Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Years A, B & C

“An unwelcome kindness”:  that’s how one preacher describes the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus, “an unwelcome kindness”.

Unwelcome because it’s the task of a slave to wash the feet of others – it’s not the task of the man they call Lord and Master.

Unwelcome perhaps because it’s a kindness that cannot be repaid – it’s a gift of undeserved service and we’re not always comfortable receiving a gift that is truly free – no strings attached.

Unwelcome because it gives the disciples and us an uncomfortable example which Jesus expects us to follow.

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet to give them a powerful embodied symbol of what God’s love, looks like in action.

And tonight we re-enact that symbolic washing of feet to remind ourselves that Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Tonight we also hear Jesus saying to his twelve disciples and to all generations of his disciples since then:

“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”.

“Love one another. Just as I have loved you”

Is the love Jesus has for us also an unwelcome kindness?

Unwelcome because, like the slave who washes feet, the unconditional love of God shown by Jesus is free, with no payment demanded except, of course, that “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Unwelcome because it shows us how we must be with one another and we’re very aware of how far away we are from loving one another as Jesus loves us.

And yet that is what we are commanded to do and in fact that’s what today, Maundy Thursday, is all about.  Because the word “Maundy” come from the Latin words, “mandatum novum” – “new commandment”.  It has the same root as the word mandatory – compulsory.

“I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another just as I have loved you.”

So, how does Jesus love us?  How are we to love one another?

Well, the word used for “love” in this commandment is “agape” which has been described as “the highest level of love known to humanity – a selfless love, a love passionately committed to the well-being of the other”.

“Agape” is also the word for love that St Paul uses in his great “hymn to love” found in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians.  And that hymn gives a powerful, if uncomfortable, perhaps unwelcome, word picture of how we are to be towards each other if we are committed to obeying the mandatum novum  – the new commandment – that Jesus gives each one of us tonight.

Let’s remind ourselves then of what love is and what it would mean to love one another as Jesus loves us.

Love is patient and kind: it makes allowances for our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  It forgives our failures and thinks well of us instead of finding fault and blaming us with harsh words and a raised voice.

Love envies no one.   It celebrates the good in others and begrudges no-one their successes or achievements.

Love is never boastful or conceited.  It remains humble and modest, preferring to stay out of the limelight.

Love is never rude or selfish.  It makes room for others to feel welcome and valued and puts the welfare of others before its own comfort.

Love is never quick to take offence and keeps no score of wrongs.   It doesn’t fly off the handle when feeling hurt or threatened. It doesn’t hold grudges or hang on to the memory of wrongs carried out in the past.

Love takes no pleasure in the sins of others but wishes only for their forgiveness and reconciliation with God and their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Love delights in the truth and shares that joy with others.

Love can face anything and there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.

Love will never come to an end.

Jesus said,

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

He also said:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another”.

So I have one more uncomfortable, perhaps unwelcome, question for each and every one of us this evening.

If someone outside the church listened in to our conversations after services, over coffee, in our SALT nights or other group meetings, in our PCC or Annual Church meetings would they know from the way we talk to and about each other that we love one another and that we are disciples of Jesus?

And in response to that question here are words from the first letter of John:

“If we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God is just and may be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every kind of wrongdoing.”

(1 John 1.8-9)

Love is patient, merciful and forgiving and invites us to make a fresh start every time we mess things up.  So let’s welcome the kindness of Jesus, let’s allow him to wash our feet, to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts and then, with his grace and in his strength, renew our commitment to obeying his new commandment.

Let us love one another as Jesus loves us and may everyone know that we are his disciples because we have God’s love in our hearts for one another.