Exodus 12:1-14 Psalm 116: 1, 10-17 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31b-35
This service is about the last supper. We participate in the last supper each time we celebrate the Eucharist – but tonight we will not just celebrate the Eucharist, we will begin to focus our attention on the passion of Christ – the part of the story which is included in the Eucharistic Prayer, but only briefly by saying he died for us and was betrayed – the wording varies somewhat depending on the Eucharistic Prayer we use. After celebrating the Eucharist tonight, we will remove the symbols of Christ’s presence from our altar. A stark reminder that Jesus was taken from us, his disciples, on this night.
We will continue to experience the passion of Christ tomorrow with our Good Friday Services. The passion of Christ is only part of the story, and important part, but only a part. At the Great Vigil of Easter Saturday night, we will conclude this service with a celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death. Tonight, however, our focus is on the events of this evening using the gospel of John as our source.
During the Last Supper, John tells us, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” John goes on to tell us in detail how Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, but these two verses I just read tell us a great deal.
First, they tell us what Jesus knows, he knows “that the Father had given all things into his hands.” So, Jesus has a choice about what will happen next; Jesus is not being controlled by his Father in heaven. He knows, and he chooses not to run from the events that are unfolding, the events that will result in his torture and death.
We are also told that he knows “he had come from God and was going to God.” He knows, he does not believe, he knows. I have known people, who in the face of their own deaths, were confident and expressed no doubt that they were “going to God” and that it would be wonderful. But I have also known people of faith who did not know what to expect. They, too, faced death with a sense of peace, but only because they were comfortable in not knowing what sort of experience “going to God” might be. Their faith was not about knowing, it was a trusting, trusting God with their lives and with the future.
So, knowing what he does, Jesus gets up from the table, removes his outer robe in order to do what comes naturally to him. Jesus assumes the role of a servant. He is many things, he is a healer, a teacher, and a prophet. Tonight, however, he is a servant in order to teach his disciple, to teach us, one of the most important lessons we need to learn.
After washing their feet, Jesus dresses, returns to the table and says, “You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s’ feet.” Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus says, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” Jesus is teaching us to serve one another.
Jesus says also, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” By word and by example Jesus teaches us to care for one another. Then he tells us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We bare witness to God’s love by expressing love, by serving others, just as Jesus served others.
This is John’s account of the Last Supper. He does not mention the bread and the wine, we are taught about that from the other gospels. In John, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. And, following his example, I will wash your feet, if you will let me. Afterwards, we will celebrate the Eucharist and then remember what happens after the Last Supper. Jesus is taken from the disciples. We will remember this by stripping the altar of the symbols of Christ. Even the reserve sacrament will be removed from the altar.
Remember, Jesus knows. And we know, too, what will happen after he shares the Last Supper with his disciples. Each year when the altar is stripped bare, I experience a sense of despair, similar in part, to what the disciples must have felt when Jesus was taken from them.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, on this night you taught us to face adversity with faith, not fear. You commanded us to love one another, knowing that together we have the strength to overcome the challenges in this life. Help us, we pray, to be known by our love as your disciples. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.