Maundy Thursday: Do This, Because I Love You!

A Meditation from the Rev. Linda Mackie Grigg

The disciples are feeling whiplashed by now. Just a few days ago there was so much hope. The crowds had hailed Jesus as Messiah, Son of David—with hosannas so loud they couldn’t hear themselves think, and palm branches so thick on the ground that the donkey’s feet never touched the dirt. But now the hosannas are silent and all that remains of the palm carpet is a stray frond here and there, curling and forgotten by the roadside.

The adrenalin excitement has been replaced by furtive anxiety. Jerusalem is on edge: The crowds who had followed Jesus are simmering; the Roman and Temple authorities are ready to pounce. The friends had worried who was watching as they made Passover preparations according to Jesus’ careful instructions–double- and triple-checking to make sure they had not been observed as they gathered one by one in the upper room of a nondescript house down a narrow street.

And now? What should have been a celebration for some reason feels more like—a wake.  Jesus seems withdrawn, somehow both focused and distracted at the same time. For once he seems at a loss for words.

Quietly and suddenly he stands, takes a basin of water and a towel, and kneels in front of Andrew. The air is electric as the water pours over his feet and into the basin. Jesus moves to Philip, and then Judas, then Nathanael. Then Peter.

At first Peter draws back in dismay. What kind of a king does this? What kind of a king stoops to serve in such a menial way? Jesus persists, Peter surrenders. The water splashes softly, the towel gently dries.

This is what we do for one another, Jesus says. Wash. Love. Serve. And in turn offer your care-worn, callused, travel-weary and broken self to be comforted and healed. Giving and receiving in a constant flow of care. This is what love looks like. This is who we are, and how people will know us. Do this, he says. Because I love you.

Their hearts are burning. Something begins to shift in the air.

For three years Jesus has spoken of the Dream of God—a kingdom unlike any they can comprehend. Sometimes, in flashes, it has all made sense; but then the world intervenes and they forget. So Jesus tries again to make them understand. And again. And again.

Tonight Jesus knows that there are no more agains to spare. No more time for parables or sermons or signs. But there is bread. And wine. He gazes around the room at his friends. No more time for telling. It is time to show.

He takes bread. Made of wheat; sown, cut, ground, baked. Wine; from grapes, pruned, thirsted to sweetness, crushed, and fermented in darkness. Both from the earth, made by human hands; the embodiment of life made whole through suffering and struggle. This is my body, he says. Given for you. This is my blood, the blood of all who suffer, shed for you. Eat, drink, remembering me.

Do they understand? No; still no. But sometimes it isn’t about understanding. They do know that they are in the presence of Mystery, not to be solved but to be shared.

Do this, he says. Because I love you. This much they can understand.

James, John, Peter, Mary Magdalene and the other gathered disciples gaze into the eyes of Jesus and see only love. Their hearts are full.

Judas looks away, and slips silently, almost unnoticed, out the door.

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