Entering the Passion of Jesus: The Last Supper: Risking the Loss of Friends
John 13:12-16; Luke 4:16-21
First United Methodist Church, March 29, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
“My master’s banquet hall upstairs was booked for this night, and the time had arrived for this evening’s group to come for the banquet. All was prepared according to their wishes, and I was ready with the water and basin as I always am. Years ago, my parents had given me to the owner as collateral for the debt they owed him. But things did not go well for them, and the debt had never been paid. And so I work to pay it off. Roman law says that some day I could be a freed person, but I will never again have the full rights in society like those who have never been slaves. It is a mark for life. I keep my head down and do what the master asks because legally he has the right to punish, abuse, and humiliate me. I’ve witnessed it happen to others. Right now, I have no rights.
So there I was with the bowl, just waiting for the go-ahead to start. It would be the honored guest first, of course, and I knew which one that was by where he was seated. This was all protocol, everyone has a place according to status. When he showed up, I recognized him and remembered the stories I had been hearing about this teacher. He was saying things that were really upsetting those invested in this system of status… saying things like “the last shall be first.” My friend who serves in the kitchen had to tell me to stop staring. I just couldn’t imagine a world like he described.
And then he came right up to me and took the basin of water from my hands. He took my servant’s towel and wrapped it around his own waist and knelt, telling Peter to come sit down. This was going to be no ordinary night. And I realized my life, my view of myself and my station in life, was never going to be the same. ©www.worshipdesignstudio.com/passion
Enter the story.
Enter the place you belong.
Not just looking on
For this is your story.
Enter the story.
Last week we talked about the woman who anointed Jesus’ head with the precious nard. The scent filled the room.
We brought many of my mother-in-law’s belongings to our house almost 2 years ago now, to figure out what to do with them when we had to move her into a nursing home because of her Alzheimer’s. Her clothing, her blankets, pillows, even her knick-knacks, I think, brought her perfume with them.
Now and then, I still catch a scent of the fragrance she enjoyed wearing. She doesn’t remember anymore, but we do.
We inhale the scent and remember.
Like the scent of mom’s perfume and the unnamed woman in scripture’s precious nard, we remember when we see the bread and the cup. Maybe we can smell the freshly baked bread as it fills the room. Maybe we can taste the tart sweetness of the juice as it touches our tongue. Maybe we can hear the words of Jesus, as we’ve heard them repeated by preachers ever since: “Take eat, this is my body. Broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. Take drink, this is the blood of the new covenant, poured out for you. Take drink, in remembrance of me.”
“In remembrance of me,” Jesus said.
To us, the words are a reminder. To us, the words are familiar. To us, we’re able to walk through the next several days—between Holy Thursday and Easter—with courage, with strength, with hope, because we know what’s ahead. We know we have to deal with this, but then will come Easter. The days in between may be dark. There may be tears. There may be disappointment. But the day of Resurrection will come.
But the first time these words were spoken, at that first meal, when Jesus gathered his disciples/his closest friends together in that room to share the Passover meal—the words were shocking. Unexpected. During that meal he inserts himself in the Passover story, into the story giving thanks for God’s salvation, for freeing their people from captivity in Egypt. He places himself squarely into that salvation story. He passes the bread: “This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He passes the cup, “This is my blood. Take, drink, in remembrance of me.”
What?? What is he talking about? What is Jesus saying?
This Passover meal happens in each of the Synoptic gospels, (you may remember that the Synoptic gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke who pattern their stories about Jesus after Mark’s writings who wrote first, with each of those writers adding some of their own content, as well). But in the Gospel of John (Chapter 6), Jesus has already talked about himself as being bread from heaven. After feeding the 5000, he tells his followers that if they eat his flesh and drink his blood they will abide in him, as he abides in them (52-58). Of course this is confusing to hear, it’s difficult to understand; of course his meaning is uncertain. Even as he acknowledges their disgust at what he’s said, and speaks of spirit—that it is the spirit that gives life, that the flesh is useless, many remain uncertain. Many turn back from following him at this point, though the 12 disciples remain with him, still trusting, wanting to understand. Still, Jesus shares—he knows that one will turn away. He knows that one of his inner circle, one of his friends, is no longer convinced, is frustrated with what Jesus is doing and what he perhaps expected Jesus might do (Mk. 6).
Jesus is risking and losing some who have followed…some who were certain but who aren’t convinced anymore. He knows this. And he continues to follow the path God is laying out for him…
In the Gospel of John, the meal Jesus shares with his disciples happens the evening before the Passover. After they gather around the table, Jesus stands up at some point after the glasses are filled and before the appetizers are served. He takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. He takes the basin from the servant, pours water into it, and begins to wash his disciple’s feet, and dries them with the towel.
The disciples watch Jesus and they’re speechless.
Those sitting at the table at the first dinner when the woman anointed Jesus did have words, but now, this is Jesus taking the action and they don’t know what to say. (Maybe it’s like if your sister or brother does something you disagree with and you’re quick to scold, but if it’s your parent who does it, or someone else who you look up to, well, the scolding doesn’t come so easily.) But, by the time Jesus gets to him, Peter is about to blow up. He’s been watching Jesus wash the feet of his companions as his emotions rise. He doesn’t understand! Jesus is behaving like a servant! Teachers don’t wash their student’s feet! It’s not right, and he won’t stand for it! Just as he had earlier completely rejected the thought of Jesus coming to Jerusalem, and giving himself up to die, so now, he is not going to put up with this nonsense! You think you’re going to wash my feet? NEVER!” Peter says to Jesus.
The others are watching, their thoughts are no different. Peter gives voice to what they only wish they would have said.
But Jesus replies, “Unless I wash you, you have no place with me.”
Peter surrenders. “Then not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.”
Jesus washes Peter’s feet. Jesus washes all the disciple’s feet. He hands the towel and basin back to the servant, he puts his robe back on, and returns to the table. He explains what he’s done. He teaches them. About washing one another’s feet. About serving. About love.
They’ve all been building up to this moment, and they can almost see it! It’s almost within reach! They’ve had this amazing day when they came into town with all those people gathered round, singing their Hosanna’s. Jesus is about to come into his glory! But as Jesus has been teaching them all along, his glory is not the glory they’ve envisioned. They haven’t been able to understand through his words, and so tonight he has shown them through his actions.
He has shown them what it means to serve.
He has shown them what it means to love.
He even washed the feet of Judas: the one he knows is about to betray him.
It’s all so different from what they expected.
His glory would mean their glory! That’s what they thought! But now?
Will they continue to follow him?
Or is the risk too great?
Look at the servant in the painting: He doesn’t understand either. He’s watched the whole thing, ready to do whatever he’s called upon to do. But this strange man, he’s thinking, the one who is in charge? The teacher? He’s washed these men’s feet. As though he were a servant, like me.
Hear again, what Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue just a few years before:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
How does this act of service point back to those words Jesus repeated from the prophet back in the synagogue just a few years ago?
In what ways have we—like his first disciples—misinterpreted or forgotten Jesus’ mission?
How would it feel if Jesus kneeled down in front of you to wash your feet? Would you be comfortable, or would you have to force yourself to allow him to do it?
How would you answer if he asked you afterwards, Do you know what I’ve done for you?
What risk will you take to follow him?