A meal, a prayer, a cave
“Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.”
John tells us that “the time had come” so having loved those given to him he chose to show an example of that love. The Messiah took up a towel, wrapped it around himself as would a common slave and then began washing the feet of his friends. They were horrified at what he was doing, but like ripping your eyes away from an accident, the disciples couldn’t stop him. Peter tried, but he too was stopped in his tracks.
“I tell you,” Jesus said, “what I have done for you, you are to do for others.” This way of being, this service would be how the world would know the followers of Jesus. This act of self-giving was a simple way of showing the world how different Jesus-people would be from the rest of humanity. Service would be the way of operating. It was the standard approach to life.
John captures the heart of the upper room that night in a discourse that covers 5+ chapters. His words are filled with instruction, encouragement, challenge, and prayer. At one point, the disciples show their inability to “get it” but a passage later they say “finally, you’re speaking without riddles so we can understand.”
As they celebrated the Passover meal, the annual reminder of God’s rescuing of his people from the hands of Egypt and a cruel Pharaoh, Jesus gives them a new night to “remember.” He had already given them this act of foot washing, but then he redefines the bread (and the whole meal) as being a more perfect sacrifice. He takes a cup that was to symbolize the rescuing God at work, and says it is “his blood” poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
As the supper ends, they stand and sing a song as they head to the Garden. In what must have been a mix of emotions, they arrive – exhausted – and the Master invites them to pray. They couldn’t do it and Jesus prayed agonizing prayers to the Father. As the hours passed, Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, tried, beaten, embarrassed, mocked, and put in a cell to await the morning.
The one who’s creative power brought the earth and all creation into being, huddled, bleeding, in a water cistern awaiting his imminent death.
Maundy Thursday may be my favorite day in the entire Christian year. Certainly, Christmas Day is a blast, and Easter begins a season of 50 day’s culminating in Pentecost that takes my breath away. But Maundy Thursday is such an important and “on purpose” kind of day that it can’t be missed. The rest of the world rips onward but for those of us who open up our eyes and choose to enter into the story, this day has life changing properties.
And there’s so much to settle into – so many moments from this day (from that meal) that calls out to me and invites me to stay a while. The foot washing part has always been strange for me. I know a lot of folks who have problems with feet. For these folks its a creepy moment. I’ve been involved in a few foot washing services – it’s humbling for everyone. To take another persons foot and wash it and dry it is haunting. To have your foot cradled and washed by another is a moment unlike any other I have experienced.
I could dwell on the meal for days and write posts on what he was doing with bread and cup for a solid year. His prayer for the disciples to be strong and his prayer for those who would believe in him through the witness of those disciples (that’s us) often bring me to tears. He prayed for us – for me – that we would be ONE and that we would show the world the full extend of the Love of the Father.
But today I’m drawn to the cistern – to this holding cell that the Messiah was lowered into after his betrayal, arrest and “religious” trial. It was the pre-incarnate word of God that brought forth creation. That’s a lot of $5 seminary ideas for most people. Jesus is the word of God in the flesh (that’s what John 1 is all about). God exists eternally in 3 persons – one God, 3 persons (what we call the Trinity). Jesus has always been and before being born of Mary, the Word was ushering forth the creative expression of all that God is.
And there in a dark, damp, empty water cistern was this same Word of God. He sat there in the darkness – in the cold – alone – betrayed – bleeding while he awaited was still yet to come. In the pit he sat and he waited.
Humanity had yet released its full wrath on God, but it was coming. Pain and torment beyond my imagination was just hours away. Isolation and desertion had already begun, and in the end only a handful would stand weeping as he breathed his last. But for at least for a few hours, the Messiah huddled in a dark cave with the sin of the world closing in on him.
I wonder what would happen if we chose to take some time of quiet today, even just 20 minutes, to sit with Jesus in that prison. To a degree, we all have been in a prison – many of us still are. To know that the Messiah sat there is a huge gift of hope for me. To me that means that when I am at my lowest, he is there with me. It means that when I feel alone, He is there. It means that when I feel full of myself and riddled with pride, he invites me to lower myself and choose a different way.
What do you and I need to do today to let this powerful day and moment not just pass us by? Can we find 20 minutes to be still and enter in with him? Can we choose to envision from this moment just a small bit of the extent of the Love of God for us?
Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed, already, by the depth of your passion for restoring creation. These next 24+ hours aren’t just a reminder of some sick production of God, but of a restoration that has baffled our minds ever since. Use these hours to remind me of your love. Use the noise…use the quiet…use the in-between moments to draw me to you. And as I receive that love, let me take up your command to love others in the same way with all I am. Holy Spirit fall fresh upon me as we await the return of Jesus. Let your kingdom and domain and power and authority fall on me. In Jesus name, amen.