Whenever we have a meal, there is at least some work that needs to be done. This work includes preparing the meal, serving it and then cleaning up again afterwards. Even if we eat take out, someone still needs to order the meal, collect the meal and then clean up again afterwards. These aren’t glamorous jobs or duties that attract a lot of acclamation or praise. They are just ordinary, everyday things that we do in order to feed ourselves or others that we share a home with.
Just before Jesus was about to be arrested, put on trial and crucified, he shared a meal with the disciples with whom he had spent the last three years. This was no ordinary meal – it was the ancient Passover meal which commemorated God’s liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and God saving them from the angel of death. At this meal together, known as the Last Supper, Jesus did a few very significant things. One was that he instituted the meal of God’s New Covenant with his people, the meal we know as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
While they were sharing this meal, another significant thing Jesus did was to give his disciples a new commandment. They were no longer to live under the old Jewish Law. Instead, Jesus taught his followers a new way to live by loving one another in the same way that he loved them (John 13:34,35; 15:12,17).
Jesus had given his disciples an example of that his love looked like earlier in the meal. The love that Jesus was teaching his disciples, which is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, wasn’t demonstrated by a fancy event, or a congregational program, or raising funds for charity work, or any of the things we can usually associate with activity in the church. Instead, Jesus gave us an example of how his love looks by using a bowl, some water and a towel.
The example Jesus gave us to follow was washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:15).
There are some important things we need to recognise in this example Jesus’ gives. Foot washing was something every household did to welcome guests into their home. It was usually the responsibility of the household slave or servant with the lowest status. It was necessary because people had been walking on hot, dusty roads all day in sandals, so feet were usually pretty dirty and smelly. It was a household job that needed to be done, but not one that people usually volunteered for.
This is the job Jesus volunteered for to show us what his love is like, and to show us how to love each other.
During this time of restrictions because of the COVID-19 virus, I have heard some people suggest that the church will have to put all of its ministry on hold. I disagree. Instead, I believe that this is a chance for us to return to the example Jesus gave us and to rethink what it means to live as Jesus’ followers in faith and love. This Maundy Thursday, as we hear again the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, as we witness him washing the feet of this followers, and then teaching us to love others in the same way we have a chance to rediscover what it means to live as Jesus disciples and learn to love in Christ-like ways.
If we are honest, how many of us like to be served rather than serve? How many of us would prefer that people do things for us rather than we do things for people? If we are happy serving, how many of us do it to gain a sense of self-worth or personal satisfaction? What is significant about Jesus’ example is that he does it purely for the sake of others and not for himself. What was important to Jesus as he washed his disciples’ feet, was that his disciples benefited from his actions, not himself. Jesus’ love is all about the other, done out of faith in the love of the Father.
As we live under the COVID-19 restrictions, we still have countless opportunities to serve others in love the way Jesus showed us. It won’t be through programs or events or fund raising or any of the things we might usually associate with church. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because it gives us a chance to really embrace the kind of love Jesus shows us. It probably won’t involve washing feet, either. Instead, it might look like cooking dinner when we normally wouldn’t. It might look like clearing the plates or doing the dishes when we’d usually expect someone else to do it. Loving in the way Jesus taught might mean taking out the rubbish, cleaning up after the pets, tidying up around the house or cleaning the bathroom without being asked, not arguing with a sibling or letting it go when someone does something to upset us. If we live on our own, it might mean contacting someone who is also on their own, offering a listening ear to someone who is struggling, or dropping some Easter eggs in to a neighbour. In countless ways every day we have countless opportunities to love each other in the way Jesus showed us in the little things we say and do that can make a difference to the lives of the people around us.
The day after he shared his last meal with his disciples, Jesus gave us the greatest display of God’s love for us by dying on the cross. I think it’s important to understand that Jesus didn’t point to his death as the example he wanted his followers to imitate. Jesus’ death on the cross was unique as the Son of God sacrificed everything out of love for us. As we trust in the perfect and infinite love he shows us by dying for us, though, Jesus wants us to follow his example and love others in ways that are similar to the way he washed his disciples’ feet. None of us can die for the sins of the world – that’s something only Jesus can do. But we can follow his example and show his love to the people closest to us every day of our lives in even the little things we do for each other.
More to think about & discuss:
- When you read this story, what questions do you have about it?
- What does washing the feet of his disciples say to you about Jesus?
- What might you have been thinking if you were one of the disciples as Jesus was washing your feet?
- What does this example tell you about the way that Jesus loves us?
- What does this example tell you about the way Jesus wants us to love each other?
- What are some practical ways you can do that tonight? Tomorrow? Into the future…?