Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for Maundy Thursday, 2011,
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’
31b‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
My reflections and sermons throughout this Holy Week seem to be primarily concerned with the issue of discipleship. Generally speaking, the whole of Scripture seems applicable to Christian discipleship in one way or another, but Holy Week in particular gives us a unique vantage point, as I mentioned previously (see sermons from Palm Sunday and Holy Wednesday). The Gospels have not been written with the primary intention of telling us who we are as followers of Christ – their primary function is to teach their readers and listeners who Christ is. But in learning who Christ is we inevitably learn who we are, a fact which had never occurred to me as intensely as it now does.
In his Doctrine of Reconciliation from Church Dogmatics (yes, to all you anti-Barthians, I am pulling Barth out), Barth emphasises this Jesus/disciple relationship. He writes, ‘The call to discipleship binds a person to the One who calls him.’1 Barth goes on to explain the way that the call to Jesus is not a call to an idea, but the person of Jesus. He writes that ‘in practice the command to follow Jesus is identical with the command to believe in him’2 and that ‘[faith] is not obedience, but as obedience is not obedience without faith, faith is not faith without obedience.’3 I strongly recommend reading all of Barth’s The Call to Discipleship to read more about how Barth works these things out (and he does so with such finesse…), but what strikes me most at this moment is the inevitable connectivity between the called disciple and the ‘One who calls’.
It is by God’s grace (and power) that the creature is called to be a disciple. It is by God’s grace that the disciple is washed by the Suffering Servant, Christ. In turn, it is by God’s grace that we are called as disciples to be Christ to the world – we have a responsibility to love one another in humility.
I remember when I first became interested in Cocteau Twins in high school after reading a Stuart Murdoch diary entry online (now conveniently catalogued in print on page 78 of The Celestial Café). Admittedly, I wanted Murdoch’s taste to rub off on me in hope that I could borrow some of his genius. I guess I still want that. But what I’m getting at is by using this very weak illustration I am highlighting that to imitate Christ naturally flows from an affection for Christ. I’m not saying that we should all get into carpentry as if it has some spiritual significance in itself (see Owen Wilson as Kevin in Meet the Parents). If Jesus were to appear to me and tell me that he can’t get enough of Journey’s 1980 album, Departure (I had to Wikipedia ‘Journey [band]’ to find a record with a song I knew), I might try to listen to the record out of curiosity, but I am fairly certain that I would consider Jesus’ musical taste imperfect, but I digress…
Jesus’ model, to serve rather than to be served, should be attractive for the disciple when confronted with the grace of God. This is yet another side of the association of the disciple with Christ (two others mentioned in last night’s homily are sharing both in Christ’s suffering and in his glory). And while the guarantee of suffering and the guarantee of glory can in some ways be considered more or less passive for the disciple, the calling to love and serve is an imperative. Suffering will happen to us, and we endure because of God’s grace, which includes both present comfort and future glory, but let us be compelled to serve God in obedience through love, as such is the call of the disciple. And given what Christ has accomplished on our behalf, I think it’s very attractive.
1 Karl Barth, The Call to Discipleship , translated by G. W. Bromiley (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 12.
2 Ibid, 13.
3 Ibid, 17.