Grace to you and peace in Jesus, our crucified King’s name. AMEN.
So each of these words of Jesus bear so much meaning and harken back to previous events in the Gospel of John. This is the grand finale, sisters and brothers in Christ. And when Jesus says, “It is finished,” one scholar suggests, don’t you dare imagine it as Christ hanging his head in defeat; no, this is like Michelangelo looking up at the completed Cistene Chapel. This is Jesus’ masterpiece!
But this is a little different this year: to be reading about and considering Jesus’ final words from the cross here on Maundy Thursday. Traditionally, we remember the Last Supper tonight, and Jesus washing the disciples feet, right?
But with our Narrative Lectionary readings we’ve been making our way through John’s Gospel, and Jesus’ action of foot washing was actually how we started Lent way back in February in Chapter 13. So much has happened since then. And yet the lesson of the foot washing, which is really what Maundy Thursday is all about, is exactly the same in our text here, as Jesus addresses his beloved disciple and his beloved mother: Love one another.
Maundy Thursday — that word “maundy”, you may or may not know, comes from the same Latin word that gives us “mandate”. May as well call this day “Mandate Thursday”. And what’s the mandate? To love one another. These are Jesus’ last words to his disciples around the table...with the wash basin, and the towel; and also now, hanging from the holy tree, the cross. This is the King reigning down from his throne.
One commentator called his final words here Jesus’ “cross sermons.” No need to cry for Jesus here. He’s busy preaching and teaching from his thrown! Makes no sense to the world!…
...that celebrates the power of Rome, that celebrates the power and brute force of any mighty nation (including ours, for that matter). Makes no sense to this world; it’s laughable even. Jesus seems so insignificant to Empire: “Foolishness to the world,” writes Paul to the Corinthians (love Easter is on April FOOL’s day), “Foolishness to the world, but this One crucified is the very wisdom of God.”
And we get pointed to what that wisdom (sophia) of God looks like in this slightly different “Mandate” Thursday scene, this year: God’s wisdom (foolishness to the world) looks like this: it looks like two former strangers become family members — “Woman, behold your son...Behold your mother.”
Jesus is using his dying breath to connect people, to build community. Biblical scholars note that in we often talk about Pentecost as the birthday of the church... But this scene of two strangers-become-family at the foot of the cross is really the birthday of the church as Jesus’ first worshipers are joined together in a mandate, and then sent out to love.
Pretty powerful mandate.
And what is Christ’s mandate for you, as you meet one another at the foot of the cross again this year?
What does “love one another” mean for you this year? What stranger are you being told by Jesus to take care of from this day on? What new community-in-Christ is being born this evening in you, at the foot of this cross? Forgiven of our sin, (in a moment) filled with the sweetest bread and the finest wine, the body and blood of our preacher-teacher-Savior-and-friend Jesus: what now for you? Who is Jesus connecting you to, who is your new family in Christ? Who have you been missing all this time, but right there next to you is your mother, or your father, or your sister, or your brother, or your child?
This is a feast of love, God’s masterpiece and wisdom, being offered here by Jesus.
Jesus offers us one another. Whoever is beside us...is our family, and we are commanded to love them:
Whatever mailbox we’re next to back home, we are commanded to love them as family. Whatever locker we’re next to, we are commanded to love them as family. Whatever cubicle we work next to, we are commanded to love them as family. Whatever nation we’re next to, we are commended to love them as family. Whatever creature we share this planet with, we are commanded to love them as family. Jesus offers us to each other — it’s like we never saw it until now! And from this day on, from the foot of the cross, we care for each other anew.
Friends in Christ, we are free, we are forgiven and we are fed...TO LOVE. Thanks be to God, who pours out Divine Love for us this holy evening...and forevermore. AMEN.