(A meditation based on John 13:1-17, 31-35 for Maundy Thursday 2010)
On Friday we will see the crucified Jesus.
On Sunday we will see the resurrected Jesus.
But here on Thursday we see the serving Jesus.
That sight tells us a lot about Jesus.
See him there, kneeling before his disciples—including Judas who will betray him and Peter who will deny him and Thomas who will doubt him and the rest who will desert him—and washing their dirty feet.
See him there, the great King, the promised Messiah, the Son of God—assuming the position of a slave.
See him there, just a little while before he will be arrested, just a few hours before he will be crucified—not contemplating his fate, not getting his affairs in order, not bemoaning his destiny, but serving his friends and at least one of his enemies.
We talk a lot about how we want to be like Jesus and about how important it is that we be Christ-like in the ways that we live as we can be but sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine what such living would look like. We frankly struggle over what it means to “be crucified with Christ” and to “be raised to new life in him.” We don’t doubt that we are but we’re not sure how to live it out.
We see Jesus crucified and we wonder how to join him in that—it sounds mighty hard.
We see Jesus raised and we wonder how to join him in that—it sounds mighty hard.
We see Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, serving them until the very end—and, well, it still sounds mighty hard, doesn’t it?
Isn’t that odd, though? After all, it’s a simple act, this washing of the feet, and even if we don’t feel compelled literally to wash one another’s feet, we know what Jesus wants us to do in light of his example, since he told us:
“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” (vv. 13-16).
So there it is: Jesus, who is our Teacher and our Lord, who is our Master and our Messiah, stooped down and became a servant to those who were his servants; he emptied himself and gave of himself and offered himself and sacrificed himself and humbled himself—and told us to do the same thing for one another.
No doubt Jesus was aware of the power in the irony of what he was doing but I can’t help but think that he wasn’t terribly self-conscious about it. To the contrary, I believe that Jesus emptied himself and gave of himself and served others because it was his heart, it was his nature, to do so. I also believe that such should be the goal of our lives as Christians—we want to grow in our faith and in our walk with Christ and in grace and in love so that it becomes our heart and our nature to think of others before we do ourselves, to give for the sake of others rather than to grasp for the sake of self, to seek to serve rather than to seek to be served.
In the meantime, perhaps we need to develop the discipline of serving each other until it becomes our nature. Perhaps we need to serve others whether we want to or not and whether we feel like it or not, all the while practicing the disciplines of prayer and Bible study and devotion that will, along with acts of service, grow our hearts and spirits in the right direction.
After all, Jesus did put it in the form of a command, didn’t he? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (v. 34). He is our Lord and Teacher; if he said do it, we should do it!
But make no mistake about it: the goal is not to serve like Jesus because we think we have to; the goal is to serve like Jesus because his love so overflows in us that we want to.
Like I said, while it may sound simple it still sounds mighty hard to us and that because we still have a long way to go. And really, to get to the point where we serve each other because we want to do so is in fact tied in with our being crucified with Christ—our dying to ourselves—and with our being raised to new life in Christ—our coming to live Christ’s kind of life in the world.
In that room, gathered with his disciples on the night he was betrayed and denied and deserted, we see Jesus serving. When we leave this place with that picture still in our minds, I pray that we will see ourselves and that we will see each other serving one another—not in our minds but in reality.