Understood: A Holy Week meditation for Thursday

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” John 13:12

Jerusalem was buzzing as the Passover – the celebration of deliverance by the direct intervention of the Almighty – approached. As the disciple’s Messianic hopes focused on Jesus, there must have been more than a little anticipation.

“What a perfect time for our Messiah to rise up and throw off the yoke of Roman oppression! We’re ready, and when he does, we’ll be at the head of the pack and the top of the mountain!”

At an intimate dinner on Thursday of Jesus’s final week, amid the rising crescendo of his friend’s hopes and expectations, the One they hoped would dethrone Caesar stooped to wash their feet. How undignified.

In the hours that followed, their confusion expanded as their hopes deflated.

“This is my body, which is for you…”

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood…”

“He who has shared my bread will turn against me…”

Before sunrise, the one they hoped in had been arrested, and in a few more hours, condemned to death. Maundy Thursday confronts us with the uncomfortable reality that Jesus accomplishes his work in the world differently than we would like Him to: Instead of establishing hierarchies, he stoops to wash feet. Instead of exposing and punishing his enemies, he shares his life and his final meal with them. Instead of demanding that God should conform to his will, He prays for God’s will to be done, come what may. Instead of resisting those who came to arrest him unjustly, He rebukes his friend who strikes and heals the ear of the man who was struck.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:13-17

Jesus knew that his disciples didn’t understand the full implication of Messiah, but He called them to follow anyway. We are no more comfortable with a suffering Messiah in the 21st century than they were in the 1st. The great risk of Holy Week is that we skip straight to resurrection day and forget Maundy Thursday. On resurrection day, we find the eternal hope that life conquers death. On Maundy Thursday we discover what kind of life overcomes death – the life that overcomes death serves enemies and friends alike, knows their friends will let them down and continues to walk with them anyway, would rather be a victim that force its will on another, trusts God’s will to be good and perfect even if it costs everything.

Maundy Thursday is a day for counting the cost. Let us consider the Jesus who served us, was broken for us, led us, loved us, and then called us to do the same.

Let us consider the grimy feet that Jesus wiped clean – Peter who would deny him, Thomas who would doubt him, John who would flee the garden as soon as trouble came, James who couldn’t stay awake when Jesus needed comfort… Judas who had betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver – and let us consider who we serve and how.

Let us consider how we have made an idol of our understanding by resisting Jesus’s invitation until he has answered all of our questions.

Let us consider that the glorified Jesus is not different from the servant Jesus, and if we would experience the one, we must embrace the other.