The Last Gift

(Maundy Thursday – John 13.1-15))

 4-13-06

 

After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said to them, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13.15)

 

Have you noticed that we Christians often have a backward way of thinking.  By that I mean, that instead of being forward-looking thinkers and planners, we are often just the opposite.  Backward looking.  Examiners of what has gone on before.  That is a significant characteristic of the church.  We are an institution that is very intentional about looking backward in order to plan a way forward. 

Probably no other entity spends as much time and effort as we do, looking at the examples in history and reading ancient texts as a way to understand what to do in the present and to help plan for the future.  I mean, what other ongoing concern would convene a Board meeting and start the planning session by saying, OK, let’s look at how they did things two thousand years ago.  By definition, progress dictates that we have moved on.  The lessons of the past have long ago been improved and forgotten.

But the church is different.  We are always looking back – often wa-aay back – to try to work out things in the present and to plan for the future.   Therefore, many of our traditions and much of our liturgy are just that – specific attempts to bring the past into the present - in a way that is meaningful to our current lives. 

That is also the job of the preacher . . . .  to use what has gone before – to take the ancient biblical stories - and apply them to our daily lives. 

Now, I say all of that because Maundy Thursday is one of those times when our liturgy takes us back into the past – to a specific time in the past that was very important to the Jewish faith – that being the time of the celebration of the Passover.  And it was a time that subsequently turned out to be very important for Christians as well.   

Our readings and our liturgy tonight take us back to that last night of Jesus’ life – the night when he gathered with the people that meant the most to him – his disciples.  And Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands; in other words, knowing that it was his last evening with his followers, shared a final meal.

Maundy Thursday is a time when we go back and try to feel what it was like in that room.  Jesus knows that this is the last chance that his followers have to understand his message.  So what he tells them on this night is the absolute essence of his reason for being – and is the very basis of our beings as Christians. 

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So on his last night with the people that he loved, he gave them the greatest gift that he had to give.  In fact he gave them two gifts. 

The first gift was that he taught them how to remember him.  How to bring him back into the present after his death.  “I won’t really be gone from you,” he said, “because every time that you eat this bread and drink from this cup, I will be present with you.” 

And by doing that, Jesus also left us with the means to get in closer touch with God through his presence with us at Holy Communion. 

Each time we take the bread as he did.  Each time we drink from the cup as he did.  We bring Jesus back into the present with us.  We are in closer touch with the God who loves us and who wanted so much on his last night on earth to convey that love forever.

The second gift that Jesus gave us was to remind us of how to love each other.  On his last night with the people that he loved, he showed them that love is to be an unselfish gift.  He didn’t give them anything of monetary value – didn’t pass out the things that he wouldn’t be needing any longer.  He didn’t give them secret wisdom.    

Instead he simply gave himself to them through a simple act of service.  By taking the lowest position – the position of servant – and washing their feet.  Jesus stripped away all pretenses and pride and embarrassment.  And loved them unconditionally.  Loved them at the very core of his being. 

And Jesus makes it absolutely clear that he wants us to love as he loved us.  The kind of love that is made known by giving ourselves unconditionally – nothing held back - to God and to others.  Love that is not a gift that is given out of our extra stuff.  Not: Oh, I had one of these lying around and thought you might like to have it.  Not: Lord, I give you what I haven’t already spent on myself this month.  That is not the gift that Jesus gives. 

Jesus gives the essence of himself to us.  And shows us how to do the same for each other.

I remember that I said last year that I really don’t like this foot washing stuff much.  That’s still mostly true.  When my feet are being washed up here, I usually feel more embarrassment than love.

But I also realize how silly that is.  Foot washing has little cultural significance for us.  So whatever discomfort we feel is much less than the disciples felt when their teacher – their Messiah - washed their.  We read that Simon Peter even says, no way man – You will never wash my feet.”

But Jesus says, let me

Let me do it so that I can show you how much I love you.  Let me humble myself to the status of your servant so that you can understand that my love for you is unconditional – that I hold nothing back – that my love for you is beyond embarrassment.

Love that is beyond embarrassment.  Love that we are willing to proclaim in front of God and everyone, because we want to be oh so very sure that the other person hears how much we love them.  Before it is too late.  Before it is our last supper.

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So I invite you to enter into a last supper with me.  Put aside your embarrassment and your uncertainty - as if this was your last night.  Let Jesus and others here who love you, demonstrate that unconditional love.  Love that knows no embarrassment.  Love that knows no tomorrow. 

And I also invite you to use your vigil time tonight or tomorrow morning to open your hearts up to God in prayer.  And talk to God as if this is your last opportunity to say what you want to say.  Because tonight is the last supper.  Amen.