Each year the memorial of the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, after sundown marks the anniversary of the courageous and noble end of the matchless earthly sojourn of the Son of God/Son of Man. On this night, he laid down his life that we may live, and live no more for self, but for others – demonstrating a love greater than all others ‘to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ (John 15:13)
While it is a solemn and holy night, it is also a joyous night. For though we memorialize his death, we also celebrate his life and the way he lived it. Yes, it is his courageous consecrated life that provides to each of us the “way” to the Father – our own salvation. Amen.
As we all know, the first Memorial coincided with the Jewish Passover celebration. As part of the Passover, a plate of special foods and herbs is passed around and four cups of wine are passed commemorating the four main stages of the Exodus. Jesus began the evening in the customary way. He passed the special foods and herbs and the wine, but during one passing, he added something different:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
– Luke 22:19-20
Each Memorial, we focus on the significance of the emblems of bread and wine. And they are important to be sure. However, in John’s account, he focused on something different. Let us spend the remainder of the evening with John.
After each passing of the cup, it is customary for the host to rise and wash his hands. At this point in the meal, Jesus again did something different. John tells us that Jesus:
“. . . so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
– John 13:4-8
Jesus proceeded to wash the feet of all twelve, including Judas Iscariot, as a illustration of the meaning of the new commandment he was about to give them. The account goes on:
“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?” he asked them. “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 13:12-17
The apostles saw the way of service in Jesus’ life and were blessed to have served courageously along side him. Apparently, on this night, however, they had fallen into their usual practice of arguing over who was the greatest. Jesus was giving them an object lesson in humility and service to one another. And we, as spectators of Jesus’ life and of this momentous evening, are likewise blessed to mentally observe this illustration. We can take this lesson as a model of behavior toward one another – not to complain about who is and who is not greater than the other, but to recognize that we are all brothers with equal standing before God.
With the completion of the meal, and after Judas Iscariot has left (John 13:30), Jesus plainly stated the new commandment that he had just demonstrated:
“When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
– John 13:31-35
He further counseled them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
– John 14:1-4
Yes, brothers, we know the way. Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) We must therefore, imitate the love, the faith and the life of Jesus, so that we, too, can go our ‘way’ to the Father where Jesus himself has prepared places for us.
Jesus continued that evening with encouragement and counsel. He said: if we love him, we will observe his commandments; that he would be sending the spirit of truth; that he is the True Vine and we must remain in union with him; that we must keep on bearing much fruit; that we must love one another; that we can ask the Father anything in his name and it will be given; that he had conquered the world, and many other things. He concluded with a prayer for the Father’s watch care, and then embarked on that fateful evening that would temporarily end his historic and unique earthly life. (John 14-17)
Jesus requested that we keep this supper “in remembrance of him.” When we do, we should first look back, not only on the manner of his death, but upon his life in the flesh, how he loved us and how he faced every obstacle thrown at him with dignity and humility. We should recall that he indeed was once with mankind, and then, by faith, discern that we shall all some time sup with him in the Father's eternal kingdom. This is the new Passover which he left with us, even the memory of his powerful life, the word of eternal truth, his love for us, and the outpouring of his Spirit of Truth upon all flesh.
We need not mourn as the rest, but to rejoice to be able to share in the life of our great Teacher and older Brother by being of service to one another, uplifting one another, loving one another, embracing one another, and welcoming one another into the Kingdom of our Father and of his Lord.
On the night, as you go out, see in the eyes of each of our brothers the spirit of our Lord. And do unto them as we would do unto the Christ. And not just this day, but every day we are privileged to breathe this earthly air, until the day we join our Lord at the ‘table’ in his Kingdom.
We stand as one with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.