This night the Son of God shows us the full shape of love, the way God envisions the whole world living and moving, the path of our life and hope.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: John 13:1-17, 31b-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Do you know what I have done to you?”
Hands still wet from washing his followers’ feet, Jesus asks his most important question ever. “Do you know what I have done to you?”
No question is more critical to life. Do you know what Jesus has done? Do you know what God is doing in Christ? Do you know what this week means for your life, your faith, for the world? All Christian theology begins and ends with Jesus’ question on the night of his betrayal.
Jesus opens up this question with two deepenings. First, he says he is setting an example. What he does, you do. This is always the center of Jesus’ message: Follow me. Do as I do. Walk where I walk.
Second, it is this night when Jesus makes his great commandment. Only in the context of the events of these painful days does he make this absolutely clear: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
“Do you know what I have done to you?” he asks. I have set you an example. I have commanded you to love as I love. Do you know what that means?
Everything Jesus does tonight leads to the answer. So watch, see, learn. And then follow.
Watch Jesus tonight: he shows you that love serves.
The Son of God, God’s Eternal Word, kneels before his followers and washes their feet. Those not preparing the meal arrived at the upper room, tired and dirty from the road, arguing an old fight over which was Jesus’ favorite. Even children know to wash for dinner, to use the basin and pitcher at the entrance. Everyone knew dirty feet needed to be cleaned before eating.
Yet the Master shows what love is. Putting aside any hierarchy, or proper order, not chiding his disciples for their neglect, Jesus simply loves them. Jesus becomes a servant, a slave, and carefully, gently, washes their feet.
Do you know what I have done to you? he asks. I have shown you the shape of love. To love as I love is to see yourself the servant of all your sisters and brothers. To love as I love is to set aside what’s right and who’s first and what you think you’re owed, and offer yourself as servant to all.
Watch Jesus tonight: he shows you that love offers itself completely.
After this washing, they moved into the meal. It was Passover, so they drank four cups of wine at the prescribed places. They passed around unleavened bread, remembering their ancestors.
But in the middle, Jesus gave them a way to understand what would happen tomorrow. The cross at this point isn’t a surprise to Jesus, but his disciples don’t know it. So, stepping away from the words of the Seder, he said “this bread is my body. Take it. Eat it.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, a drink of forgiveness. Drink it.”
They couldn’t have understood. Even the next day, as they saw him horribly killed, they didn’t get it. But after Easter they started to remember, and understand.
Do you know what I have done to you? he asks. I have shown you the shape of love. To love as I love is to offer yourself fully to the other, to be vulnerable, to risk everything, even death. The one you love takes in all you offer and is changed, like this bread and wine will fill you with my body and blood and life and love and forgiveness and all I do on this cross.
But also, Jesus says, do this to remember this death, to remember what love really is. “As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup,” Paul says, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” To love as I love, Jesus says, is to remember this death, and to offer yourself fully to the other, as gift, as forgiveness, as vulnerable grace.
Watch Jesus tonight: he shows you that love surrenders to God’s vision.
We leave the supper to go to Gethsemane. Here Jesus will face his betrayer, be arrested, and begin the humiliation that leads to torture and death.
Before that, he will pray to his Father. In the internal mystery of the Triune God, the Son will ask the Father if it is possible to avoid this death. The Son came as one of us to reveal God’s heart to us, to draw you into the heart of God, and the cross will be the moment of deepest revelation. But now there is this moment of hesitation.
Do you know what I have done to you? he asks. I have shown you the shape of love. Love is not unafraid, and love isn’t free of doubt. Love is often terrified of following through, wonders if there are easier ways to be.
But not my will be done, that’s what I said, Jesus tells you. Love is always shaped by God’s vision for how the world works. Not by your own real needs, or self-concerns. Love follows the path of servanthood, of vulnerability and loss, and now chooses to be shaped by God’s will.
To love as I love, Jesus says, is to trust God and follow. No matter the cost. No matter the fear. No matter that you can’t see how this will be a good thing.
“Do you know what I have done to you?”
This is the only question that matters. We long for love, for connection with others. We struggle to know if we are loveable, valued. We seek ways to fill our emptiness inside.
But here you have looked at your feet and seen the God of all time and history kneeling there in love. Here you have looked toward a cross and seen the God who made all things facing death out of love for you. Here you have watched a struggle within God’s own Triune life over living out this love, and have seen the Son of God choose to love you, even if you would kill him for it.
Here you have seen the shape of God’s love, and have found yourself forever wrapped up in it.
So, now: Jesus has set an example. Will you do as he does? Jesus has commanded you to love as he loves. Will you follow this love you have seen, this love that has changed your life and given you faith and hope?
Because when you love in this way, follow this example, you will be a witness to Christ. You will begin to understand what it is Jesus has done to you, and to the world.
And eventually, God’s deepest vision will come to pass, that the whole creation will know of God’s love and live it, for the healing of all things.
In the name of Jesus. Amen