Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper and Funeral Lunches – Moving to the New Order of Things

GOSPEL: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now 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….”

Each year we arrive at this night having made the journey through Lent. With Jesus we have come through the Wilderness to the gates of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Sometimes it has been long a difficult journey, sometimes it has been a chance to step out of the business of life and reflect, other years it has been race through the season to Holy Week. 

This year we have been pulled and dragged through the dust and dirt of Lent, maybe just holding on day to day, week to week. The world around us has not made Lent easy, or perhaps rather, the reality of all the struggles that our world faces, that we face have been laid bare before us this year. Pandemic, war, inequality, violence, suffering, colonialism, poverty, violence and death. 

And having come through all that, and still being in the middle of all of that, we arrive on this first night of the Great Three Days of the church. The days in which we reserve time to carefully and painstakingly retell the story of Christ’s Passover from death to life. 

Tonight we arrive at the dinner table of the disciples to watch Jesus and friends through the Last Supper. It is a small and intimate story, one that take places at the family table, in conversations between friends, over the span of just a few moments. And yet each part is worthy of being the focus of a sermon: The dialogue between Jesus and Peter, the teachings on servants and masters, the new commandment given to the disciples. 

And yet there is something about the whole scene which catches our attention. The movement that brought us from Palm Sunday to his feast of unleavened bread reminds us that there is something big coming. One does just ride into Jerusalem being hailed as a king and conqueror only to be forgotten and left to eat a quiet passover with friends. 

As the scene opens, we are reminded that Jesus knows what is coming shortly for him, he knows that Thursday will lead to Good Friday. As he washes feet he is taking the time for a final moment of intimacy with his disciples. And Peter’s argument with Jesus isn’t really about whether Jesus can wash his feet or not. Whether Peter knows it, he is stalling. He is trying to avoid the big thing that is coming next. Peter isn’t even the first disciple to do this. While it was all the way back on the 5th Sunday in Lent that we witnessed Mary washing Jesus’ feet with perfume while Judas objected, it is a story that only comes a few paragraphs before in the Gospel of John. 

The connection between the images couldn’t be clearer and the discomfort of Jesus’ disciples with what Jesus is up to couldn’t be either. 

Peter is holding onto the old ways and the old order. Servants washed feet, but priests washed the whole body to make one ritually clean. But Jesus isn’t concerned with ritual purity like Pharisees, Scribes and Temple Priests were, he was more interested in a new order for the world. And Peter knows that this new order will only lead Jesus into confrontation with the people in charge of the old world. And so he is trying to avoid it, trying to turn Jesus back from the brink of chaos and destruction… but he can’t. 

So they continue on towards the inevitable. 

Then as Jesus speaks to the disciples at the table, it might sound like he is passing on instructions to all future disciples on how to be faithful. But that isn’t really he intention. Rather, he is speaking to his worried friends, knowing that he will soon leave them. Knowing that soon all they will have is each other. Knowing that all that early church community – in which these gospels took shape – would have is each other. 

There is familiarity to the pattern and movement of this scene. We follow a similar ritual of movement today when we gather for a funeral lunch. Unlike just any meal, it is one that arrives from moment of procession and worship, from a time of formal lament and prayers for salvation.

And then when we come to meal, we know it isn’t about the food as much as it is about the community. The greetings and condolences, the company and the words that we share all serve to carry us to the next thing, to the big thing that comes next. As we move through the meal, we know that the burial is still come, followed by a life changed forever. A world with a new order to it. 

And so we know what Peter and the other disciples are feeling on this night, because it is a journey we have taken ourselves. A journey that carries us to the coming grave, to a new world.    The love that we give and receive in community, the hugs and knowing looks, the greetings and care we give to those who are grieving most, the words we share and stories we tell, the community we choose and keep are all the things that buoy us for what is coming, for the grave and the unknown world that comes after. 

Yet, there is one who does know what is coming. The One who washes his disciples feet, the One who bids his disciples to share in bread and wine in remembrance of him, the One who gives a new commandment and order to the world rooted in Love rather than self-righteousness… this One, this Christ leaves his disciples not with instructions on how to live but with a community shaped and formed in his image. 

Jesus is on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, to betrayal, trail, crucifixion and death. 

But the Body of Christ born in this moment, born at this meal, given to this world is the new order of things. And is the same new order promised and given to us. 

While we know that this meal will lead us into the unknown, into the big thing that coming, to the cross and drama of Good Friday… 

While we know that every funeral lunch sets us towards uncovering a difficult world without a loved one, with an impossible to fill hole in our lives, with another reminder that we too are mortals and one day that funeral and that grave will be ours…

Jesus leaves us with the washed feet, that bread and wine, the new commandment that is found in the Body of Christ. Jesus leaves us with the promise proclaimed by the Body of Christ each time we gather. Jesus is leaving us only to find us again in the new life that comes after Good Friday, in the resurrection that is on the other side of the big thing that is coming, in the grace and mercy of God that will not leave this world to death and the grave. 

And so on this first night of the Triduum – the Great Three Days – we begin with the disciples at the table. We begin knowing that we are being carried from this moment to what comes next, to confrontation between Jesus and sin and death. 

But Jesus begins with us. Jesus begins by washing our feet, by welcoming us to the table, by giving us the care and support and love that we need for what is to come. 

And by reminding us that we now belong to one another and to the Body of Christ.

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