Here some belated notes to go with this year's Maundy Thursday sermon:



Here is a note from our bulletin that explains the service:


Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus in the upper room with His disciples just before he was betrayed. On this special night, we remember how Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the Eucharistic meal of the New Covenant, in anticipation of the new and better Exodus he was about to accomplish in his death and resurrection (cf. Luke 9:31). The word “maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “commandment.”

 Thus, Maundy Thursday remembers Jesus humble act of washing the feet of His disciples and then giving them a “new commandment” (John 13:34) to love one another even as He had loved them.

This evening’s service begins with an Agape (Love) Feast, which is an ancient Christian practice based on Jesus’ Last Supper in the upper room. The Corinthian Christians were getting together for Agape Feasts to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but they were totally missing the point by separating out according to social classes (1 Cor. 11:17ff.). They were “partaking unworthily” by separating out into groups and effectively dividing Christ’s body. The apostle Paul sternly rebuked them for this practice and reminded them of what Communion is all about: we are united to one another through our union with Christ. Christ’s new commandment is that we love one another as members of the same Body, and the Eucharist is the primary way we are conformed into this new reality. We all partake of one loaf because we are of one loaf and one Body (1 Cor. 10:17). We all share in one cup because we all commune together in the blood of Christ as brothers and sisters and coheirs of God’s grace. The Lord’s Supper is the perfect example of the old adage: You are what you eat.

After we spend time in fellowship around the table, we will participate in a service of worship that culminates around “the Table”, as we feast on Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. The focus of the service is on Christ’s sacrificial love for us that we respond to and embody in our sacrificial love for one another.




Here are a couple quotations we run in the bulletin:


I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, as Christ offered himself to me...We ought... each one of us to become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians…And just as one member serves another in such an integrated body, so each one eats and drinks the other; that is, each consumes the other in every drink, and each one is food and drink to one another, just as Christ is simply food and drink to us. Through believing the word which the soul takes and receives into itself, we eat the Lord. My neighbor in turn eats me together with my possessions, my body and my life; I give him this and everything that I have and let him make use of everything in all his needs. In the same way when I in turn am poor and in trouble and need my neighbor, I'll allow myself to be helped and served. And in this way we are made part of one another so that one helps the other just as Christ has helped us. This is what it means that we spiritually eat and drink one another.


-- Martin Luther

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and must uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ
vere latitat -- the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.


-- C. S. Lewis



In John 13, Jesus gives what has been called the “servant-leader” model of leadership. Jesus leads through serving. He leads by serving. Jesus is the original and ultimate servant-leader. He takes a towel, as if it were the scepter of his kingdom, and does the most menial job. He is the Footwashing Messiah, the Footwashing God.


But there are problems with the servant-leadership model as it gets applied in our day. For example, husbands are told to be servant-leaders to their wives, but all too often the leadership part of it gets nixed. Service becomes subservience and submission. Who gets to decide what kind of service will be rendered? If the servant-leader only takes orders, without casting a vision for how he will lead, then he is not really leading at all. Who evaluates how the servant-leader performs? To what standard is he held accountable? If his wife is the one who determines whether or not he has fulfilled his role as a servant-leader, he is not really leading her; in fact, he becomes her follower. The standard by which the servant-leader is evaluated has to be outside the relationship. It has to be found in God’s Word.


While Jesus clearly takes the posture of a servant in John 13, there is never any question he is still in charge. For example, Peter objects to way in which Jesus will serve and Jesus overrides him. Jesus serves Peter precisely by NOT taking orders from Peter. Jesus knows best, and serves Peter in the way he needs serving even though he does not realize it. In the same context of washing their feet, Jesus issues commands and gives them a vision for their communal life. He is the one teaching and instructing them; these are appropriate forms of service. He chooses how to deal with their questions when they do not fully understand. And so on. Indeed, at the very beginning of John 13, we are told Jesus performed the act of washing the disciples feet not in spite of his authority but precisely because he has authority. He served from a position of strength. He served them in a way that fulfills his vision for his community. 




