John 13:1-17, 31b-35
13Now 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. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them…
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He told them that evening. After dinner, after he had surprisingly washed their feet, after they had shared bread, and passed a cup around, after everything, he told them. They may not have understood. At that point, they probably still thought they were going back. But he was sending them on without him.
After dinner, they walked together to the garden. It was dark, probably humid, and they were already warm from the crowded room and the wine. The crowd had thinned. (Yes, there was a crowd. It was passover. With all due respect to Da Vinci, the Upper Room was not a separate party room above the restaurant. The Upper Room probably seats 200 people. But Jesus had sat with them. Jesus had washed THEIR feet.) And now they were alone, following Jesus into the garden. And that is where everything changed. It seemed like a bad dream. The stillness of the night was disrupted by soldiers stomping through the quiet. And then Judas. It all seemed so wrong. And they took him. They took him away. And they were there–alone. And they wanted desperately to go back. They wanted desperately to go back to what was. Galilee seemed a world away. But it all made sense now. He had told them. He was sending them on without him. He was sending them to continue the work.
After several weeks of self-distancing and being so alone, most of us are ready to go back. The eerie pictures of empty cities are just too much. (“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.” Lamentations 1:1)
But if we’re honest with ourselves, the place to which we as a society will return will be different. Oh, it may look the same, frozen in time like a photograph. But it will be different. Because all of us have changed. There will be a pre-Covid life and a post-Covid life just as time is divided by September 11, 2001. I’m betting that all of us will now have masks in our dresser drawers in case we need them again because we just might. It may be awhile before we get to the point where just having one extra package of toilet paper is enough. Maybe we’ll never get there. And it will be hard to be in the middle of a crowd without at least thinking about it. And we’ve finally learned how to wash our hands! Maybe crowds will change. But we, too, have to go on and continue the work. Some things will be better. Hopefully, some things will be smarter. Maybe this will force us to figure out a world that is more equitable, more just. Maybe it will change the world for the better. Hopefully it will change us for the better.
The canonical Scriptures don’t capture it but what did the disciples do next? Did they cry and grieve, perhaps sharing wonderful memories? Or did they leave separately? Were all of them a lot more like Peter regretfully claiming that they did not know Jesus? Did some of them leave early the next morning for Galilee? After all, the Bible doesn’t really capture them with Jesus over the next hours. Wherever they were, they could not go back. Things would be different. And this time, they had to walk it without him. But they did. The story went on.
Ours will too. The trick is to change the way we do that which is good and strip the other away. Let it make us kinder, more aware of other’s plight. We’re that way now, reaching out, wanting to help. We’re aware. So don’t let us just go back. So, tonight, as the altar is [virtually] stripped, think of those things that do not need to return and hold those things that are good that they might come to be again. Because they will.
We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. (Joseph Campbell)
Today, pray for yourself. Pray that you will know what to strip away and what to put back when the next season begins. Pray that you will be awake enough to feel Jesus walking with you into what will come.