John 13:1-17,31b-35; I Corinthians 11:23-26; Exodus 12:1-14
How many of you have ever watched the TV game show “Family Feud?” It’s been around for a long time. It’s interesting in that the contestants are not asked to get answers to questions right. They’re challenge is to try to guess the most popular responses to certain questions or statements.
I understand that one such challenge was this. “Name one of the 12 Apostles.” Pretty easy, don’t you think? You think? Well let me ask you. How would you respond if I were to ask you to name one of the 12 apostles? Just anybody. Shout them out.
Okay, very good. Now can you guess which of the twelve Apostles – at least on the game show – of the twelve – whose name was most popular? Anybody? Yeah, I would have thought Peter, or John. But the most popular answer was – Paul. Paul!
Hang on to that for a minute, because I’m going to ask if anyone knows who sang at the Last Supper? Famous singing group…Peter, Paul and Mary. I remember my childhood friend, Michael, telling me that joke. And of course, I had to repeat it. SO I went and told my mother that joke, and she said, “The problem with that is, that Paul wasn’t at the last supper. He wasn’t yet a follower of Jesus.”
So now you see the problem – both with the joke and the Family Feud answer. Although he did become an Apostle after his conversion to Christianity, he was not at the Last Supper because he was not one of the original twelve. And since he wasn’t one of the original twelve, you understand the problem with the most popular answer given on Family Feud. Which really says something about the general populations’ understanding of just who’s who in the Bible.
So Paul wasn’t one of the original 12 disciples. He wasn’t at the Last Supper. And yet, when it comes to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, it is Paul’s words that we are most familiar with. Not Matthew’s. Not Mark’s. Not Luke’s. But Paul’s. I’m talking about the Words of Institution.
Now all of you fourth graders – you remember that, right? You remember we talked about the Words of Institution? It starts this way, “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread….” You remember those words, right? And you remember that we call those words the Words of Institution. And that’s because Jesus started something – he instituted something new that night. And we call it the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion or – remember that funny Greek word that means to give thanks? Anybody? Eucharist. Sometimes we call it the Eucharist. Which simply means to give thanks.
So Paul wasn’t there. And neither were we. And yet – and yet – I would like to suggest that in a way, we are. We are there. And I want all of you who are celebrating your First Communion tonight – I want you to know that you are participating in something that has been going on in the church ever since Jesus instituted – ever since Jesus started – this meal with his disciples almost 2,000 years ago. In an unbroken line from where we are tonight – going all the way back to that first night with Jesus and his disciples – Christians have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper for a very long time.
It’s almost as though we are eating bread and drinking wine with every Christian in every time and every place going all the way back to Jesus. SO in that sense you could say that we are there with Jesus – or more importantly – tonight Jesus is also here with us.
But there is something else that is important about this night. The lesson that we read tonight from John’s Gospel does not have the Words of Institution. In fact you’re not going to find those words in John’s Gospel at all. But what we do have is something that only John has. Matthew, Mark and Luke chose to leave this part of the story out.
And what John tells us that none of the other Gospel writers tell us is that at the Last Supper, Jesus takes on the role of a servant. So here they are – Jesus and the disciples – all together in the upper room. And apparently – and we have to go to Luke’s Gospel to discover this – apparently the disciples are arguing among themselves about who among them is the greatest. And I have this picture in my head that – that while they are arguing among themselves about which of them is the greatest – Jesus silently slips out of his robe – and wraps a towel around his waist – and takes a basin of water – and begins – one by one – to wash the disciples’ feet.
Now you’ve got to understand. The folks with Jesus that night are disciples of Jesus, and they call him Lord. They call him Master. And yet, here he is – their Lord – their Master – washing their feet. This – folks – this is a job that is reserved for the servants of the house.
I can just see it. The room grows quiet. No more talk about who among them is the greatest. Jesus – their Lord their Master – their teacher – has just taught them another lesson about what it means to be a disciple.
I’m not convinced that even at this point that they fully get it.
And Jesus says to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Wow! Now I don’t think that Jesus was suggesting that every time we meet that we take our shoes and socks off and wash each other’s feet. Can you imagine? Can you imagine if we announced, “We need volunteers next Sunday who will wash the feet of everyone who comes here for worship.” Does anyone here want to volunteer to do that? No? Didn’t think so.
And yet, Jesus says, I have set for you an example. To serve others. And he also says, “I give you a new commandment. To love one another as I have loved you.”
By the way, that’s where we get the name for this night. Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” – we get our English word mandate from there. Jesus gives us a new com-mand-ment – a new mandate. To love one another. And to love by serving.
Now, quite frankly, I’m not sure we always want a Jesus who asks us to serve. I don’t think we want that kind of Jesus at all. What we want is a Jesus who will die for us. A Jesus who will forgive us. A Jesus who will give us what we need. And you know, we do have a Jesus who does those things for us. And yet, we also have a Jesus who says, “I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” In the church, we call this discipleship. Being “Christ like.” Being like Christ. Learning what it means to be one who serves.
But it isn’t always easy to be Christ like, especially when it comes to serving others. But you know something? As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to be servants in this world – just like Jesus. To become experts with towels and basins. To learn to be servants to others. Just like Jesus.
And let me let you in on a little secret. The happiest people I know – the most joy-filled people I know – and studies bear this out – the happiest people in the world are not people who live for themselves – but people who have learned to love and to serve others. Just like Jesus.
Jesus’ purpose is that he came to love us and to serve us. And it is our calling to have that same mind – that same attitude that was in Christ Jesus. To become Christ-like in our serving when it comes to living with others – working with others – going to school with others – worshipping with others – and when the traffic is heavy and we have to share Transit Road with others.
So tonight, we share in a supper of love and forgiveness. Given to us by our Lord – our Master – our Teacher Jesus Christ. Who says to us tonight, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
But the part of the story that we don’t always hear – or at least don’t always remember – is that the Lord Jesus Christ – on the night he was betrayed – took a towel and wrapped it around his waist. He took a basin of water and he washed the disciples’ feet. [Pointing to the towel and the basin of water…] And he said “Do this. Do this too.”
Remember that as you come to the table tonight. As you are given the bread. As you are given the wine. Remember that there is a towel and a basin of water waiting for you. And if you choose to do so – feel free to dip your finger in the water – make the sign of the cross in remembrance of all that Christ has done for you.
But tonight. Become an expert with towels and basins. Jesus makes a difference in your life. Now it’s our turn. Make a difference in someone’s life for the sake of – and in the name of Jesus Christ.