Love Fiercely, Love Intimately, Love Persistently

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A Maundy Thursday sermon on John 13:1-17, 31-35

If you were following the news last week, you may have heard that there was a bit of an Easter crisis. Cadbury’s had teamed up with the National Trust to put on an Easter egg hunt, however, rather than calling it an Easter egg hunt, they called it the Cadbury’s Egg Hunt. And numerous people from the Archbishop of York through to the Prime Minister, viewed this as an egregious attack on Easter and everything Easter means. But if you want to find the people who are sticking up for Easter and defending it, happily they all hang out in the same place: Twitter. Now I would love to read you some of the tweets of Easter defenders verbatim, but common decency prohibits me from doing so. But here are a few censored examples of people fighting for Easter.

‘Went to Tesco to buy Easter eggs last night. Seems they don’t sell Easter eggs now just chocolate eggs! Won’t be using Tesco again – boycott!

‘Bought Cadbury’s Easter eggs for the neighbours kids and now they’re all going in the bin.’

‘I find I “accidentally” have a problem when handling Easter eggs that don’t say Easter on them. It’s a shame because once broken they are no longer sellable. So strange my thumb never crushes the ones with Easter on them. I wonder why.’

To which someone replied, ‘Destroying children’s Easter eggs for Jesus. #it’swhathewouldhavewanted’

And yet, when we come to this passage in John’s Gospel, we get a picture of Jesus that is a world away from destroying confectionary just because the word ‘Easter’ doesn’t appear on it. Jesus knows that he is mere hours away from prolonged agony. Someone he loves is going to betray him, others he loves are going to deny him, he’s going to be tortured, mocked, humiliated, and he’s going to be crucified not just despite the fact that he is innocent, but because he is innocent. He is the only person who does not deserve in any way what he is going to go through, and yet he willingly goes through it. And although we know the magnificent ending to the story, it doesn’t make the pain any less difficult to go through.

But despite knowing all that was to come he is filled with love. There it is in verse one, ‘having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the end.’ ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’ He loves them to the end, he loves them fiercely.

And Jesus demonstrates this love in a profound and beautiful way. ‘He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.’ Some of you may know that I invest quite a lot of care and attention on my nails, but I am ashamed to say that this care and attention does not extend to my toes. In fact my feet in general are pretty terrible which is why you will never see them! My nail varnish on my toes is chipped and reveals that I don’t actually remove my nail varnish and just paint new coats over it and due to having abnormally narrow feet, so as not to lose my shoes when I walk, I wear shoes a size too small for me so my feet basically look like they belonged to my 94 year-old grandmother. If anyone here is a foot doctor, please don’t judge me!

So if Jesus was here and he said to me that he wanted to wash my feet, my response would be no. No thank you, Jesus, I’m alright thanks, I’ll spare you from my feet. But that is how I feel about a lot of things, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Don’t get too close, Jesus, don’t get your beauty too close to my mess. The act of washing his disciples’ feet was Jesus loving intimately. One by one, he washes his disciples’ feet. He washes the feet of the of the person who he knows is going to deny him three times. He washes the feet of the person he knows is going to betray him in just a few hours. He washes the feet of his followers whose feet show that they have walked miles and miles following him and serving him. This is how Jesus loves us: intimately.

There are many incredible things about Holy Week, but in the next three days especially there is the most fantastic collision of humanity with divinity. In the next three days, the fullness of God’s power and glory is on incredible display, destroying sin, defeating death. And also in the next three days, the fullness of human life is on bold and raw display. Because we all have days that are like Good Friday. We all know pain so intense and so unfair that it feels like we’re going to burst. And we do all have days like Easter Sunday where we feel deep joy and the peace and confidence that comes with it. And we have plenty of days like Holy Saturday. Days where it we’re just doing the best we can, where at times it’s mundane, and at times it’s confusing. Days where following Jesus feels like striving and like we are just getting tired and weary feet. But the Jesus who washes our feet, regardless of what has caused them to get into the state they are in, loves us persistently. His love persists through whatever it is we’re facing, be it pain, or joy, or in the every day. He loves us fiercely, intimately, persistently.

And he issues us a challenge, the challenge to love as we are loved: fiercely, intimately, persistently. Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum or mandate, the mandate or command Jesus gives us in verses 34-35: ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ It’s not an easy command.

‘As I have loved you’ means we have to wash the feet of those who will hurt us. ‘As I have loved you’ means we have to wash the feet of those we’d rather not go near. ‘As I have loved you’ means we have to wash the feet of everyone, including the person who would really rather you didn’t, the person who for whatever reason is afraid to be known and makes it hard to love them. When I first started coming to St Clement’s, I did a really good job for the first few months of getting out of church as quickly as possible once the service had ended. And I did this with great success until one day, I was cornered by somebody. And they asked my name. And they asked what I did. And they asked if I wanted a cup of tea. And from then on, whenever they were in church, my plan to slip out failed. And because of their persistence and their love I ended up in a home group and ended up getting to know more people in church, and then ended up calling this place home and the people in it, family. And without such fierce, intimate, persistent love, my life would be much much poorer.

‘As I have loved you’ is a twofold command. First it is to let Jesus in, to let him wash our feet, to let him love us with the fierce, intimate persistence that he does his disciples. Second, it is to love others the same way, to love people just as they are, to love people, despite the fact that it so often comes with a cost. Jesus tells his disciples ‘as I have loved you’ because that is what they need to remember over the next three bewildering, painful, glorious days. Jesus tells us ‘as I have loved you’ because that is what we need to remember for others as well as for ourselves, for our bewildering, painful, and glorious days.

‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’ As Jesus has loved us, the free, powerful, vulnerable, earth-shattering, temple-veil tearing, sin-destroying, death-defeating, feet-washing love, so we must love one another. ‘As I have loved you…fiercely, intimately, persistently, so you must love one another.’

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