Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17,31b-35
Do you know what I have done to you, Jesus asked the disciples. Well, the short answer is no; the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus had done. That’s clear from Peter’s reaction, and he was probably only saying what the others were thinking.
So Jesus he began to explain to them. We should remember that washing the dusty feet of guests who’d been invited to a meal was usually the task of the servants. It was a dirty job. It was part of the tradition of hospitality. It indicated to those arriving that they were welcome guests. In that sense it was not only necessary, but symbolic. By undertaking the task of a lowly servant, Jesus has turned this action on its head. He has set them an example. He has transformed this necessary action into an act of love and told them to do the same. And then asked them ‘do you get it?’
This wasn’t the only tradition that Jesus turned upside down on that evening. We heard about the first Passover meal in our first reading. The people were told : this day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. Obviously the way it was observed had already changed and developed by Jesus’ time.
Our second reading reminds us of the meal Jesus had shared before he washed the disciples’ feet. He gave the Passover meal a new meaning as he broke the loaf of bread and told them to do it in remembrance of him. Taking the cup of wine he told them remember him whenever they shared the cup, saying ‘ as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.’ This passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church predates the gospel accounts of the Last Supper. These are the words we hear in the Eucharistic prayer and when the priest breaks the bread.
As we re-enact this symbolic action, and later share in bread and wine at the Lord’s table, in what ways might we show Jesus’ love to one another? I wonder what needs turning on its head in our own time if we intend to take seriously Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he loved them. John tells us something of the extent of Jesus’ love at the beginning of our gospel reading.
Our reading ends with this reiteration of this costly love. 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.’
As we begin this Triduum, these great three days of continuous worship, let us pray that we may enter more deeply into the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and continue to follow his example of unconditional love.
The Revd. Jackie Lock, Associate Priest