“…love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…”
Read: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
1Now 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. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,[a] took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,[b] but is entirely clean. And you[c] are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants[d] are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31b When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[a] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus teaches us so much in this scene. To wash someone else’s feet is intimate and tender, practical and unglamorous. It reminds us that loving one another entails vulnerability. It means loving even the unlovely parts of those in our community; and allowing even the unlovely parts of ourselves to be seen and loved.
With these actions Jesus elevates all acts of love and service that are small and uncelebrated and mundane and says this, this is what it’s all about. This is how to be my disciple.
The stories of Holy Week feel particularly raw and real in our current situation. As in our Gospel reading, there’s a foreboding sense that danger and suffering lay ahead; that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.
But in this story Jesus shows us how to navigate what’s to come. When darkness and chaos seem huge and overwhelming… pause. Kneel. Do something small. Something tactile, to ground us. Something that draws our attention to the present moment. Something that communicates love.
He reminds us that our identity as his followers is known by this. Not by our pattern of going to church on a Sunday. Nor by the unshakeability of our beliefs, an immunity to suffering or an absence of fear. But by the ways in which we demonstrate care for others and allow ourselves to be cared for.
Recent weeks have seen many beautiful and creative ways of doing this at a safe distance. Small, shining acts of kindness.
Our congregations are full, I know, of people who are amazing at running around looking after others; keeping our churches functioning, filling rotas, serving in ways that are often unseen and sometimes taken for granted. For those who are, like Peter, ‘doers’, it might be difficult be on the receiving end of care. Having to stay indoors while someone else does our shopping or collects our prescriptions.
Jesus is firm with Peter. This part of the deal is not optional. Part of “love one another” is having the grace to accept the help that others offer to us.
May we love one another during the difficult days, weeks and months to come. May this be what we are known for: our love.
Servant God, we’re waking up to a new appreciation
of those whose work is unglamorous but indispensable…
carers, supermarket workers, hospital cleaners,
refuse collectors, delivery drivers.
Thank you for these unsung heroes,
and all who are putting themselves at risk
to keep life-sustaining services running.
We pray for opportunities
to demonstrate love and kindness.
And may we respond with gratitude, and grace
to the love and kindness shown to us.