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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. John 13.1-15
On this Maundy Thursday we spend some time with Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples. The drama of Holy Week is unfolding and we recall how Jesus washes his disciples feet, breaks bread with them and teaches them. Now, at one point Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Today, as we sit here in the Upper Room, we simply cannot miss the awesome connection Jesus makes. He’s telling us that the distinguishing mark of HIS Church is the quality of its relationships. It’s THIS that makes Him present and visible to the world.
Now, let’s be clear. All of this goes far beyond whether we’re welcoming and friendly types. We kind of take that for granted. No, the benchmark is in those little words, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. That’s the distinguishing feature. In the end it all boils down to Jesus… His presence in ours heart, hands and voices.
When it comes to thinking about the Church, I sometimes wonder whether one of the greatest challenges we face today is, as it were, liberating ourselves from a culture of ‘attendance’ rather than ‘community’.
What I mean, is that it’s become natural to talk of Church as a place to which we go rather than a people to whom we belong? And of course, all too often we tend to think that Church is ours… so to speak, to shape and organise in ways which are convenient to ourselves; rather than (again) letting Christ shape and form us in ways which will help make him visible to the world he came to save.
Now, clearly, that the Church is less than Jesus would wish it to be almost goes without saying; we will always be a work in progress. But I wonder if we can’t take another look at that gathering in the upper room.
I wonder if that vision of Jesus serving, feeding and teaching that yes, weak and often unreliable bunch of disciples, might not teach us more about what Church should look like that we realise? Can we not allow that upper room incident to become like a piece of grit in our shoe? An image that constantly reminds us that when it comes to our picture of Church; Jesus wants far more for us than we yet experience or permit.
I mean, at least then we’ll have something to pray with. We might even begin to ask “Lord, what is the new thing you wish to do? What must our common life begin to look like for us to be faithful to you? What will make us look more like YOUR people?
So, in a sense I want to create a certain dissatisfaction among us. A distinct sense that Jesus has a very clear vision of what the common life of His people will look like“. He washes their feet and says: “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you”. (John 13.14) “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. It’s by these distinguishing marks of ‘Church’ that as Jesus says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples”. (John 13.35)
But how does this come about?
Well, clearly it is a work of God among us. But here’s a clue. The one who recorded this incident in the Upper Room, St. John, is the one who is traditionally known as ‘the beloved disciple’.
He got that name, partly because at that meal it was noted that he was ‘reclining next to’ Jesus. He’s always been known as a disciple who was, if you like, ‘close to Jesus heart’.
When Church becomes a community of people who gather around the Lord Jesus who serves, feeds and teaches them; when we become a community of people who rest close to his heart ……the rest will take care of itself.