The summer before each of my girls left for college was bittersweet. I remember the heavy weight of the significance of those last months, a nagging worry I had forgotten something vital to their future success in the process of raising them. Had we covered every possible topic in the preceding 18 years? Did they know how to withdraw money from their bank account? Would they remember to occasionally eat a vegetable? Did they understand the potential dangers of living in a city, talking to strangers, drinking alcohol, being alone with boys and forgetting to wash their sheets and underwear regularly? Would they be a kind and compassionate roommate and a curious and diligent student? Would they get involved, take a chance, meet new people and remember to pray?
That last summer, I wanted to tell them ALL THE THINGS. The deepest desire of my heart was to make sure they were ready to handle life once I wasn’t standing right there beside them.
Our church was completely full Thursday night for the annual Maundy Thursday service. The service began with powerfully poignant music, beautifully setting the stage for the unfolding story of Jesus’ last night with his disciples. As I listened to the familiar scriptures being read and as I meditated on the tableau enactment on the stage, I found myself moved to tears a number of times. What an emotional night that must have been for these men who had been traveling companions for 3 years!
I wonder if Jesus also had a sense of urgency as he prepared his disciples for their pending separation. As I read the Gospel accounts of the final evening in the upper room, I am struck by the power of his message to them, his parting words full of import and significance as if he was grasping this last opportunity to review all he had taught them in the previous 3 years.
I can’t imagine what the disciples must have felt when Jesus kneeled down in front of them and tenderly washed their dirty, dusty feet. Afterwards, he carefully explained his purpose.
John 13: 12-17 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Thus begins the drumbeat of the evening: Love one another. Humility and service. Sacrificial love. Love in action. Throughout the next several chapters of John, through all the many words Jesus spoke to his disciples that night, he returns repeatedly to this one theme; if you love me, you will love one another.
I’m sure the words began to run together for the disciples…
I will send the Holy Spirit to remind you of all I have taught you, so love one another. As the Father has loved me, I have loved you so remain in me and love one another. Separate from me you will struggle, so stick close to me, abide in me and love one another. If you love me, you will keep my commands. My command is this: love one another as I have loved you.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:35
Yesterday I walked the Stations of the Cross with my beloved Lamb Center community and thought about the way Jesus continued to speak to his disciples through his actions on Friday. Thursday night had been about words and symbols of his love; my body broken for you, my blood spilled out for you. Friday, the words came to life.
For 2000 years, we have continued to read those words, eat the bread, drink the cup and remember. The church in all its forms, imperfect and unfinished, beautiful and messy, broken and becoming, stops this week to remember. We remember and we remind ourselves what it means to love, sacrificially and completely, pouring ourselves out for our broken and hurting world. We ask forgiveness for our failure and vow to try again.
We have to understand the message of Thursday and Friday, if we hope for Sunday to make any sense at all.
Pause here with the disciples in this Saturday waiting. Drink in all the beauty and horror of Thursday and Friday. Grieve, confess, savor, remember.
Easter is coming soon.