This is a special edition of Weekly Reflections, because this is a special week.
For those churches that follow the liturgical church year, this week is a busy one. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey. This Thursday evening is Maundy Thursday, and Friday is Good Friday. There will be at least one church service on each day, plus several church services on Easter Sunday. Most pastors are exhausted by Easter Sunday afternoon! We will look at a few of the readings assigned for these days. But first, a brief word on each of what these days are, and where their weird names come from.
Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter. It is the service where we study what happened at our Lord’s last supper. The word “Maundy” is a denigration of the Latin work “mandatum”, or command in English. We’ll talk about the command Jesus gives, when we examine the gospel lesson for Maundy Thursday. Some churches observe a foot washing at this service. It is a little strange, but as you may recall, that’s how Peter felt at the first one, so it’s historical to feel weird.
Good Friday is the day that they crucified Jesus on the cross. It is definitely NOT a good day for Jesus! But it is believed that the word “good” is a denigration of the word “God”. So, originally it was “God’s Friday” in Old English, and somehow over time it became “Good Friday”. Weird, but that’s the explanation. This is a solemn, emotional church service. The altar is stripped as Psalm 22 is read. (Many believe that Jesus was reciting this psalm during his crucifixion.) The big church bible is sometimes slammed shut to represent the closing of the tomb. People will exit in silence, and do not socialize. It is a day of sorrow.
JOHN 13:1-17, 31b-35
In verses 2b through 17, Jesus gets up from the dinner table, mid-meal, and washes his disciples’ feet. Peter, bless his heart, resists. He refuses to have Jesus do this, and for good reason. It was one of the tasks that was relegated to the household slaves. And amongst the slaves, it always fell to the lowest in the pecking order. It was not a popular job! So, it is understandable that Peter would raise a fuss. Jesus’ response to his objections are to the point—“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (v.8b) Why does Jesus do this? Jesus’ time is short. He has two lessons he wants to leave his disciples with, and this is one. He goes on to say that they “…ought to wash one another’s feet.” (v. 14b) He is making it clear that they (and we) are to lovingly and humbly serve one another without pretense and without reservation. “If you know these things, you ae blessed if you do them.” (v. 17) So, here’s that lesson from last Sunday again—it’s about humble obedience and loving service to one another.
In verse 34, we get our marching orders. He says that it is a new commandment, that we love one another. Then, in verse 35, he really turns up the heat—If we’re doing this love thing correctly, it should be clear to bystanders that we’re Christians, simply because there is so much love being shown.
This is not an easy lesson. How many religious wars can you think of? How many Christian religious arguments come to mind? We have a lousy track record for obeying this commandment!
I am thinking of a bakery that my wife and I went to a few years ago. It was a strange setup. We weren’t sure how you ordered, where you picked it up, and where you paid for it. They had beautiful pastries, and we wanted some. There were people milling all around, which added to the confusion. We were lost. Some kind people recognized our plight, and took us under their wing. Asked how they could help. They showed us how to order, and where to pay for it. They were sweet and kind to us, and we were grateful. We were in the best Baklava bakery store in Michigan, and they were all Muslims. We stood out like a sore thumb, but did not feel threatened in any way. But their lovingkindness was incredible. It made our Baklava taste even sweeter! If our Christian love is supposed to be so intense that they can pick us out from these kind people, then how much love must I demonstrate in my daily Christian walk? I have a lot of work to do!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How can we show more love to others? We can start by being less judgmental and more accepting. Can we set aside our differences, and look at what we have in common with those around us, rather than how we are different?
I suggest that you read this one on Good Friday, when you want to reflect on the suffering of Jesus. I will not go into the details of the text, or give you a little sermonette. Instead, I ask that you read this with a pencil or a highlighter. Underline the passages that speak to you. Pray and reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for you and me. There is great suffering in the body of the text, but it ends in victory and a promise.
This is another long passage, so I will not add to your reading burden by providing comments on it. But, I do want to explain the setting. In the chapters before this passage, Jesus has had the Passover meal with his disciples. He has given them the new commandment. Then, he provides them with a long discourse—four chapters! These are his final instructions to those who will continue his work. This is why John 18:1 begins with “After Jesus had spoken these words…” John is referring to the long discourse that Jesus just gave.
May the Holy Spirit be with you as you read these Good Friday passages.