Maundy Thursday, Year B.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:1-17, 31b-35
It was a quiet room, a place removed from the hurried pace of city life. A small refuge from the crowds, conflicts, and complications of life. It had been a week of hurried preparation and planning, a time of unease and growing tension. But for now, the streets were quiet, all were in their homes or their own rooms gathered together to share a meal. It was a night of remembrance, where families and friends remembered how God had saved them, all the while making new memories of the time that they had spent together. This room was no different. A gathering of friends around a meal, putting aside their troubles and squabbles to remember together. Though it would prove to be their last night and last meal together, it was a night that they chose to remember. As they were scattered throughout the world, rather than keep the beginnings of that night in the chambers of their hearts, rather than letting it be a quiet upper room to escape the changes and chances of life, they shared their memory of that last night together. As they passed into legends and heroes of memory themselves, the memory of that night was no longer theirs, but shared with people of all nations and anywhere where friends and family gather together to remember how God has saved us.
So we gather here tonight, together as friends and family to remember that passover night so long ago. Yet it is so much more than looking back in our mind’s eye and putting together an image of how it may have been from the data we have collected through writings, stories, or even our own memories of Maundy nights long ago. We like to believe and pretend that our memory is a construction of collected data, occasionally faulty, but built from empirical data nonetheless. We also like to believe that our memories are ours, belonging only to us. Neither of these illusions are how we remember. Private collected data is how machines have memory, a faint image of true human memory.
When we remember, we are not looking backward into a lost time, but bringing the past into the present. We do not simply see what had happened before but re-experience it. To remember is to re-body, in that same way we refer to parts of our body as “members”, or as people belonging as “members” to a community body. It is not a process of reconstruction or recollection, but re-living and bringing our current selves to the experience. What’s more, we do not always remember alone. Memory does not belong to any single person, but is shared. Its different perspectives and experiences of the same event or people. It can be passed to new generations and new friends. Communities and institutions can keep it for new people to share in the experiences of the past and carry it into the future. And for those who can no longer hold onto their memories themselves, we keep their memories for them, returning them back and helping them re-experience the past when they need it.
So we gather this night to remember. We are charged this night with remembering how God has saved us. We call this night “Maundy” because we remember the mandate given to us by our Lord, that we love one another as He loves us. In remembering we experience and embody the love of God. That in all the temptations to be distracted and forget, we remember who we are and who we belong to. We are the human family, who breaks bread together and remembers. We belong to God.
That night so long ago is not tucked away in time, not far off in some far away land nor in the secret chambers of our hearts nor in a nostalgia for simpler, happier times. That gathering of friends around a meal, remembering together, we are invited to come to that upper room, that quiet refuge from a chaotic and ever-changing world. In remembering we are alongside the disciples, following Jesus and experiencing His work of salvation. We will be with Him through gethsemane, through the false trial, the mockery, the wounds. We will be with Him, standing and weeping at the foot of the Cross, and on that blessed morning, we will find the tomb empty. The words are very near you, on your lips and in your heart so that we may obey them, “Do this in remembrance of me.”