This is the new commandment, which is what we are to focus on this night, that we love one another as Jesus has loved us. We have heard the story of Jesus taking off his outer garment and kneeling to wash the disciples feet. It is a grand reversal of roles; the teacher now becomes a servant and serves his students. Peter, at first, doesn’t want to take part; it doesn’t seem right to him and he is quite verbal about it, “you will never wash my feet!” he says. Jesus convinces him that this is how it should be. It is a radical statement about the kind of love Peter, and you and I, are to exhibit to one another. It is a love that does not identify us with the roles that society places on us; it is a love that has us remove all of the symbols of status so that we are equal. No one is above another; no one becomes a servant and stays in that role; all serve, and all are served.
I wonder why Peter has such trouble with having Jesus wash his feet. Washing one’s feet was a custom of hospitality offered to guests, but it was usually the servant in the house who did it, not the master, so I understand Peter’s shock and resistance. But maybe it is something for all of us to consider as well. Is Peter having trouble accepting the depth of the love that Jesus has to offer? This is the night, as Peter is about to find out, that everything will become so painful and difficult. Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples by washing their feet and giving them an example of how deep their love for each other should go. And here’s the catch… Jesus washes the feet of all the disciples; including the feet of Judas, his betrayer. No one, except for Jesus and perhaps Judas could know the significance of that moment. I see that washing as I see confession; that despite what Judas does, despite what any of us do, Jesus can and does reach beyond what we think is possible, and offers us forgiveness and love. No wonder Peter had trouble with it. Peter knows he is a sinful man… and of course tomorrow we will hear the depths of his sin as he denies Jesus… and Judas too could not accept the love that was given to him; it bothered and confused him so much that he took his own life… all because he could not accept the love that was offered to him before Jesus was taken prisoner, or the thought of the love and forgiveness that might be offered to him after.
While John’s gospel doesn’t talk about it, our lesson from 1 Corinthians tells us about the institution of the Eucharist, perhaps the greatest physical gift and reminder that Jesus loves us, and that we are to love as he does. Even knowing what was going to happen to him this night, he shares the bread and wine, his body and blood with Peter and Judas as well as with us. Tonight he asks us to come, to be fed, to bring to him all of those things that have us troubled and afraid…so that he might love us into being the best that we can be.
Tonight we will strip our nave and our altar; the sacred body of Christ that is reserved will also be taken away and the sanctuary lamp will be extinguished. We will begin to walk with him to Gethsemane, to the doubt that he will have and to the acceptance of the cup that is offered to him. Even in this darkest of nights, Easter still reaches back toward us proving once and forever that Jesus is ever victorious over evil and death. Love, the pure, difficult, love of God wins over every act darkness humanity can throw at it. Can we accept that love tonight? Can we accept love that forgives our betrayals, and offers to feed us so that we might love others as he has loved us?