One of the beautiful things about having four different gospel accounts of Jesus’ life is that it gives us glimpses from four different perspectives into who Jesus really was (and is). It would be impossible for any one piece of writing to truly capture the fullness of Jesus. But the gospel writers help us to see different sides of Jesus. For example, Matthew often emphasizes how Jesus is rooted in Hebrew scripture and Jewish traditions (like the Passover which is being celebrated this week!). Luke focuses on the political context of Jesus’ ministry and on his deep concern for justice for the poor. And Mark shows how urgently and intensely Jesus is focused on his mission for the kingdom.
Tonight, we encounter Jesus through John’s eyes. In John’s gospel, we see Jesus at his most divine and heavenly and all-knowing. Jesus is practically a superhero in John – his only weakness, his kryptonite, is that he loves so much – and even that, in the end, turns out to be his strength! In John, Jesus knows exactly what’s happening, he knows exactly what’s coming, and he knows exactly who the people he’s dying for truly are, warts and all. And Jesus chooses the way of the cross with both eyes wide open, never doubting for even a second that the outcome is in God’s hands.
John was actually Martin Luther’s favorite gospel, and I can kind of see why. I mean, who doesn’t love a Superman? I have to confess, though, that, personally, I sometimes find it hard to relate to Jesus in John’s gospel. John’s Jesus often speaks at length about mysterious, divine, heavenly realities far beyond the daily realities of life of this earth. His mind is always on the kingdom and glory of his Father, and he marches with confidence through his ministry, always completely certain of what he needs to do and of where this all is going.
It’s such a stark contrast with our gospel reading from Sunday, when we read Mark’s account of the Passion. In Mark, Jesus grieves and suffers; he begs God to take away the cup of suffering that has come to him; and even though he accepts what he has to do, we see him struggling with what this ministry is demanding of him. As an imperfect person who often struggles in ministry and in the path of discipleship, I find this side of Jesus a lot easier to relate to. Jesus is perfect, but he’s also fully human; he experiences temptation and he wrestles with doing the hard things that he has been called to do. I can definitely identify a lot with that struggle.
But this year, as chaotic and confusing as the world has been, I’ve gotta say that I’m finding this divine sort of superhero side of Jesus surprisingly comforting. We see this side of him in our gospel reading for this evening – Jesus knows his hour has come; he knows he will be betrayed; and he knows exactly what’s coming next. And he knows that his disciples do not get it. He even says to Simon Peter, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” The disciples are dismayed that one of them will betray Jesus; and even though Jesus has told them multiple times about the suffering and death that is coming, they’re still in pretty deep denial about it. And because of this, Jesus is right that they won’t understand any of it until much later. For now, they live in confusion, feeling lost and afraid as Jesus is arrested and handed over to die.
I have spent a lot of this year feeling lost and confused, wanting to do the right thing, but not always certain about what that is. I have been worried about the health and safety of the people I love, and about my own health as well. I have lost many nights of sleep agonizing over how to be a good and faithful leader to this congregation, trying to keep us safe while also helping keep us connected and grounded in our faith. And I feel exhausted and disappointed and defeated having to do another Holy Week and another Easter under the shadow of this pandemic. It sucks. And I don’t know what’s coming next. I just know that I pray daily for us to finally come out from under the dark cloud of this pandemic and all the crap that it’s brought with it.
And I think that’s why I find it comforting and reassuring and hopeful to see Jesus being so confident and full of faith in our gospel reading this evening. In the face of the disciples’ attitude of confusion and fear, Jesus’ attitude is: “I’ve got this.” It reminds me that, whatever it is that comes next for us, no matter what happens, Jesus has got this too. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we often struggle to understand how God is working; we are anxious and impatient and uncertain about what life will bring us next. But our lives – and all creation – are in God’s hands. Jesus can see the way forward, even when we can’t. He already knows how the story will end.
And that makes the story that we read tonight all the more powerful. Surprisingly, John is the only one of the gospel writers who tells this story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. And it is so powerful and moving to see this Jesus – the almighty Son of the Living God, the Messiah himself, Jesus Christ Superstar – kneeling before his nervous, confused disciples, and gently washing their dusty feet. It’s an act that is shockingly tender and humble, earthy, and so intimate. And it shows us that, while Jesus’ head may be up in the heavens, his feet – and his heart – are very much on the earth. It shows us how very deeply Jesus cares about this world and the people he came to save.
In times like this, when it’s so unclear what the future holds, our best way forward is to keep ourselves focused on Christ – and to keep reminding ourselves of his powerful love, for us and for the world. One important way that we do that is by obeying his commandment that we love one another just as he has first loved us. Jesus calls us to be imitators of his self-giving, self-emptying love. Traditionally on Maundy Thursday, we emulate this love by washing one another’s feet. But during this time of pandemic, an even more powerful act of love is to do our part to keep our neighbor safe – by practicing the things we know prevent the spread of infection; specifically, by washing our hands, which we will do in just a little bit here.
No matter the uncertainty or the trouble we face, we can take comfort knowing that Jesus is greater than the things we fear – and we can trust that he will guide us through. His love in our hearts will drive out fear. So let us love one another, just as we have been so loved.