Maundy Thursday: Candle in the wind

Love one another
"Love one another" by Paul Scott, on Flickr

John 13:1–17, 31b–35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 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. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 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. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' 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."


Wendell Berry writes,

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.

The winds are blowing in Jerusalem.

Judas already has it in his heart to betray Jesus to the authorities, who see Jesus as not just a political rebel, but as threat to the general order, to the established patterns of temple life, and to the Roman regime.

Peter is already having his doubts and fears. His misgivings and misunderstandings peek through when he misinterprets Jesus’ foot washing gesture. He boldly protests Jesus’ prediction of his denial, perhaps he doth protest too much, because he knows that he is likely to crumble under pressure, to flake out when the going gets too tough.

Pilate is in town, and Caiaphas, and crowds of people who are easily swayed by mob mentality. The streets are charged with religious fervor, with the celebratory affects of festival, with the latent political clash of God’s liberated people living under Roman occupation.

The winds are blowing in Jerusalem.

And Jesus carries a candle against the wind, along the path into the city, past the palm branches, up the steps into a small, dark, borrowed room where he sits, elbow to elbow with those whom he loves. He carries the candle of love against the tempest that is brewing:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” we read.

For everything else that Maundy Thursday is about - holy suppers, washing feet, confessing together and hearing sweet and sacred words of forgiveness - this Thursday in Holy Week is always primarily about love.

The life of Christ hangs in the balance for saying radical things like, “All the commandments boil down into two: Love God and Love your neighbor” and worse yet, he has said stuff like “love your enemies, bless those who curse you.”

And now here he sits at table with his mixed bag of disciples - tax collectors and zealots and fishermen and contemplatives and betrayers and deniers. And at this table, he eats, drinks, serves, and then gives them a new command: that they love one another as he has loved them. A new command that love be his legacy and theirs. A new command to do the work of love, and by love to reveal God the Father and Christ the Son to the world.

The command is new because it is bigger than loving your neighbor as yourself. It is a new command to love your neighbors as Christ would love them. The new covenant in Jesus’ blood is a two-way promise of love. Christ, on his way to die for love of us. We, living beyond Christ’s death to bring his love to the world.

Loving as we have been loved. This is the candle we carry in the wind.

And the winds are blowing outside.

A few weeks ago, a bill passed in Utah to allow execution by firing squad. This morning, an attack on a university in Kenya was carried out by religious extremists. ISIS marches deeper and deeper into the heart of Syria. States in our nation are passing “religious freedom” laws that do not actually advance the cause of holy freedom, but hinder it.

A common thread among major religions of the world is the call toward love and service. And whenever religion interprets the idea of “freedom” or “liberation” as a way to love our ideas and reject our neighbors, then religion has failed.

Especially Christianity.

The new covenant in Christ’s blood, the meal that we share together, is a promise of our own liberation from sins, deaths, devils, and all powers of darkness. It is our promise that God forgives us, loves us, shows us grace upon grace.

We walk away from the meal holding onto two truths: 1 - that we have been shown liberating love in the sharing of Christ’s body, and 2 - that we are called and nourished to show liberating love to all whom we encounter.

Mind you, Jesus doesn’t ask us to like our neighbors, or to agree with them, or to excuse bad behavior, even. But Jesus does tell us to love one another.

There Judas is, sitting at dinner with Jesus and the rest of the disciples, and Jesus already knows that Judas is about to take off running from that upper room to give the secret signal to the police and the army that it’s time.

I can’t believe - can you? - that Jesus particularly liked Judas in that moment. And I’m pretty sure that Jesus didn’t agree with him. But Jesus loved him. Jesus loved him and served him.

And what of Peter? He is going to deny ever knowing Jesus, and he is going to pretend that he never walked on the water and forget that he was named the rock upon which God would build the church.

Around that last meal, I am going to guess that Jesus wasn’t liking Peter all that much, either. But he loved him. Loved him and served him.

Jesus took that towel and fell to his knees and scrubbed the toes of those whom he loved. How beautiful are those feet, the ones that walked the dusty road of teaching and healing and signs and wonders with Jesus. How beautiful are those feet, carrying the message of good news into the towns and countrysides. How beautiful are those feet, even as they will run off in the garden as fear and chaos scatter the disciples. How beautiful are the feet of the tax collectors and zealots, fishermen and contemplatives, even betrayers and deniers. These are the feet that Jesus loved.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” Jesus asks.

“I have washed you clean and set you free. I have opened your eyes to see that you have been created by love, for the sake of love. I have shown you that love always manifests itself in service.”

“A new commandment I give you: that you love one another as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you show love to one another.”

Liberation. Love. Service.

This is the way of Christ. This is our new commandment. This is our candle, burning brightly, that the winds of fear and change will never extinguish.

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.
(from Leavings, 2010)