A Sermon by The Most Rev’d Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide

Welcome to commandment Thursday. Because that’s what today is. The word maundy as in Maundy Thursday comes from the latin: mandatum, or command.  Today is command Thursday because today we remember Jesus’ command to his disciples -that you love one another. He said-‘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’.

One of the central parts of the Maundy Thursday service is usually foot-washing. Where in a kind of clinical and safe way we re-enact Jesus washing his disciples feet at the last supper before Jesus arrest and execution. I say clinical and safe because generally feet that are presented for washing in church are clean already, and not covered in dirt or dust like Jesus’ disciples feet would have been. But this year due to covid restrictions we won’t be washing even clean feet. And I know that some will feel sad about that. But the removal of the foot washing gives other important aspects of this last supper opportunity to shine.

It is the case that Jesus told his disciples that they ought to wash each others feet as he had washed theirs. He had given an example of service that they should follow. But the command to love one another was given later in the night according to John. More had happened on that dramatic evening. The way the readings are set up we miss a chunk of the action.

Following the foot washing and before Jesus gave the commandment for instance there had been a discussion at the dinner table about betrayal, and Jesus was very troubled by this. He was troubled that one of his disciples would betray him. The disciples asked-who? Which one? Jesus seemed to sense that it was Judas Iscariot. No wonder he was troubled. To test his sense Jesus told the disciples the one who would betray him was ‘the one to whom I give this bread when I have dipped it in the dish’. Jesus offered Judas the bread and Judas took it. Judas didn’t refuse or protest. Jesus had been right about him. One of his own. One of the trusted ones who kept the communal purse was going to betray him.

Judas left the meal to go and do what Jesus had foretold. Then Jesus said-‘now the son of man has been glorified’. There is almost a sense of relief in Jesus’ voice. After increasing tension the crucial time had come. The crucial action had been set in train. Jesus was going to be betrayed. He would be arrested and rejected, shamed and killed. He was glorified because he had done what he had been sent to do. He had fulfilled his vocation. Would he say, ‘Father save me from this hour? No, it was for this reason that he had come to this hour’.

After Judas had left to organise Jesus’ arrest, Jesus began to say farewell to the remaining disciples, and the farewell speech runs from the end of chapter 13 all the way through to the end of chapter 17.

The first thing Jesus said to the disciples in that farewell speech was ‘love each other’. Love each other as I have loved you. Loving others wasn’t a new commandment. The command to love your neighbour is found in a number of places in the Old Testament. What is new is the phrase-‘as I have loved you’. Jesus own example is the standard and the motivation.

To obey Jesus’ commandment is a sign of love for Jesus. Just as Jesus had obeyed God and remained in his love, now the disciples received a commandment and obeying it was a sign of them remaining in Jesus’ love.

Loving each other as Jesus had loved was also to be the mark of a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said ‘just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. By this loving each other as Jesus had loved everyone will know his disciples. Why? Because in the quality of the disciple’s relationships Jesus love would be seen. The students would be like the teacher.

It’s interesting I think that it was not correct doctrine or martyrdom or zeal or pious actions that would mark someone as a disciple of Jesus. It was love the same as they had received from Jesus. It was the Jesus’ quality of love that would be that mark.

The pinnacle of that love was tonight. Jesus offering himself. Jesus going with what God’s will was. Jesus offering himself for the world. Jesus giving away his life as a fulfilment of his vocation.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had given himself. He had given himself for the disciples. He had focussed on their good. He hadn’t responded to them or treated them according to what they deserved or on the basis of what he would get out of it, or according to what was easy or convenient, or according to customs or family or tribal rules. Jesus had given himself for the disciples. Helping them, teaching them, forgiving them, caring for them.

And that love same that they would offer one another would mark them as Jesus’ disciples, and through that the message of Jesus and about Jesus would be believable and would get out and around the world.

And that’s what happened. Not without tension and difficulty. There were disagreements among the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and in the early years of the church, the scriptures tell us that. Things were not perfect, clearly. But there was also great love among the disciples of Jesus. Not just the 12 disciples but all who followed Jesus. They shared their possessions so all had enough. They cared for the poor and the sick. Church communities were places of acceptance and refuge. Immense dividing walls between people as individuals and ethnic groups were broken down and the message about Jesus spread.

That command continues to apply today. It wasn’t limited to the eleven in that upper room on the night before Jesus died, but applies to all who are Christians-followers of Jesus. We too have been loved by Jesus. We have been forgiven by Jesus. We have experienced his presence with us guiding us and helping us, being merciful to us, providing all we need showing us his grace, including and welcoming us. As we have been loved we love other disciples. By doing that we obey Jesus, we help people’s lives, and we create a very attractive community for people to join. Because there is a shortage of the Jesus type of love in our world.

This is a command from Jesus, so we need to take it seriously. We can’t just wave it away or minimise its importance. Jesus isn’t calling us to be crucified for each other. But his love for the disciples was a giving of himself in mercy and graciousness. And we can do that for each other. We can help each other. We can forgive each other and be patient with each other and include each other and welcome each other and pray for each other and give to each other. We can do those actions of love in the same way as Jesus has loved us.

As tonight we ponder that last supper and the events that will follow, we will be very conscious of Jesus offering of himself in love for us and all the world. That extraordinary gift of love for us. We ponder that love, we give thanks for it, and we resolve to offer the same quality of love to each other, and remain in Jesus’ love.