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.