1 Cor 11.23-26
John 13.1-17, 31b-35
The washing of the disciples’ feet is an acted parable of Jesus’ love for us. He loves his followers, and his love for us makes it possible for us to love one another.
Jesus knows that he is about to be abandoned and betrayed. Yet, like a person lying in a hospital bed and saying, ‘I just feel sorry for all the other people here!’ his main concern is that the disciples will not feel abandoned. They must continue to know that he loves them when he is gone.
People sometimes says, don’t they, that they can’t do long distance relationships. It’s OK when the person they love is very close and can be seen and touched every day, but they can’t cope with separation. They will get distracted, or their love will no longer be fed and will steadily diminish with the passage of time.
Now I don’t hold any truck with that. For three years Helen and I lived at opposite ends of the country. I was in Brighton and she was in Derby and then, later, in Manchester. We had a long distance relationship which we kept going by exchanging endless letters and sharing occasional phone calls. So it is possible and plenty of other people have proved it too.
What John is acutely aware of is that, like the first disciples after Good Friday, Jesus’ followers today have to conduct a long distance relationship with him. But whereas the first disciples could still try to hold onto him, as Mary Magdalene did in the Garden on Easter Day, we cannot. Whereas they could still see him, like Thomas did in the Upper Room, we cannot. Whereas they could still speak to him face to face, as Peter did on the seashore, we have to rely on the books that were written about him to find out what he said.
In that sense we have been left alone and Jesus knows it will be difficult for us. He therefore wants to reinforce our awareness of his love for us. This will encourage us to love one another and help us to know and feel that he is with us in spirit to strengthen us.
The main focus of this passage is that Jesus is our servant. This should in turn inspire us to offer our lives in service to others. But the key message, nonetheless, is not about things we have got to do but about what Jesus does for us.
The Church at Corinth was in trouble. People there had fallen out with one another about oh so many things, including the Lord’s Supper itself. Paul sternly reminds them, therefore, that this service is not just something he had devised, or a new idea that someone has brought back from the ancient equivalent of Spring Harvest. It’s a tradition that comes straight from Jesus himself.
Even when Jesus was present with his friends Paul notes that they had a mixture of motives. Jesus sat down to eat with them knowing that someone in the circle was about to betray him.
The purpose of sharing the meal is twofold. First, like the foot-washing, it reminds us of the incredible depth of Jesus’ love for us and gives us a chance to proclaim his love. And second, it reminds us that he is with us in spirit when we break the bread and share the cup. So, however alone we might sometimes feel, when we share in holy communion he comes to be with us again.