly way to be the Messiah. Yes, they want to be loved, but differently.
The Last Supper is the most remarkable of events. Jesus, who by this stage knows that he is going to die on the cross, takes the time to feed his closest friends, including, perhaps especially, Judas the betrayer and Peter the denier, with bread and wine, and then he washes their feet.
Only slaves, the lowest of the low, washed feet and they washed the feet of the refined and the powerful. Ordinary people, smelly people, dirty people, such as fisherman and tax collectors didn’t have their feet washed. What Jesus is saying through this incredible act is simply this: I esteem you and I love you. And, of course he speaks, through his actions, as the Messiah the Son of the Living God. God, it seems, wants to wash us and cleanse us, from His knees. He wants to do so that we too, in turn, can obey the new commandment to love one another just as he has loved us. Through this simple act Jesus turns on its head the traditional concepts of power and authority and redefines them as loving, humble service.
If we are to keep Jesus’ final commandment to us, ‘to love one another', we need to first of all learn the art of opening ourselves up to love’s extraordinary power and authority. The way we do this is simple, yet difficult. In fact it is so simple that we can barely believe it. All we need to do is open our hearts and extend our hands and say ‘thank you' : ‘thank you that you are the God who stoops to cleanse us, thank you that you are the God who feeds us in bread and wine.’ So when you come to receive the sacrament in a few minutes time, please do so with hands extended and gratitude in your hearts.
In a very real and scary sense we need to decide for ourselves tonight whether we are more akin to Peter, who has just had all his assumptions turned upside down, who can scarcely believe that his Lord is prepared to stoop and wash his feet, and yet despite all his protestations remains and receives, or more like Judas, who chooses to reject the love he is being offered for free. Whether to be more like Peter, even though his thinking is muddled and even though the following day he is going to deny Jesus, or more like Judas who can’t even bring himself to take the first step into knowing that he is loved, is the key to understanding Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday’s concern is the free offering of God’s unconditional and transformational love.
If we are open, however feebly, like Peter, to the love of God our very lives will be transformed. We too will become great lovers. In 1 John 4 verse 19 we read that ‘we love because he first loved us.’ Tonight let us allow Jesus to take the initiative and allow ourselves to be re-schooled in the art of love. All we need to do is open our hearts and extend our hands in gratitude, allowing ourselves to be fed by, and feast upon, the King of Love, our Lord, and Saviour Jesus Christ,