(Image by hudsoncrafted from Pixabay)
For those unable to join our Maundy Thursday Virtual Agape Meal, you might find these readings and reflections helpful to read at home…
Bible Reading: John 15:9-17 (NLT)
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Reflection 1: Love One Another as I Have Love You
Love one another as I have loved you.
That’s what he said.
But what did it mean? What did it mean to love as he did?
He was such a mixture of things, our friend, our leader…our Messiah?
He would dandy a toddler on his knee one moment and face down a religious leader the next. Tenderness followed by terrifying certitude. Who was he, this man?
It wasn’t much better if you were his friend. One minute he would be in the boat, hauling the ropes of the net, taking in the sail, laughing, eating, chatting… And then these moments of bewildering otherness, where the wind and waves obeyed him, and his authority shone from him like fire.
Love seems such a gentle word, and yes, he could be gentle. To the bruised and broken, his look, his words, his touch held them so kindly – they dared believe that new life was possible.
But as he tipped over tables of coins and doves, was that love too? Love for God and for all God’s children? Love which abhorred the barriers that kept them apart? Love which revolted at injustice and exploitation?
Maybe, maybe it was. Love can make us fierce after all.
I suppose what I noticed about the love Jesus had, was that it made him give everything, absolutely EVERYTHING. He turned up completely, with all that he had and was, and offered it to us and to his Father.
The thing was…that night…we had no idea how much more he would give.
Bible Reading: John 13:1-17 (NLT)
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
Smelly, dirty feet.
We had been out and about all day preparing for the Passover. The city was heaving with people and animals as Jews gathered for the great festival. The roads and the alleys were thick with dust and debris. Our feet were filthy. Not that we noticed much, in the end, as our noses were accustomed to the stink.
Gathered in the upper room, body odours were lost in the aroma of roasting lamb. We anticipated a tasty meal. We anticipated too that Jesus’ ministry was about to come to its climax, and the atmosphere was electric. Would it be soon? Would we see him reign as the rightful and righteous King of Israel? Our engaging yet enigmatic friend – would he finally reveal the glory that we had seen in glimpses and snatches over the past three years?
We could barely breathe.
And then, he takes off his outer robe, takes a towel and bowl from the servant and kneels down at my feet. In the chaos and chatter of the party, he radiates the stillness of one who knows exactly what he is doing. He is the only one. As people see what has happened, the talk subsides to confused whispers, embarrassed looks, silent shock…
And slowly he washes my feet, tenderly, like my Mum used to do. Then he pats them dry with the rough cloth. My grimy skin is now pink and new. I look at him in puzzlement, my face asking the question I have no words to speak. He smiles briefly and moves on to my neighbour.
When he finished washing our feet, even those of protesting Peter, he put on his robe and sat back at the table. And we began to see that glory might not look quite as we had imagined it. Our friend was a very different sort of King. Little did we know this was only the beginning…
Bible Reading: Mark 14:22-26 (NLT)
22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”
23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
Reflection: The Last Supper
We were well used to puzzling sayings.
Three years of travelling with Jesus, and we had heard his stories many times. And we still didn’t understand them all.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the Kingdom…
A Samaritan – dreaded enemy – can be our righteous neighbour…
We need not just to welcome little children but be like them…
No, we had a long way to go before we understood, but as we walked through the dusty lanes of Palestine, we pondered his words. They became part of our soul, these puzzling sayings, shaping our thinking, guiding our hearts, skewing our comfortable perspective, even as we wonder what they mean.
So, in the middle of the meal when he picks up a flatbread and tears it in two: “this is my body given for you…” Well, we are used to him by now, and take the bread he offers and store his words in our heart.
Later he passes round the cup “this is my blood…remember me!” As if we could forget.
It was only afterwards it all made sense. That night he had washed our feet like a common slave. The next morning he didn’t even have that dignity. That night he gave us bread and wine as the next day his body and blood were given for all.
He was trying to tell us I know…I know…This is WHO I AM!
But that night, we still didn’t understand. And when it began we panicked and ran…
Bible Reading: Mark 14:32-50 (NLT)
32 They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
37 Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
39 Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. 40 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.
41 When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”
43 And immediately, even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders. 44 The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard.” 45 As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss.
46 Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 47 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.
48 Jesus asked them, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 49 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there among you teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me.”
50 Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.
And so I ran…
I ran until my chest was fire and I could barely see for sweat. My legs screamed protest as I sprinted desperately through the dark Jerusalem streets. A glimpse of the Roman guard sent me tumbling behind a barrel, hidden in the shadows until the threat was passed. And then finally, I found the door, tapping it as loud as I dared, hissing urgent pleas for entry.
Hurry, hurry, hurry…
A servant girl opened the door and I bundled past her into the courtyard where the women were tidying away the remains of our earlier festivities. One look at my face and they turned white with fear. Words were needless. They knew all we had dreaded, but never believed would happen, had come to pass. His mother sank to the ground in agony, her sisters holding her as if to prevent her from dissolving with grief. Her whispered prayers were all that broke our silence.
Over the coming hours, the men returned – alone, in pairs, wide eyed with terror and broken with shame. “They took him.” “We left him.” “We ran…”
We sat in a ragged circle and waited through the sleepless night. We who had dosed in the garden, drowsy through food and wine, found all thought of sleep had left us in those hopeless, helpless hours.
Finally, as dawn broke, Peter arrived back. He was barely recognizable as Jesus’ right hand man. A little boy lost, he walked over to Mary of Magdala and, in a voice of wondering disbelief, he blurted: “They have him. They will try him and they want to kill him.” Then he crumpled and cried, “And I said I didn’t even know him.”
And then we all wept…