D. G. Phillips
Crousetown, March 20, AD 2008
1 Cor 11:23-29
As oft as ye
eat this bread, and drink this cup,
ye do shew
the Lord’s death till he come.
Tonight we have
come together to remember the night our Lord was betrayed. And we
are remembering that time before the betrayal, before his prayers of
deep distress in the garden, when the disciples gathered in the
upper room for the Passover feast.
Our Lord had
been ministering openly for three years with his disciples. They
had formed deep bonds of friendship – and all of it was coming to an
end. Jesus knew the great significance of every moment – and the
disciples were beginning to grasp its significance with the sort of
heightened awareness we know in the presence of a loved one who is
dying. St. John was later led by the Holy Spirit to recall in great
detail the words of our Lord that evening, when he wrote his Gospel
many years later. Chapters 13 to 17 of John’s Gospel describe our
Lord’s words and actions that night in the upper room.
John begins his
description by saying,
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour
was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father,
having loved his own which were in the world, he loved
them unto the end.
They sit down
and feast. The supper is a joyous occasion for all – they are in
Jerusalem for the great Jewish Passover. It is the recollection of
God’s mighty deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage in
Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land. The disciples, this
chosen band, knew they were now sitting with the Messiah and he was
showing them and telling them of the fulfillment of their hopes.
Luke says that the disciples talked excitedly amongst themselves
about who would be greatest in the new kingdom. Jesus has told them
that the very food they eat and drink is His body and blood – it
means something to them, but what? must be something symbolic, a
sort of way of speaking.
Master, the Lord, has gained from the disciples all the authority
and all of the privilege that can possibly be given to any man by
another. They have left all – their families, their livelihood – to
follow Jesus. They say and show in many ways that they are ready to
die for him. It is an adoring love that he has inspired in them.
It is also a
scary kind of love. It is the love mingled with deep submission
that a great teacher can inspire unwittingly in his students, or
that a guru can cultivate in his disciples, or that a great
political leader, a tyrant, can sometimes stir up from a whole
nation. It is the sort of devotion that truly should be reserved
only for God. And when human idols disappoint, what
John says next
And supper being ended, … Jesus knowing
that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was
come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid
aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After
that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’
feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
shoes latchet, John the Baptist knew he was not worthy to
unloose, takes their dirty, worn and tired feet in his
hands and washes them, and dries them with a towel. The more
devoted they are to Him, the more horrified they are. This is God’s
call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also
ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example,
that ye should do as I have done to you…If ye know these
things, happy are ye if ye do them.
new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have
loved you, that ye also love one another.
Jesus’ love is a
flipping around of our thinking – from, “what am I getting out of
this person”, to, “what can I give to this person?” How can I serve
my brother? how can I serve my sister? with the gifts I’m given.
Surely it is this kind of love that can keep a Christian marriage
together in the darkest days; this kind of love that can keep us in
a friendship when we betray one another; this kind of love that
keeps us in our true vocation to the end; that keeps us in the
Church when it seems so disordered and its ministers such darkened
It is only after
this act of servant love that Jesus speaks again about his leaving
them and they become distressed. But He promises them a Gift, the
love He knows from the Father, the Holy Spirit, – who will indwell
us, if we ask – God Himself – to inspire the feet-washing,
servant-kind of love.
At his arrest a
few hours later, the disciples are all disillusioned by their
earthly Master. Being bold in his presence, they now cower and run
away when he allows himself to be taken. But he loved his own,
he loved them unto the end.
In the Holy
Communion of His Body and Blood which He instituted that night, we
know now more than the mere symbol – here we have held before our
minds a far greater humbling of Himself before us. Here not just
our feet, but our whole bodies are made clean by His body and our
souls washed through by His most precious blood – this is how he
loves us to the end.
And having seen this and known this in our hearts, He gives us
new commandment …, That ye love one another; as I have loved you,
that ye also love one another.