A Love Story

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

A table.
A robe.
A towel.
A basin.

A cup of wine.
A loaf of bread. 

Blessing. Thanksgiving. Service. Love.

These are the images that flash before us tonight as we gather for the Maundy Thursday service.

Can you picture yourself in that room? Can you see the dust from the triumphant march through the crowded festal streets of Jerusalem still clinging to the disciples’ feet, as we remembered on Palm Sunday?

As the disciples lean back after their meal, they can probably still hear echoes of the crowd’s “Hosannas!” ricocheting off the stone walls around Jerusalem. And now they have shared a meal with their teacher, their brother, their Messiah. The disciples are gathered around a table where everyone is loved. Where every one is loved.

Tonight is the night for a love story.

The first sentence that jumps out to me is this one: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples—and he wants to show them what true love is. 

There is just one lesson left to impart. There is just one commandment left to give. The lesson is service. The commandment is love.

Love is thanksgiving. Love is sacrifice. Love sometimes includes heartbreak. On this night we will dwell between the two poles of our existence- the agony of loss and the call of love.

A few years ago I was sitting in class with Dr. Clint McCann, who is a renowned scholar of the psalms. We were discussing psalms of lamentation, especially the ones that are quoted in the Passion narrative this week. Dr. McCann noted that the gospel writers could not understand the story of Jesus during Holy Week without the lamentation psalms, psalms in which the psalmist asks for help when feeling abandoned, and laments being turned upon even by his closest friends. 

Yet Dr. McCann also pointed out that every one of those lamentation psalms quoted in the story of Jesus’s passion turns to praise at the end. And that’s often how it is in our lives, too. Our lives are shot through with both sorrow and joy. 

As we turn toward the cross, may we never forget: it is love that remains at the end.

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