Beacons of Hope: Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-17

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 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.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

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.

Psalm 102:2

Do not hide your face from me
    when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
    when I call, answer me quickly.

Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ last supper with some of his disciples, coinciding with the Jewish Passover feast. Jesus began this momentous evening with a startlingly brave yet mundane act. The hands Jesus normally used to heal, he here uses to wash feet. But while he would heal anyone who had faith to ask, now he only washes the feet of his disciples. The text does not specify whether Jesus washed each disciple’s feet, but the generic “the disciples” suggests as much. Which means he washed Judas’ feet just hours before Judas’ betrayal.

What an awkward moment for Judas.

It would have been awkward for everyone (evidenced by this oddly high-stakes exchange between Jesus and Peter). Jesus was their leader, not their servant. He was the last person any of them would have expected to wash their feet unless some caught on that Jesus loved surprising people. Plus, Jesus had just stripped—in front of them?—and put on a towel. Drying the disciples’ feet with the towel he was wearing must have been… logistically challenging.

At this moment, Judas knew he was hours away from identifying Jesus so he could be executed. He probably wasn’t expecting such a lavish, intimate display of love after deciding to turn Jesus in. I know I wouldn’t. I would be hoping to never again look Jesus in the eye. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe that’s how Jesus knew Judas was the one to betray him.

Something moving happens when we humble ourselves and serve each other, especially when that service involves touch. But the power of any service is magnified when we look at each other. Gazing into another’s eyes is as vulnerable as it is powerful.

Love isn’t just about doing nice things or providing services, giving up oneself, one’s time, or anything valuable. A loving act has an indescribable quality that can make even the simplest of actions deeply loving, without which even giving away all of one’s possessions to the poor or surrendering one’s body to whatever hardship means nothing. To listen attentively, with an open heart and mind. To hear another’s sorrow and hold it in tender silence. To laugh heartily and earnestly together. To celebrate another’s success, well-being, or health. To rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Two organizations in Israel-Palestine model this kind of love, the love which looks the other in the eye. The Parents Circle – Families Forum is for members of families from Israel and Palestine who “have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict.” Combatants for Peace is an ever-growing group of Palestinians and Israelis who took part in “the cycle of violence in our region,” whether serving in the Israeli Defense Forces or fighting for Palestine’s freedom. Both organizations involve Palestinians and Israelis sitting together in small groups talking about how the conflict or occupation has affected them. Both groups boast long lists of moving stories in which Israelis and Palestinians bond over their shared loss or fervent commitment to justice as they understand it. Both organizations believe there will be no peace in Israel and Palestine until Israelis and Palestinians talk to each other and recognize their shared humanity.

Both organizations are hosting the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony, of which CMEP is proud to be an official sponsor again this year. Join hundreds of thousands of people from around the world in what is being called the biggest Israeli-Palestinian peace event in history. On April 13, 2021, at 1:30 PM EST, we will gather to call for peace, freedom, and human rights for all. Register today.

May the Lord’s face shine upon you as he washes your feet. May your face shine on others as you gaze upon them in love and wash their feet. May the Lord’s countenance come upon us all. And May the Lord give you, and all of the world, peace.

Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. He is currently waiting to continue fieldwork in Bethlehem until it is safe to do so. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.

Kevin also earned a BA in philosophy from University of Chicago and has researched how churches can better care for and empower people with various disabilities. He has affiliations with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Vineyard USA, and United Methodist Church. In his spare time, you can find him running, biking, or playing the piano. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.