The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
Church of the Annunciation Oradell
April 1, 2021
Hebrew - Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Christian - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Gospel - John 13:1-17, 31b-35
May God’s words be spoken, may God’s words be heard. Amen.
Tonight we enter into the most holy and sacred time of our lives as followers of Jesus, because tonight we enter into the three part service known as the Paschal Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. There is only one bulletin for all three parts to make this point very clear. Tonight is the beginning of the end of that long journey with Jesus to his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and the empty tomb. And we begin with betrayal and denial, though you might not know it from the gospel verses we read tonight.
Tonight we heard in the gospel about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and giving us a new commandment. And, as you know well by now, that is where we get the name of this night - Maundy Thursday - from the Latin Mandatum or Mandate. Jesus did give us all a mandate - to love one another as he loved us.
But if we are to really understand just how powerful this example of love is, then we need to know the whole story. Between the example of love and servanthood in the foot washing, and the mandate, there are verses missing from our reading tonight. Now, as I have said many times before, pay attention when there are verses missing. Sometimes their absence is not a bad thing, but tonight, we really should pay attention to them. So, let me tell you what happened just after the foot washing: Judas left the group to betray Jesus.
But wait, there’s more! After the verses we heard tonight, after Jesus gave them all his new commandment: Peter was told he would deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed. This commandment to love was sandwiched between betrayal and denial.
This must have been a painful moment for our Lord and Savior, because these were not strangers to him. Peter and Judas were not on the outer fringes of his disciples. Judas, was reclining close to Jesus at dinner, a sign in those days of one who is nearest in relationship with the teacher, and he was the one who was entrusted by everyone to keep the common purse. Peter was the one who tried so hard to get things right as a follower of Jesus, the rock as Jesus nicknamed him, one of the first to be called.
And here’s the thing about it all – the betrayal and the denial wasn’t about Jesus himself really, but about relationship. When Judas left into the night, he was leaving relationship with Jesus and the others. When Peter later denied him, he was denying that he knew him, that he had relationship with him. What was Jesus’ response? To love them – to show them what relationship means.
On this night, when Jesus knew it was near the hour of his arrest, he knelt before both his betrayer and his denier, and washed their feet. That is the love he calls us to, and the love he has for us too. Think about that because the implications for us are life changing.
One of the things missing tonight is the ability for us to wash one another’s feet as Jesus did his disciples. Yet, if we really think about it, we have no need – we have been kneeling in servant ministry like this as part of the long Holy Week we have been living this year in this time of pandemic, and tonight, we have come full circle to once more enter deep into the midst of this Holy Week journey with Christ. For we have demonstrated Christ’s love this past year in our denial of gathering in-person for worship at a time when we most need to do just that. It has made us more vulnerable, but it was done out of love – for ourselves and for one another – a model of servanthood as Jesus commanded.
Yet the truth is, even while we seek to emulate the love of Jesus in this gospel, we have all been both Judas and Peter too. We have betrayed and denied others, even while we have also been betrayed and denied.
Betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes…it comes when we push others to the margins, it comes when we exploit others for our own gain, it comes when we value expediency over compassion, when we turn our backs on our brother or sister in need. And it can come in the form of a pandemic that seems to betray us, and our bodies, and a country that most definitely did. We may also feel betrayed when others gather and it leads to the continued rise in cases, pushing us further from our hope for an end to it all, but we must choose to love them nonetheless.
Denial too has many forms – when we deny the dignity of another human being because they look, think, speak, vote, or love differently than we do, denial of our responsibility to care for God’s creation, denial of who we are – beloved children of God – because we can’t see it, or others have denied it in us, and in this time of pandemic, denial of entry into places of worship or social gatherings - even if for our protection, denial of our need for rest and renewal because we are trying to hold everything together, denial of access to our loved ones suffering and dying in hospitals.
In our lives, we have been Jesus, Peter, and Judas - a model of servant love, the betrayed and the betrayer, the denied and the denier. We have been all these things in our lives because if we have not, it would be hard to imagine being Christian.
The thing is, one cannot betray or deny (or for that matter have this done to us) without entering into relationship with another – and that requires love, which make us open to being hurt. Jesus entered into relationship when he called his disciples to his side, even knowing what was to come. In the midst of his own pain, he implores us to offer up our hearts – to be vulnerable as love requires. And he demonstrates this love on this night when he knows his arrest is imminent, kneeling before his disciples, including both Judas and Peter, to wash their feet.
To be a follower of Christ, we are called to love as he loved, and whenever we love, we expose ourselves, our hearts and souls to the possibility of great joy, and also the pain of loss and betrayal - just as he did. And, we are able as well, when in a bond of love, to be the one who betrays or denies – who hurts the ones we love – intentionally or not. Yet even while opening the door to betrayal and denial, life without love is no life at all. Love, the kind Jesus calls us too, the kind he demonstrated, is the key to really being alive. There is no other way for us as children of God, as followers of Jesus. It is the only path to joy – true joy found in relationship with our Creator.
And so, here we are on this night, with one another, with the disciples, and with Jesus.
This is the night when we face our demons – the ones on the inside, and the ones that abound in the world – for we are both the betrayer & the betrayed – the denier & the denied.
This is the night when we move from the pain of betrayal and denial that abounds in our lives toward the hope and promise of love – Christ’s love for us – and our love in His name.
This is the night when we take that love out into the darkness that awaits - washing the feet of the oppressed, the lonely, the fearful, and the lost.
Jesus is kneeling before you – washing your feet this night.
Will you kneel before him and do likewise?