04/14/22 – A Fearful Love – Maundy Thursday


April 14, 2022
Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-35
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

This evening marks the beginning of the Triduum, the three holiest days of the Christian liturgical year. From sundown on Thursday until sundown on Sunday we follow Jesus’ final days on earth through his glorious resurrection, at which time he appears to his disciples. The word “maundy” is derived from the Latin word mandatum, the first word, in Latin, of Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

You have, no doubt, heard it said: “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” I do not wholly agree with this statement. It is too simplistic. Love is a multifaceted emotion as is hate. The most hateful words and deeds are often rooted in fear. Jesus’ celebration of the Jewish Passover meal in an “upper room” in Jerusalem was an act of love in a setting charged with fear. It was also a celebration of life in the face of death.

The Jewish Passover is a joyous feast of fellowship and remembrance of God’s saving act when their ancestors were slaves in Egypt. God’s loving care had saved them from death at the hand of Pharoah’s army when Moses led them to freedom.

As often is the case, the news this week provided us with scenes of acts that induce fear and lead to death. On Monday, I watched an interview with a tearful 83-year-old Ukrainian woman who had been raped by a Russian soldier and watched, helplessly, as her husband was executed. These types of wartime atrocities are committed to induce fear in a population. Bullies and tyrants understand they are more likely to bend others to their will if they can make them afraid, very afraid. Feelings of helplessness create fear. On Tuesday morning, I awakened to the news that someone had shot many people trapped in a subway in Brooklyn NY. The perpetrator planned the attack to create an atmosphere of fear-inducing chaos and destruction by setting off smoke bombs and an incendiary device while shooting at them with an automatic rapid-fire gun at the peak hour of morning subway traffic.

Though I knew my younger daughter, her partner, and my one-year-old granddaughter were planning to arrive in New York today; I also remembered there was some talk that her partner might leave early for his work there. The place where they are to stay is in Park Slope, on the same subway line as the Sunset Park stop. I just had to call to make sure they were all safe. I don’t think I had ever known before, the kind of fear that began when my first child was born. With love comes fear of loss.

Hate often originates in fear. The disciples who gathered in that upper room on Jesus’ request, were fearful. The upper room was their “safe house” in a time and place that was dangerous for Jesus and for anyone associated with him. The Roman army was out in full force to ensure no insurrection occurred during the time when thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for Passover. The disciples were also well aware that some Jewish religious leaders wanted to stop his ministry. Jesus himself had warned them three times that he would die in Jerusalem. The fear of the unknown – “what is going to happen?” – undoubtedly unnerved them.

Jesus introduced another source of fear in the disciples’ minds. John tells us: “Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.” What a conversation stopper! You can imagine the internal fear this statement produced. They would have asked themselves: “Is it me? Am I brave enough to remain faithful to Jesus to the end? Am I willing to sacrifice something I cherish to follow Jesus wherever he leads?” These questions haunt us also.

As the precursor to his final command to them that night, Jesus demonstrated sacrificial love by washing his disciples’ feet. This was an act normally done by servants when guests arrived at their master’s home. Jesus, the host, and master, humbled himself to perform the intimate and dirty job of washing the dirt off his disciples’ feet. Then he announced his final commandment to them: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have a love for one another.” (John 13: 34-35)

John’s gospel does not include Jesus’ instructions for the eucharist given at the Passover meal that night; The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke do. John’s poetic gospel, written after the synoptic gospels, does include much eucharistic imagery. Thus, we know that Jesus’ commandment for them to continue the ritual he instituted that night, was well-established in the early church by the time John’s gospel was written.

After Judas leaves the room to tell the Roman authorities where they can find Jesus — in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, Jesus tells the remaining disciples: “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. (John 14:32) Once more, Jesus demonstrated sacrificial love to his disciples. Knowing that all of his disciples, not just Judas, would flee after he was arrested, Jesus had served his disciples by washing their feet and providing them with food. Simple, necessary acts of hospitality. Though his disciples allowed fear to overpower their love, Jesus’ love for them, and for us, overpowered his fear.

In this time when manipulative voices in our society attempt to induce fear so as to bend us to their control, we have a strong defense – love. Jesus proclaimed the Greatest Commandment is to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot love our neighbors if we fear them more than we trust Jesus. This meal we share tonight is our proclamation of the gospel. Jesus’ body was broken, and bloodshed was for us that we might break through the barriers to true fellowship with God and one another – all of humanity.

When we come to the Lord’s Table and do what Christ first did in that “Upper Room” in Jerusalem, we live, at least for a few sacred moments, in the mind and body of Christ. We affirm who we are and to whom we belong. Fear not. Christ loves us with a fearful love. Here we remember that filled with the food and drink from his table, we have been commissioned to go out and fill the empty tables of all our brothers and sisters who are hungry in body, mind, or spirit.

Amen. May it be so!


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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