Scripture Text: 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. 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?” 7Jesus 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Sometimes life spins a little out of control. Sometimes things don’t go exactly like the carefully scripted plan we have in our own minds. Sometimes we have to let go or leave behind those in our lives before we’re actually ready to do so. Our lives are full of “last times”, those special, much-too-fleeting moments that we spend with those we love. It is those times when all we can do is trust that the groundwork has been laid for what must continue. That had to be a little of what Jesus was going through on this night. Think about it…he had spent his ministry gathering those around him, teaching them, loving them, and indeed shaping them into who they were. And now…here he was completely out of time…the end was approaching. Night had begun to fall. All he could do was trust that the seeds he had planted in his followers would continue to grow and flourish even in a new environment and a new time. So on this night, he invited all those who love him—this somewhat motley crew of misfits and ordinary ones to sit around the table and enjoy their time together. He knew what was about to happen. He knew that this would be the last.
That is where we enter the story…in the midst of this evening meal…this Passover meal…the last meal. The feast is prepared. The loved ones are gathered together. We have visions of a perfect meal and a perfect time together. But, as all of us know, that is not always the way that family meals come together. This was no exception. Nestled beneath this wonderful feeling of closeness and fellowship were chords of betrayal and distrust, signs of denial and misunderstandings, and an all-too-constant stream of arguing among the disciples. Does that sound familiar?
But in this Passover meal that we have come to call the Last Supper, Jesus chooses to share himself—his very body and blood with all of those that were gathered—this denying, betraying, bickering, and beloved lot. It was a way of giving them something to remember him so that they would not feel so alone without him. He gave them something to hold onto—to touch and to taste—something to do to keep Christ close in their hearts, to feel the very real Presence of Christ forever. On this night, Jesus gives the gift of himself and a way for all of us to remember who we are.
Our culture probably doesn’t do well with “lasts”. We seem to be always rushing to the next thing, not wanting to hurt or grieve or even hold on to what may be somewhat painful moments in our lives. We rush to get “over it”, to move on. As many of you know, I am dealing with my own set of “lasts” right now. As I prepare to close my chapter at St. Paul’s and begin a new chapter at FUMC, Cleveland, Tx, the “lasts” seem to be coming in a flurry right now. I am such that I tear up and sometimes even blatantly bawl at the emptiness and, yet, I really want to savor it, to feel every moment of it, to remember it, to make it a part of me, and to leave a part of myself. That is what Jesus was trying to do. I don’t think he was trying to “get them through it” and he was definitely not wanting to rush for it to be over. He was wanting them to experience it, to savor it, indeed, to remember it. Do this in remembrance of me. The beauty of this last meal was the intimacy and the relationship. These were friends dining together–friends who had loved and argued, celebrated and cried, friends who had been called together one by one. They were all different, coming from different lifestyles with different gifts to offer. They were us. We are them. And this was the moment that they would remember when everything had changed.
I have known that I have been moving for nearly six months, carrying it with me with just a few trusted friends. The “lasts” that I experienced alone were absolute torture. Christmas Eve was a “last” I would like to forget. But this, these holy days…I want to embrace and understand them in a whole new way. For on this night of nights, Jesus drew them in, not to take care of them, but to help them remember. They had to remember enough to hand the memory on. The Greek word for it is anamnesis. We would translate it as remembering. But it is more. It is not merely remembering those things that happened to us; it is remembering what came before and what was passed on, remembering what was part of our tradition and our heart. It is finding a memory of what came before that leads you on your journey beyond. We often tout “institutional memory” as if it is a way of remembering what happened to whom and where and when. But it is more. It is a way of imparting what is important, what matters, what gives life to those that come next. That is why this night was so important. Jesus did not choose to shut himself off and grieve what was coming but instead immersed himself in a circle of friends so that he could live through them. Experiencing a “last time” alone is painful; experiencing a “last time” with a gift of friends and a meal will remain forever.
This is the night we remember, the night that Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup, the night that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of the disciples, the night that Jesus forgave betrayal and welcomed life. A few hours later the soldiers would come and the end would begin. But the memory of that last time will last forever. Do this in remembrance of me.
The glad hosannas are no longer heard. The shouting is over, the palms are gathered; the shadows lengthen; the plotting begins in earnest. Knowing the outcome, we come with heavy hearts. And what do we hear? An unchanged and unchanging message of love; God’s love, a poet’s love, a woman’s love. God’s love, foretold by Isaiah, in the shape of a servant. (Moira B. Laidlaw)
On this night of nights, we remember. But we also experience our own “lasts”. What memories have been imparted to you? What do you remember that makes you? What can you impart to those that come after you? Embrace your lasts, hold them, love them, and then pass them along.
Grace and Peace,