Thoughts on Commandment Thursday

The following was my message for the community Noon worship on April 13.

For those of us who worship on “Maundy” Thursday, Easter morning is not enough. We don’t want to gloss over the suffering of Jesus, the darkness and pain he endured, the darkness we all endure. We don’t want to escape. We want to take time for the pain. We want, as St. Paul said, to share in Christ’s suffering, as well as his resurrection. We want our heart to become more like God’s heart. All of us have noticed how loving someone without being loved, or being loved well, is a cause of suffering.

It’s a familiar story. When they gathered to eat the Passover, Jesus took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and washed the dirty feet of his disciples. He modeled for them and gave them a new commandment. (“Maundy” comes from the Latin word for commandment, so we should speak English and say Commandment Thursday.) And what is the commandment? It’s very simple. Only three words: “Love one another.” He repeats it, and adds some words that qualify the command in a way that should scare us. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Just as I have loved you….” Jesus loved these men who had failed to understand him, who were self-centered and competitive. Just after he had told them he was going to Jerusalem to be killed by the authorities, they had argued about which of them was the greatest and who would get to sit on his left and right in his kingdom. They had disappointed him. They would fail to watch with him that night in the garden. They would flee in fear after he was arrested. Yet, he washed their feet. He washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. He didn’t ask them to believe correct doctrine or to prove their orthodoxy. He simply said, “Love one another.” And, “So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

He didn’t put any conditions on their love. He said, “Love…. Wash.” He knew how easy it is for us to judge one another, to categorize one another, to love some because I approve of them or agree with them, and to turn my back on others who seem offensive. He could have said to Peter, “You’re right, Peter. You are unworthy. I won’t wash your feet.” He could have said to Judas, “You’re going to betray me. I definitely won’t wash yours.” He washed their feet. All of them.

We have heard much in the news lately about some Christians wanting to be protected by law from having to serve people they don’t approve of. For instance, a Christian who owns a bakery wants to have legal protection from having to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. It is a strange concept that a Christian would want to be protected from having to serve their neighbor. As Christians we don’t seek the state’s permission or blessing to follow the way of our Lord. It is simply our identity to be Christian. It is our identity that we love our neighbors. We are free. And yet, we are not free to do as we please. Martin Luther said it well nearly five hundred years ago. “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” We are free because God has set us free. We are bound because we are commanded to love and wash feet.

Mother Theresa didn’t ask the dying on the streets of Calcutta about their religious convictions or their sexual orientation or anything else. She washed them, and cared for them as they died. Our scripture doesn’t place any qualification on who Jesus died for, except to say “for the sin of the world.” We are not in the place of God, to approve or to disapprove of others. I think that’s good news. We are freed from the burden of judgment. We are simply told to wash feet, and to love without distinction. As I have loved you, you also should love one another.

This day and its command to love brings us to a place where we are invited to consider the darkness within us, the distinctions we make and the ways we judge those we disapprove of. It is also an invitation to consider that at the heart of life we are all loved without distinction, and how we are invited to give that same love to all.

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