Sermon: "The Mind of Christ: A New Commandment"
Sermon.04.01.21.Maundy Thursday B
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35
On Palm Sunday, we contrasted the mind of this world as embraced by Caiaphas, Pilate, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and the mob with the mind of Jesus. While those who embraced the values of the world clung to, and filled themselves with, their wealth, power, and prestige, Jesus, although he was God incarnate, emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. In regard to the mind of Jesus, we examined Paul’s exhortation to the church of Philippi: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.5-8; NRSV).
Today’s gospel reading invites us to further contemplate the mind of Jesus. It begins by noting Jesus’ awareness of his impending death: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (John 13.1; NRSV). A few verses later we read, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God, and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself” (John 13. 3-4; NRSV). Jesus then proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter objected: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” and Jesus replied, “You do not know now what I’m doing, but later you will understand” (John 13.6-7; NRSV).
So many of us are like Peter! We are prideful and very self-sufficient – we even take pride in our self-sufficiency! I must confess – I am guilty. Apart from Judy, I find it exceedingly difficult to permit others to do things for me. It is not because I feel that I may then owe them something – it is because I do not want to impose on others by permitting them to do something which I am perfectly capable of doing for myself. However, as I get older, I am beginning to realize that my level of capability is slowly declining! Yes, it is a bit humbling!
But the gospel tells us, “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? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13.12-15; NRSV). How can others serve if we do not permit them to do so?
After Judas left to betray Jesus, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him” (John 13.31; NRSV). This may seem a bit puzzling. In what sense has the Son of Man been glorified and God been glorified in him? In Christ’s impending death on the cross, the nature of God’s self-sacrificial love is fully revealed. God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to show us a new way of life – a way of life which leads into eternal life. Jesus said, “I have set you an example” (Ibid.).
Then Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.34-35; NRSV). This is not a universal commandment. Yes, we have the great commandment (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”) and the second like it (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”) but as Jesus’ disciples, we are to love one another as Jesus loves us.
Now let’s admit it, some Christians are easier to love than others! But Jesus is not speaking of sentimental love or affection. Jesus is speaking of agape love, of self-sacrificial love where we are willing and ready to empty ourselves for one another. Jesus is calling us to go far beyond sentiment and affection. Jesus’ love is the form of love which helps lead another into the fullness of life. It is the form of love which helps one who feels unloved to recognize that he or she is loved. This is very often a long-term project! Thank God! We have the Holy Spirit to help us!
But think of it, to love as Jesus loved is a great privilege, a real honor, for in doing so, we can be the presence of Christ to another. This is the new life to which Jesus calls us – a life of fullness and joy! As such, we can, and we should, give thanks for the observance of the Triduum -- Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.