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Is it I Lord?

Now we begin the liturgical time known at the Triduum. Specifically tonight we observe the Last Supper and we wash feet. Over the next three days we will walk the journey of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. It is the most compelling observance of our Christian faith.

As we travelled through lent I tried to engage other senses in our journey. We smelled the fragrance of nard to bring us closer to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and our path as the Body of Christ.

Academics[1] have defined different levels in how our senses engage us. The first level is when we operate on an almost purely physical level. We hear and see in a habitual way, physically experiencing the sounds and sights, but only to the level that it reinforces in us what we already think about what we are seeing and hearing.

In the next level we see and hear from the outside. We notice differences and we are accepting new information. This is factual listening and seeing. In the third level, we are reflecting from within in an empathetic way and “seeing through others eyes.” This forms an emotional connection.

And finally with this open heart we have achieved, we hear more clearly from the source, “connecting to an emerging future; shifting our identity and self,” becoming whole. This is generative. This form of sensing is how a new future can immerge. For me this is the way we as Christians are called to experience the world, in the hope of bringing about the Kingdom of God.

Tonight’s Gospel reading tells us the story of Jesus having supper with his disciples. He has turned from the passages where he has been revealing signs of who he is to directly instructing those about him in how they should treat each other. The name for today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from mandatum which is the first word in the Latin version of verse 13:34, a word that means commandment.

I want to draw you deeper into what is happening in the Gospel of John. John is the only Gospel where there is no institution of the Last Supper. That is why we are hearing that story tonight in the Epistle from 1st Corinthians.

Tonight’s Gospel tells us of Jesus’ commandment to wash feet, but it concludes with a more important commandment to love each other.

How are these two commandments related?

What is Jesus asking us to do?

In my preparation for this sermon I came across commentators who said things like, “this is the icky observance” and “we decided that it’s too demanding to wash feet, so we did a ‘hand washing’ instead.”

I’ll admit to a reticence about the practice myself in the past, from both sides of the experience, to be washed and to wash. It’s important to get in touch with these feelings.

That is exactly why Peter first objects to Jesus washing his feet and then, missing the point, wants his whole body washed. He misses the symbolism of the foot washing, this act that is customarily performed by the slave or servant.

Peter is dealing with the action in the Gospel on the physical or habitual level. He is not noticing how this is different from other experiences, he has not opened his heart to what is being done to him, he is not understanding how life will never be the same because of what Jesus will do to him.

Bishop Spong says that Jesus’ message to Peter is:

“Peter, do not resist the freeing power of divine love, through which I am calling you into a new dimension of what it means to be human. Here status needs are not relevant. Those rules apply only in the world of consistent human yearning, the world of human becoming. I am a doorway for you into being itself. Come through me and you will be(come) more fully human.”

The reality of this experience is at the deepest levels profound. I recall my own experience when the practice in my home parish was to wash and then to sit and be washed by the next person. As it turned out, I was the last to approach the chair. I washed the feet of the person sitting, but when I sat down, there was no one to wash mine. The Rector seeing this came over and carefully washed my feet and then sat so I could wash his. I was so completely humbled by this experience and truly believe that it was one of the events that moved me closer to following my call. I was pulled from the purely physical experience into an understanding that there was something I must do to fulfill my call.

The Gospel continues with Jesus explaining that the disciples must all love each other. We must understand this to mean love beyond their close-knit group, because John makes it clear that Jesus also washes the feet of the one who will betray him.

This then is far beyond the “icky” bits about washing feet. The effort it takes to get beyond the personal embarrassment of washing each other’s feet is nothing compared to the effort it takes to truly love “every one,” even our enemies. And this is what Jesus is calling all of us to do.

So this night we begin to be observers of the events leading up to the sacrificial offering of Jesus for the life of the world. I want to give you a way to be drawn deeper into what will transpire.

The path starts between the two sections of the Gospel of John that we heard earlier, a section that the revised common lectionary omits. My hope is the contemplation of this path will open your hearts to hear more clearly the call of the Gospel.

It’s found in a verse we probably don’t give much attention, verse 23, in the middle of that verse.

“One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him…”

This “beloved disciple”, this disciple whom Jesus loved, is referred to, specifically, six times in John's gospel:

  • It is this disciple who, while reclining beside Jesus at the Last Supper, asks Jesus, who it is that will betray him after being requested to do so by Peter.

  • Later, at the crucifixion, Jesus tells his mother, "Woman, here is your son," and to the Beloved Disciple he says, "Here is your mother."

  • When Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb, she runs to tell the Beloved Disciple and Peter. The two men rush to the empty tomb and the Beloved Disciple is the first to reach the empty tomb. Even though Peter is the first to enter.

  • The Beloved Disciple is one of seven fishermen involved in the miraculous catch of 153 fish.

  • After Jesus hints to Peter how he will die, Peter sees the Beloved Disciple following them and asks, "What about him?" Jesus answers, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?"

  • And in the gospel's last chapter, it states that the very book itself is based on the written testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved.

In addition to these, there was an unnamed disciple with Peter at the home of the high priest who was allowed to come in and observe the trial because the high priest knew him, while Peter stayed outside and denied Jesus.

These are powerful experiences where this unnamed disciple is fully present; to be at the center of the Last Supper reclining on Jesus breast, to follow from Gethsemane to watch the trial, to be with Mary at the foot of the cross, even after others flee, to be one of the first at the empty tomb and to be designated to remain until Jesus comes again. To explore each one of these specific verses separately brings immeasurable depth to the story.

No other Gospel has this mysterious character and scholars debate who this might be. Some say it is the Apostle John, others say it is Mary Magdalene, but the Gospel of John does not give any clues. Meanwhile, this beloved Disciple follows Jesus to the end while the other disciples, including Peter, flee from fear.

Undoubtedly this “one whom Jesus loved” would have the courage to wash feet and to love every one. This disciple would have the courage to face all of the brutality of the crucifixion and to “behold the mother of God” as their own. To take their place in the world to help bring the Kingdom of God, the just and loving society that God wills for all creatures.

So, who could this be?

Who is this “beloved disciple?”

Is it you?

[1] Otto Scharmer

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