One thing Jesus makes clear in John 13 is that his disciples are being watched. The church needs to know that the world is always watching us. This is why it should not surprise us when the world exposes our hypocrisy. It will not do to point out that the world’s institutions commit similar sins. As Jesus’ disciples, we have to know we will always be held to a higher standard.


But there is a good side to being watched. Being watched means we can witness. This is what Jesus calls us to: Our love for one another is a key way the world will come to know we are Jesus’s disciples (John 13:35). This is similar to Jesus’ prayer later that night in John 17. He says that through the unity of his disciples, the world will come to know he is the one sent by the Father (John 17:21, 23). So this is what we have:


John 13:35 — love disciples have for one another —> world comes to know we are Jesus’ disciples

John 17:21, 23 — unity of disciples with one another —> world comes to believe Jesus was sent by Father and that we are loved by the Father just as he loves the Son


John 13:35 can be thought of as Jesus’s mission/vision for the church. Internal love amongst the brethren leads to external success in evangelism amongst unbelievers. Love within the church witnesses to the world. Fulfilling Jesus’ command to love leads to fulfilling Jesus’ commission to disciple the nations. When we keep the command to love as he has loved us that love spills over to the world. Bottom line: The New Commandment and the Great Commission are inseparable; we cannot do one without doing the other. If we are committed to evangelism, we will be committed to one another.


To play off the work of Francis Schaeffer, the church’s love becomes an apologetic for the gospel. Or as Leslie Newbigin put it, the church’s community of love creates the plausibility structure which makes the gospel message believable.


Obviously the church has failed to love in this way in many ways in our day. Our churches are often divided and full of bickering. This is why we are struggling to fulfill our mission. 




John 13 shows us that in order to give, we must first receive. If we are going to give love, we must first receive it. If we are going to feed other, we must first be fed. If we are going to disciple others, we must first be discipled ourselves. This means that ultimately everything pivots on the cross. In the upper room, Peter says he will die for Jesus. Of course, he failed later that night. But after Jesus’ death for him, he will die as a martyr for Jesus. Having received new life, he could give his life away. Peter could not die for Jesus until after Jesus died for him. (Another test on this, given then episode in John 18:1-11: On that night, {Peter was willing to kill for Jesus, but not die for him. Only after Jesus does for Peter could Peter die so that others might live. Jesus poured his life for the sake of the world; Peter followed in his footsteps, just as he commanded others to do in 1 Peter 2.)




Friendship is a major theme in John 13. This is Jesus’ last night with his friends before his death. Jesus calls his disciples friends in Joh. 15 and obviously expects them to be friends with one another. If nothing else, the shared mission Jesus has given them will draw them together into tighter bonds of friendship.


C. S. Lewis explains the missional nature of friendship:


The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question "Do you see the same truth?" would be "I see nothing and I don't care about the truth; I only want a Friend," no Friendship can arise - though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.



In another place, Lewis says, Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of this things which give value to survival.”


We could dispute whether or not Lewis is right about friendship’s lack of survival value; I might argue to the contrary, that friendship is necessary to building civilization, which is necessary for long term human survival. Friendship often does more than simply enrich life; friends fight for one another’s survival in hard times. But Lewis is still right that friendship (whether a necessity or luxury) gives value to life.


Thomas Aquinas once said, “There is nothing on this earth more prized than friendship.”


See also Prov. 17:17 and 27:6 for more on a biblical theology of friendship. Friendship is at the core of a life well loved. We are made for our friendships and we are made by our friendships. Each one of us is a patchwork quilt of all the relationships we have had — the peopler who have influenced, molded, and shaped us in a variety of ways.


Given the loneliness crisis in our culture, friendship is incredibly important. The key ingredients to rebuilding a culture of friendship are all present in John 13, especially a shared meal and a shared mission.




There are many echoes of John 13 in 1 John. For example, in 1 John 3:14-16, John demonstrates that one of the best evidences of our salvation is our love for the brethren. Dead people do not love; thus, if we do love the brethren in practical and sacrificial ways, it is a sign that we are no longer dead but have crossed over into new life. The gospel makes us both God-centered and neighbor-centered in how we live our lives (as opposed to self-centered).