So here we are five days before Easter Sunday and I am in the midst of writing a meditation to share with those who will attend a religious service on Maundy Thursday the next day. The word "maundy" is defined as the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, especially commemorating Jesus' washing of His disciples' feet on Maundy Thursday. As I am preparing this meditation I am following the events in scripture associated with what most people in Christian circles call "Holy Week." What I have discovered in my research regarding this very important day rather caught me by surprise. So what I want to share may be old hat for some but perhaps for others it may be as surprising to them as it was to me.
As I read the various gospel writer's accounts of the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus I became intrigued with John's rendition. Now I have been reading the gospel of John most of my life but for some reason I never read it in context with the Passover meal they shared the day before the crucifixion.
I have heard sermon after sermon from preachers utilizing the gospel of John. I'm sure you have too but allow me to offer perhaps a different way of looking at John chapter thirteen through seventeen. Picture, if you will, thirteen men gathering together to eat the Passover meal. It was something the Jews did every year. Jesus had sent Peter and others ahead to make preparations for the meal. Once they gathered Jesus gets up and proceeds to wrap a towel around his waist and filling a basin with water he begins to wash the feet of his disciples. Peter protests saying that Jesus won't wash his feet. Jesus says if I don't wash your feet you will not have a place with me. After he completes his task he asks them if they understand what he has just done. Jesus proceeds to tell them that if I, your teacher and Lord have washed your feet you ought to wash one another's feet meaning that we are to serve one another in love. This foot washing event also introduces the fact that not all of the disciples were clean. He indicated that one of them would betray him to the authorities. Once Judas is revealed as the betrayer he leaves.
Once Judas has left the company of Jesus and the disciples Jesus turns his attention to the other eleven. This discourse begins in John 13:31. Jesus begins to tell them what is about to happen. For the next three chapters in John, chapter fourteen, fifteen and sixteen Jesus communicates the most amazing intimacy based on his love for his disciples. At the end of chapter fourteen Jesus leads them to the garden of Gethsemane where I believe the rest of His discorse is communicated. I challenge you to focus your attention on this passover meal visualizing them gathered around the table and then later as they gather in the garden. For me it was like re-reading these chapters again for the first time.
You hear Jesus offering them comfort as confusion and anxiety begins to rise within them. Jesus says, "Let not your heart be troubled..." After the fourteenth chapter, as was stated earlier, Jesus leads them to the Mount of Olives where perhaps he shows them a vine and uses it to make a point about their inclusion in him. As he continues to encourage them Jesus says, " I am the true vine and my Father is the vine dresser." Again Jesus says, "I am the vine and you are the branches; it is the one who understands this mutual union that naturally bears much fruit- which is impossible to happen apart from me. It is within these passages that Jesus refers to his disciples as friends and not slaves. He tells them that he will be going away and that they will not be able to follow just now. He talks to them about the Holy Spirit. He lets them know that the Holy Spirit will be their Companion. In other words, chapter fourteen through sixteen seems to be an intimate discourse given by Jesus to his disciples first of all because he loved them dearly. What he shared with them they would need to know as the events of the next two days transpired. They would also need to know these things as they began living their lives post resurrection.
Finally, chapter seventeen brings this intimate gathering to a miraculous conclusion as Jesus prays the most amazing prayer to his Heavenly Father. I don't think I will ever hear these five chapters the same way again. When I saw this truth in context it has change my outlook on Maundy Thursday. Perhaps it will challenge you as well.
I suppose there's a lot that can be said about the hermit crab. It is an interesting creature for sure. Growing up near a bayou in Pensacola I was privileged to find bunches of these little sea scavengers living in the shallow waters close to the shore. I would watch them as they crawled across the sea floor carrying their shells with them. If you touched them while they crawled immediately they would retreat inside their protective shelter and remain motionless until they figured the danger that had caused them to retreat had passed.
As I thought about the hermit crab's behavior it became apparent to me that there were times in my life when all I wanted to do was retreat to a safe place. In that place the pains of my present situation plus all the other painful occurrences that had simply overwhelmed me would no longer be a threat. So, just like the hermit crab, I was safe and sound deep inside the insulation of my inner world. There I existed walled off from not only those who had hurt my feelings but also separated from those who loved me.
It is an interesting phenomena to discover the paradox of vulnerability. Most of my life I ran from situations that exposed what I determined to be my weaknesses. As long as I could convince myself that I was well protected from a world bent on exposing my estimation of poor self-esteem the better I thought I would be able to cope with life. Like the hermit crab not only did I retreat but I carried such a heavy burden to boot.
Now this may be stretching the hermit crab analogy a little too far but it occurs to me that while this little creature exists within its shell its life is growing. Eventually it will outgrow its present shell forcing it to abandon it in search of a shell with more room to continue growing. Once the hermit crab is out of its shell it is fully exposed to all the dangers the sea can offer. However, it is in the abandonment of its burden that gives it impetus to survive.
Perhaps it is the risk we take to expose our suffering that gives us and others impetus to survive. Someone is watching you wrestle with living. Their observance of you may very well be offering them the inspiration they need to emerge from their retreat. I contend that our greatest strength lies within our weaknesses. So don't give up on vulnerability. There is more power there than words can ever express!