Last things (Holy Thursday)
If you knew that you were going to die soon, what would you spend your last days doing?
It’s a depressing thought, isn’t it?
Not too long ago, I watched a movie called “The Bucket List,” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
In it, the two play characters with very different backgrounds, but share one thing in common:
They are both terminally ill.
They also share a hospital room.
And so, as you can imagine, the two of them get to talking and decide to share their bucket lists — things they want to do before “kicking the bucket.”
They skydive, race classic muscle cars, ride a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, go on a safari, visit shrines in India…
And, of course, they both have to come to terms with reconciling, to some extent, with those they love.
In real life, we hear or read stories like this frequently.
And we also hear and read the stories of people who when faced with impending death, want to impart some wisdom or share their thoughts before their time is up.
I read a few accounts of parents who when faced with news such as this write some instructions to their children of how they should live their lives.
The really important stuff they need to know in life.
These are lessons from loving teachers, who aren’t really thinking about themselves — like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman…
They’re thinking about others, those whom they love.
Jesus is squarely in that latter camp here in our reading tonight, isn’t he?
And he’s been in that camp for all of his ministry on earth, to be honest.
Yet time and time again, his friends and followers don’t really understand what Jesus is telling them about the last things…
Jesus knows he’s about to be betrayed into the hands of people who will beat him, humiliate him and then send him to an agonizing death on the cross.
His friends, they don’t seem to really get that, do they?
They’re still thinking that this messiah is going to reconstruct Jerusalem.
They wonder who among them will be seated higher in heaven.
They think their own characters aren’t capable of denying Jesus.
And they don’t really understand the lives they are called to lead now, and the deaths that they will endure for Jesus either.
And Jesus knows his time is very limited now.
He must feel that awful weight bearing down upon him.
“Take this from me,” he’ll ask his Father on this very night.
And so if it’s your very last night, maybe you would want to spend the evening with your loved ones having a great meal and good conversation.
Jesus does this, too. But even right up to the end, he remains their teacher.
After all, there is still so much left to say…
John provides this very commentary in this passage of the Last Supper.
Except John’s focus isn’t on that last meal as much as it is Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
John tells us in the first verse of Chapter 13 that “Jesus knew his hour had come to depart this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
It’s the celebration of Passover, and Jesus is with his friends about to share in the Passover meal.
We remember, as we read in Exodus 12, that God tells Moses, who will lead God’s people — the Hebrews— out of Egyptian slavery from under Pharaoh’s brutal grip.
We read in Exodus 12, beginning in Verse 11:
“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.
It is the passover of the Lord.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals;
on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I AM the Lord.
The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
It’s by no coincidence that on this night, they will break bread together during Passover.
See, Jesus will become the Passover lamb for not only his friends and disciples, but for all of us, too.
Every last one.
It’s Jesus’s blood that will spare us and our homes the pain of death for our disobedience, for our sins.
Jesus knows this. It’s no coincidence.
But John is not playing up the breaking of the bread and sharing in the wine — what we would call the eucharist.
Because John doesn’t want us to think of eucharist as being only connected to the Last Supper.
John wants us to see that the eucharist — this Holy Communion — is in everything Jesus does.
That’s not to say that this Last Supper isn’t important; it is.
It’s just that it’s at the Last Supper — this sharing of Christ’s body — that we see John’s emphasis of Jesus’s great love.
And the example of this great love comes beginning in Verse 3, as Jesus gets up from the table, wraps a towel around himself, pours water into a basin and begins to wash his friends’ feet — even Judas, who Jesus already knows, will sell Jesus’s life for 30 pieces of silver, or about $600 in today’s economy.
Peter, who always seems to be the one who acts first and thinks second, says no, Lord. “You will never wash my feet.”
And Jesus tells his friend Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no place with me.”
Peter says “Then not only my feet, but my hands and my head!”
Last in line
It’s amazing to me some 2000 years after this event, and that we call ourselves Christ followers, how we so often forget this important teaching of Jesus.
These are the last things Jesus wants to do before he dies.
After this night, the example that we see will be his 100 percent conviction to the Father in going to the cross.
The strength and faith that this will take.
And rather than sitting back and soaking in the last moments,
rather than acting on some bucket list,
rather than holding tightly to his friends and letting them console him,
and rather than even going to the Garden of Gethsemane immediately to pray and ask God to take this death from him,
Jesus instead shows them what love looks like.
