It has been a year. A year where over half a million people in this country have died because of Covid-19, and even if we didn’t get sick, our lives have changed dramatically. We have been isolated from one another. The pandemic has not affected everyone equally. Gun violence has risen, and as people return to public spaces, mass shootings are happening again. Racism still exerts its deadly force upon the bodies of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
How are we supposed to live in a world like this? How do we live with violence around us? How do we live with heartbreak and betrayal and sin?
I wonder if Jesus thought of these things. I wonder if this is what Jesus was thinking about as he knew his hour had come, that he was about to be arrested, given no fair trial and no hope of escape, that he would be tortured and hung on a cross to die in full view of society, his friends, his enemies, his mother. Was Jesus weighed down with grief or with fear?
He knew he didn’t have much life left to live. He knew there would be pain and death in the near future. So how does Jesus spend what moments of his life remain?
He got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
He washed the disciples’ feet. Not just Peter. Not just James and John, the disciples he was closest to. All of the disciples. Even Judas, the one who was about to betray him. And Jesus knew it.
Can you even imagine that? Could you wash the feet of the person who is about to kill you? Do you think you could show love when you are faced with only hate?
This goes completely against logic. This goes completely against human nature. This kind of action goes against everything the world will tell you to do when you are threatened: you should run, you should fight, you should defend yourself, you should defend your friends and family, you should strike back, you should punish, you should get even, you should demand justice.
To all of these things, Jesus says no. Jesus, who never stops teaching, is preparing his students for the final exam, the ultimate test of faithfulness. And he knows they’re all about to fail the test. This is a lost cause, but Jesus isn’t one bit lost. He is very clear, and he spells it out for the disciples: you are to love one another.
Maundy Thursday is about the mandate, the command, in Latin mandatum—that’s where we get the word “Maundy” in Maundy Thursday. And what is the command? Jesus gives us this command: to love one another as Christ has loved us.
This is an important lesson, and I suspect this is the very good reason why Christians still observe Maundy Thursday all these centuries later. Every year, we will remember on Good Friday that our Lord and Savior was crucified and died in a horrific, humiliating way. And every year, before that day, we will be reminded of our Lord and Savior’s very last words of teaching to his disciples: love one another. Don’t forget it. This is going to be hard to remember when we are facing the harsh reality of suffering and death, but it’s still true: love one another.
Instead of counting up all the ways we’ve been offended and insulted and threatened, let us follow Christ’s word, his command and his example, and love one another. He didn’t qualify only those deserving of love. Only those who are sinless, only those who are nice, only those who don’t bother us, only those who are meek and peaceful like we are. He just said love one another.
It’s too easy to try to justify ourselves and justify our anger and hatred against the people we disagree with. And followers of Christ throughout the centuries have gotten this pretty far wrong. Christians have tried to justify hatred against Jews, as the ones who killed Jesus; but Jesus, who—let’s not forget—was himself Jewish, said to his disciples, “Servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”
We are not disconnected from our Jewish brothers and sisters but must be appreciative of the faithfulness of our ancestors who brought to us the wisdom of the prophets and of the Law, who taught us the language of liberation, remembering and recalling the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, and who now help us understand our own Savior, Jesus Christ. We acknowledge our common heritage and the ongoing celebration of Passover. And wherever anti-Semitism and hatred for our Jewish siblings still exists, we speak against that hatred because we are faithful to Jesus who calls us to love our neighbor.
I also mourn when there are people who profess to follow Christ but misuse Scripture and contort Jesus’s words to condone violence. And if Jesus were ever going to approve of violence, don’t you think it would be right now, as he faces his own certain death?
But instead of telling his followers to avenge his death, he washes their feet and commands them to carry on washing one another’s feet. And to strengthen them for the journey, he feeds them with himself: giving them bread and saying “This is my body, given for you” and giving them wine and saying “This is my blood, shed for you.”
In a time of much confusion, heightened emotions, and certain pain, Jesus reminds his disciples that to keep it simple: love one another, wash each other’s feet, be fed and nourished by my body and blood.
For us, in a world of violence and confusion, we keep doing these things, too: loving one another, washing each other’s feet, and being fed and nourished by Christ’s body and blood. We’ll have the chance to do these things as part of worship tonight.
For those who are worshipping at home, if you are alone, you can wash your own feet mindfully, considering what it might have been like to have Jesus wash your feet. If you’re with a family at home, you can wash each other’s feet, or if that feels too awkward, consider the ways you serve one another in your home—cleaning up after each other, washing someone else’s dirty dishes—could you serve one another in the light of Christ, as if you were serving Jesus himself?
In the sanctuary, there will be just two of us washing each other’s feet, standing in place of all the congregation, who—I am certain—would otherwise all be lining up to take turns to wash each other’s feet and have your own feet washed during the one-and-only chance in the year to wash feet during worship.
And we’ll also have the chance to be nourished by Christ’s body and blood. Those worshipping at home can gather their own bread and wine or juice—or some reasonable substitute—and receive these gifts as from Christ himself. Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism that the only thing necessary for preparing to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion is to believe the words that the body and blood are given for you. Those of us here in the sanctuary will have prepackaged containers with a wafer and wine—we will commune together as well.
All of us, whether here in the sanctuary or worshipping at home, are obedient to the same Word of God, and our trust is in God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit to unite the Body of Christ, all of us in our own separate places united as one Body of Christ.
Jesus says, love one another. Let us humble ourselves, a sign of love for the God who became human, who became humble that we might be saved. In Christ’s name,
 John 13: 16