Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 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. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,* but is entirely clean. And you* are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’There's an old child's hymn I remember from summer camp. "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love." Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of volumes and millions of words have been spilled on Christian love. Even as we try to extricate the Christian understanding of love from the post-Romantic purple sludge of sentimentality in which it is trapped in our day, we continue to hold it up as the sine qua non of the Christian life.
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. Very truly, I tell you, servants* are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him,* God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Yet, how often we fail at it. On its face, nothing could be simpler. Love one another. Yet, two thousand years later we are incapable of this most basic commandment, this final plea from Jesus as he is about to embark on the longest, and last, sixteen or so hours of his life. We denounce one another, declare this or that person or group or even whole denomination or confession as outside the bounds of God's grace. Catholics and Lutherans and Reformed all killed one another; all of them ganged up on Anabaptists. When the Crusaders reached Byzantium, they raped and pillaged in no small part because the Orthodox were different kinds of Christians. The Cathars and Waldensians, Jan Hus and John Wyclife, St. Joan and St. Thomas More were all pursued and killed because someone, somewhere, insisted they weren't Christian and therefore were worthy of death.
As for Mormons, their persecution at the hands of the American people and government is a disgraceful moment (among so many others) of betrayal of one of our founding principles - the freedom to proclaim and practice one's religious beliefs without interference from the state.
As with so much else that he taught, Jesus' insistence that we Christians love one another has been impossible to honor. We would rather make up excuses as to why it's so much easier to ignore this commandment, why the targets of our fear and hatred are not worthy of consideration under its mandate, why the suffering and death of fellow Christians need not concern us in the least.
As we begin to move through the set-piece of the trial, the torture, the execution, and the surprise ending of the resurrection, it is worth noting that in this, as in so much else, we betray Jesus to worldly authorities no less fully, and no less crassly, than did Judas Iscariot. For our birthright - the love followers of the crucified and risen Jesus are commanded to have for one another - we are willing to trade the approval of those who think like us, the easier, wider way that seems to make sense, and the rewards from those around us rather than the only reward that matters from the One who is ever with us. On this Maundy Thursday, my fervent prayer is that we hear this commandment from Jesus and repent of our many failings and betrayals of it in our lives. When it is neither easy nor convenient to love others, that is when the force of this commandment should sound all the louder. It would be far better, I would think, for a rock to be tied to all of us and we cast ourselves in to the sea than that we forget those three simple words: Love one another.