Final Act as Final Word
When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
We are all familiar with "death row." In those states or countries that retain capital punishment, "death row" is the holding area for prisoners who have been sentenced to death; condemned to die by the state as retribution for a crime committed. While I am not familiar with the specific "death row" practices of the state in which I live, I do know that television series and movies indicate that a prisoner sentenced to die is given the opportunity to both request a last meal of his or her choosing, and prior to execution, to offer last words. I suppose that a last meal is offered as a compassionate gesture to one condemned to death, while the opportunity to make "last words" permits the prisoner to have final say.
On this day that begins the Three Days that present the Paschal Mystery of our salvation, John's Gospel reminds us of that our Lord Jesus, a day before his formal condemnation by the judgment of Pilate, was aware of His own death sentence. John tells us that Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.
What we call Holy Thursday thus provides us with the opportunity to see the Christ at His "last meal" or what tradition calls His "Last Supper" with His disciples. Beyond the untold details of what He actually ate and whether or not it was the actual Passover meal is this reality from our 2nd reading: "the Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread..." and again from the Gospel:
Jesus... 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John interprets this washing of feet as having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
Jesus was making a statement! Like a death-row inmate facing sure and certain death, our Passover Lamb was about to be slain, and He conducted Himself in light of that reality by loving them to the end. Knowing what lay ahead, Christ institutes His Sacrament and then washes the feet of the twelve; Judas among them. He does all of this knowing full well that He would be betrayed, denied and abandoned by the twelve He loved!
Consider the magnitude of what He does! Facing certain death, He gives to His betrayer, a denier, and to the remaining ten who would distance themselves from Him!
Consider the circumstances and put yourself in His place. How would any of us react to the sure and certain knowledge of our own death within twenty-four hours? We might seek to make things right with those we had wronged, but few -if any- of us would demonstrate the loving service that Jesus shows in the washing of His disciple's feet. Add to that the knowledge that your supposed friends & "supporters" would not be there for you. What would you do?
I can't answer that question...I don't know. What we do is what Jesus does in such circumstances. He...took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood."
Let us attend to what He does for those gathered with Him only hours before his arrest and within a day of his certain death! He gives Himself in and with bread & wine as He will give Himself upon the cross on the morrow! He gives yet again by washing the feet of those who will betray Him, deny Him and "fall away" from Him. Behold the manner of His giving: He loved them to the end.
Jesus' final act and His final word to His disciples are consistent. His Last Supper and washing of feet are an enduring testimony to the self-giving love that Christ our true God has for His followers, then and now. For He loves and gives top us as well, and does so in spite of betrayals, denials and abandonments too numerous to count! For we cannot hide our betrayal, denial and "falling away." We began this Lent with the recognition of sin and we end it that way. We confess our sin, not because we need to tell our Lord something He doesn't know, but to recognize and admit our fault. Jesus knows about all of it; He knows about your transgression, about mine, and knowing, He still gives of Himself!
He welcomes us as the Host and gives Himself as the main course. He washes feet in service. His actions reveal His final and ultimate Word to sinners: I forgive you all your sins.
Let us wonder at such love! For we are Judas...Peter...the remaining ten who "fall away!" We are the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin and the crowd that demands "let Him be crucified!" Our sin demands that He be crucified. And knowing their sin and ours, he loved them to the end!
And we know how it all ends for Him. On the morrow, He will give Himself unto death for the life of the world.
Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world and He continues to give and to serve. Will we eat with faith in what He gives? Will we allow His to wash our feet? We cannot hope to help or to serve others unless He first serves us! And that He does; that we might go and do likewise.
I have given you and example, that you also should do just as I have done for you.
As the hymn begs the question: What wondrous love is this? We answer best when we, in the knowledge of our own particular betrayal, denial and rejection of our Lord Jesus Christ eat and drink "with faith in these words: given and shed for you." We answer best when like Peter, we stop resisting and allow Him to wash our feet. For the wondrous love revealed in His final act and final word is for us, in us & through us.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.