Not in name, but in action.
He doesn’t just talk about it; he shows them.
He could have just told them, “Look, here’s what I want you to do!”
Instead, he embodies the lesson. He washes their feet!
He shows them what love looks like.
Because Love does things. It doesn’t just say things.
We look around this world, and we see signs everywhere that talk of one’s love for others.
Or one’s love for their own self.
I suppose making donations to hospitals and to churches are acts of love,
but why is it we’re so compelled to let the whole world know about it?
Christ taught humility.
Where is that?
I think we must just forget about that when we want hospital wings or commerce centers or highway bypasses named after us or others.
If we really want to honor someone, don’t put their names on buildings or road signs;
go out and make hospital visits or clean up a roadway in their name.
Don’t engrave their names on every offering plate or candlestick holder or inscription on the inside cover of the Bible;
honor them by serving with those plates, being the light of the world and reading those Bibles to those who need to hear the word!
If you want to honor someone, act in their love, not in their name only.
Jesus could have very easily skipped this lesson.
But how would his disciples know truly what servant-leadership is?
Instead, maybe they would have gone around with the power of the Holy Spirit yet full of themselves for being able to heal the sick and raise the dead.
So many churches have the name of Jesus Christ emblazoned upon them thinking they honor their savior. But they never really serve like Jesus teaches them to do…
We have too many churches like that in name only.
Too many Christians like that in name only.
Jesus says NO!
Watch this and learn from me, he tells them.
After he washes all their feet, he tells them “Do you know what I’ve done TO you? (Verse 12).
Do you hear that?
It’s not, “Do you know what I’ve done “FOR you,” but “TO you.”
The disciples were most likely amazed at the strength of Jesus in that moment.
A servant, in that culture, and just like today, would be seen as weak.
No man would ever wash another’s feet unless that man was well below them on the societal rungs of that ladder.
Jesus is strong.
And in being strong in his teaching and in his love and in his example, he changes them.
“Do you know what I’ve done TO you?”
He transforms them.
That is what John wants us to see here.
That because of love like this, we are changed.
And this is how we’re to live our lives.
Jesus tells them “You don’t know what I’m doing right now, but later you will understand.” (Verse 7.)
They will all understand because it is Jesus’s last teaching to them.
It’s his Last Things that he wants to tell them.
And they will NEVER forget that night,
and they will NEVER forget that teaching,
and they will NEVER forget that love.
It’s in that teaching and in those actions that they are transformed to be strong enough to go where Jesus will call them to go — even unto their own martyred deaths.
They will never forget,
and we shouldn’t either.
And just in case they or we don’t get that message clearly, Jesus says beginning in verse 13:
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I AM.
If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. (Not should , but must)
I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.
I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them.
Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.”
You see, we don’t serve one another because Jesus tells us to serve.
We serve one another to glorify God.
And in glorifying God, we make visible the presence of God.
It’s not for our glory.
And when we say we serve because we are Christians, we’re not altogether on the mark.
We serve because we want to glorify God.
We want to make visible the presence of God.
We want others to see God.
Jesus says in Verse 31, “Now the Son has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.
If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Son in himself and will glorify him immediately.”
And then Jesus leaves them with the New Commandment:
“Love one another just as I have loved you.
“This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
These are the Last Things Jesus wants his disciples to know.
And tonight, in this very house, Jesus wants us to remember those last things as well.
We’re here, and we’re about to break bread at this table and serve one another.
Not because that’s what a Christian should do.
But because as God’s children, we should want to.
Because when we do, we glorify God.
We make God’s presence visible right here.
Because this is the last time we’ll break bread together at this table until Easter morning.
The disciples were told all these things.
They were told by Jesus that one at their table would deceive him.
They were told by Jesus that he was going back to the Father, and that “where I’m going, you cannot come.”
They didn’t know the agony that Jesus was feeling.
If they really understood that, then maybe the night would have gone differently.
Maybe they wouldn’t have just fallen asleep in the Garden where Jesus was sweating blood, literally.
But they would come to understand it, and understand it quickly, too.
But in that moment, what they saw had transformed them forever.
So tonight, as we serve one another, let us pray that we are transformed as well.