Welcome to the Three Days!
The Three Days is the proper name for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy (or Black) Saturday. During these Three Days, we enter the end of our journey following Christ to the cross in his last days and hours. Perhaps, we receive the largest portion of teaching about truly following Christ (especially after he departs) during this time.
‘Maundy’ is derived from the Latin for mandate or command, but despite the “mandates” it remains the most joyful of the Three Days. Due to these mandates, it is rich in traditions and practices that liturgical nerds (like me) will love.
We begun tonight with the anointing with oil (laying on of hands).
Our service will continue with foot washing and Holy Communion.
Anointing with Oil/Laying on of Hands
The tradition of anointing with oil is one modern Lutherans are not necessarily accustomed with except for Baptism. However, the anointing with oil begun Holy Week with Jesus the Christ anointed ahead of and in preparation for his death and burial. The anointing with oil will also end Holy Week with Mary and the other women walking to Jesus’ tomb with oils prepared for the anointing of the dead.
The Washing of the Feet
The washing of the feet is also not a common practice for Lutherans.
How many have participated in the washing of the feet before?
That is more hands than I was expecting.
I remember the first time I participated in the washing of the feet, it was an awkward situation:
Tirosh is a special weekend event for high school youth in Arizona, which is conducted primarily by other high school youth. One evening, the leadership had all of the participates line up, hold hands, and we were led through the dining room. The tables were set, but in the shape of a large cross that you noticed when you stared down at it, and at the head of the table/cross was a large icon (image) of Jesus the Christ. This community meal ended with Holy Communion.
Afterwards, we were led into another room where a chair was waiting for each participate. The servant team came into the room with basins and pitchers of water, while we were asked to remove our shoes.
These ‘servant team’ members had been serving us the entire weekend, which included preparing our snacks and meals, creating small gifts, and now washing our feet.
Jesus Washes Feet
Although this was an awkwardly intimate moment, it was more awkward and intimate in our gospel (John 13) this evening.
During the biblical era, when a guest arrived for dinner at a house it was expected that the host’s unnamed servant/slave would wash your feet as an act of hospitality.
After Jesus the Christ and his disciples finished dinner, Jesus became that unnamed servant to wash the feet of his disciples. Of course, Peter the ‘rock’ (because he can be as dense as a rock) says
“Oh NO Jesus! I am not letting you do that to yourself.
I will not let you shame yourself, disgrace yourself, or humble yourself
to the point of an unnamed servant/slave
because you are my Lord, Savior, Teacher (Rabbi), and my EVERYTHING.”
This teaching moment reminds me of a common and frequently shared quote/meme expressing that:
It does not matter how much education you have,
or how much money you have,
or what social status you have.
It does not excuse you from treating others with kindness, respect, and dignity.
Jesus the Christ humbled himself.
He did not need to humble himself, but did so in order to be an example to the disciples. He was calling them to humble themselves, to become the unnamed servant, in order to love and serve all people no matter their “status”.
Afterwards, Jesus being the good teacher (Rabbi) ensured they understood as he asks “do you know what I have done for you?”.
In John’s gospel, he does not include the “Greatest Commandment” which is to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul AND to love your neighbor as yourself. Instead, John’s gospel replaces it with the “New Commandment” which is significant.
We, as humans, do not always love ourselves and probably do not always like ourselves. Thus, if we are called ONLY to love our neighbors as we love ourselves it provides us the excuse to not always love, like, or give respect and dignity to our neighbors.
John’s gospel resolves that “little” loophole, because Jesus commands the disciples (including us) to love one another as HE first loved us. Christ is the pure example of love, unconditional love, and it is this love that he presents as the challenge to each of us.
Matt Kennon is a country artist with a country rock sound. He has a song titled “That’s Love” which includes the stories of individuals demonstrating this love. First, a pregnant unmarried woman considering her options decides to become a single mother. Second, a wife who is in a nursing home with Alzheimer and her husband who visits each day although she does not remember him. These stories share the concept of self-sacrificing love, which is a love that goes deeper than the question of ‘what can I get out of it’ and a love that goes deeper than ‘if I do this, then the person will owe me’. It instead is a love that reflects the love and example of Jesus the Christ.
Matt Kennon’s final verse in “That’s Love” is:
An only son hanging from a cross
you know he died for all of us
As we begin the journey from a quiet up-stairs room in Jerusalem to the cross,
as we experience the anointing with oil and the washing of the feet,
as we experience the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine,
let all of these serve as reminders of how Christ loved and served his disciples
and how the disciples, including ourselves, have been called into that new community.
May we be strengthened to go forth into our world to live into and live out that calling, because that’s love. Amen.