So after three years of being in the presence of Jesus the disciples find themselves with him in that upper room. The day was jubilant; the crowds loudly shouting Hosannas and celebrating Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem. The scriptures record this day and the Passover meal in that upper room revealing its significance for us as believers in Jesus as the messiah.
A Cycle – Holy Thursday 17It is because of that evening we understand the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup as the institution of the Eucharist. It is because of that evening we understand the disciples made a transition from disciples to apostles who were yet to understand the significance of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Yet we should not lose sight of all the words spoken by Jesus in that upper room. Jesus spoke to the disciples and us and it is in those words we find the heart of God’s intent for us after the resurrection.
Jesus begins that evening by telling us how he is the vine and we are the branches and in that image we have the key to understanding how we are to be as disciples – who are given the task to proclaim Jesus as Lord. We must know the mind of Christ and draw our energy, our strength and our ability to produce fruit from him. The truth is we are ineffective as disciples if we are not rooted in him.
It was that night in that upper room that Jesus told us that it was “far better for us that he go for if we did not go the Holy Spirit would not come” to us. He goes on to tell us that the spirit would teach us about sin, condemnation and justice. The Spirit would glorify Jesus and reveal to us all that Jesus said and taught to us. The Spirit’s coming to us would be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel and Jeremiah which predicts God changing our hearts so we would follow him. The Spirit promised by God would transform us into the very image of Jesus – allowing us to shine with the glory given to us as God intended from the beginning.
There was so much going on in that upper room that it is easy to look at only the Eucharistic meal and the betrayal. But we must look at the entire evening to understand why this night has much more significance for us as disciples and for us as a community of faith.
That evening, as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, he said to them “don’t you know what I am doing.” The washing of the feet is not just another bible story that speaks to us of being servants. Jesus set aside his divinity to come to us and show us the Father. Jesus on this night humbles himself once more to show us the reason we must die to self in order to live. Paul tells us to “humbly think of all others as superior to ourselves.” The washing of feet is a task where that attitude becomes a reality. It is not only humbling to wash the feet of another but to wash the feet of someone who betrays you is a sign of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Many years ago a few years after Vatican II brought changes to the church I remember a Holy Thursday where the foot washing was done by more than the pastor with representatives of the parish. That evening’s foot washing included a cross section of individuals washing the feet of each other. There was a husband and wife; children and parents; a teacher and student; doctor and nurse; a business man and one of his clerical employees; the pastor and a member of his staff; a boy scout master and a scout. As they washed the feet of each other a prayer written by the person washing the feet was read. The prayer of the person washing feet was asking for forgiveness for the times they failed the other. It brought tears to the eyes of the congregation listening to a prayer where one acknowledges that they fell short and asked the other to forgive them.
The evening Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, Judas was among those who had their feet washed. We can only imagine what Jesus would have said to Judas if only he had returned after his betrayal. What about us? Jesus says to us we are to do as he did. So what about us? Jesus was direct when he said to us, “…when we bring our gift to the altar but remember that our brother has something against us we are to first go and be reconciled and then bring our gift to the altar.” In that passage it is clear we did something to offend our brother. What are we to do when our brother hurts us? Scripture is also clear when it tells us to go to our brother if they have hurt us – we are to go and seek forgiveness.
The task of reconciliation belongs to us as disciples. This day and this weekend is all about God reconciling us to himself. We are disciples not just by the waters of baptism but by the blood of the lamb we are forgiven, embraced by God and became heirs of the kingdom.
Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians tells us that Christ has handed to us his ministry of reconciliation. We have to admit that we do hurt and offend members of our immediate family and brothers and sisters in Christ. We say things, do things and fail to do things that have hurt others. Are we now to sit back and hold fast to our position demanding they come to us or do we this evening do as Christ did and get on our knees and wash feet and forgive?
My brothers and sisters, if we are to call ourselves Christians we have no choice. How can we pray the Lord’s Prayer saying forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us if we don’t intend to forgive. How can we acknowledge that we are worthy that Christ should come to us and ask for healing if we do not extend the hand of forgiveness to those who have hurt us or we them?
Forgiveness is the very reason Jesus came, suffered, died and rose again. Forgiveness is why we are here this night and tomorrow afternoon. Forgiveness is why we are joyful on Easter morning. Forgiveness is an essential requirement of being a Christian. If we cannot forgive then we hold to a form of religion but deny the power of God in our lives.