04/01/21 “Foolish Things” (Maundy Thursday)

John 13:2b-7, 12-15, 34-35

Such foolishness.

What on earth did Jesus think he was doing, getting up in the middle of dinner and washing the disciples’ feet? They’d been having a perfectly ordinary Passover meal. Well, maybe not ordinary, given Jesus’ recent talk about suffering and dying, and the obvious hostility of the religious authorities. The tension in the room was pretty high. But still. For Jesus to get up and do a servant’s job, and then to tell the disciples they should do the same thing for each other—well, it just seemed foolish.

And what was Jesus thinking when he said those—well, frankly—creepy words about the bread and wine being his body and blood? It was bad enough to say that he was going to die, when the Scriptures seemed pretty clear that the Messiah would come from the line of David, which would be as everlasting as the sun and the moon. And then to link the wine to his own blood! The body/bread thing was bad enough, but everyone knows that the Law forbids consuming blood. It was just foolish to say such things, when he’d already given the powers-that-be so many reasons to get rid of him.

And then for Jesus to say those awful things about his own disciples—the ones who had left everything behind to follow him. Doesn’t he know how much they love him?  How could he say those words, with that terribly sad look on his face: “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And then, after the disciple whom Jesus loved asked if it was him, Jesus had said it was the one he’d give the next piece of bread to, and he gave it to Judas. OK, maybe they’d had some suspicions about Judas, but to say that he would betray Jesus? That was just foolish. No wonder Judas hurried out into the darkness.

And, Jesus didn’t stop there. When Peter pledged his undying loyalty to Jesus, Jesus turned around and said that Peter would deny him, not once, not twice, but three times that very night. How foolish! Peter was basically the leader of the twelve—the spokesperson, always included in the inner circle, present at all the major events of Jesus’ ministry. And where would he be doing this denying, anyway, and why, and to whom? They were all together—a family, celebrating a holiday, sharing a meal, sharing a mission.

But here’s the most foolish thing of all. In the midst of all of this, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: that they love one another as he had loved them.

And what a love it was! He loved them enough to prepare them for what was coming, giving them the tools they would need to cope after he died. He gave them a way to keep the hope of the kingdom and a sense of his presence alive, not just in the immediate aftermath but always. He showed them how to be a community when he wasn’t there in the flesh to bind them together, by seeing themselves as servants one to another, by giving up the positions of power they were anticipating and to taking up a towel and basin instead.

His love included everyone. It included the very person who would hand him over to his executioners. Maybe Judas acted out of ill will, or maybe he acted out of a tragic miscalculation designed to set into motion the events that would finally put Jesus on the throne. Jesus would have known what we don’t, and he loved Judas.

His love included Peter—rash, impulsive, fearful Peter. Jesus knew that, for all his bravado, Peter would feel like a frightened little boy in the courtyard later that night. But Jesus loved him.

Jesus loved them all—the betrayer, the denier, the ones who squabbled over the positions of power they thought Jesus would be handing out. The ones who would completely misunderstand his message until much later. The ones who would make themselves scarce as he hung on the cross. The ones who would hear of an empty tomb and consider reports of the resurrection foolishness.  He loved them all, and called on them to love each other as he loved them.

Today is April Fool’s Day. The world might consider what we’re doing here tonight foolishness as well: remembering a man who claimed to be the Son of God, whom we believe died on a cross in order to, in some mysterious way, break the power of sin over us, and whose resurrection, in an equally mysterious way, broke the power and fear of death.

The world might consider us foolish for trying to live as faithful disciples. It’s true that we do a pretty poor job of it a lot of the time. We betray Jesus every time we allow the world’s values to guide our lives instead of the values of the kingdom he brought near. We deny him when we pretend that he means less to us than he does. Many churches and the history of this church (while thankfully not its present) reveal that Jesus’ followers still vie for positions of power. We’d still rather jump from the procession of the Palms to the glory of Easter without witnessing the pain of the Passion in between. It’s hard for disciples to love each other as Jesus loves us when there’s denial, betrayal, and a refusal to live as servants to each other.

But we don’t believe it’s foolish to keep trying. We don’t consider it foolish to repent when we realize our errors and ask for forgiveness, both from Jesus and from those we’ve sinned against. We don’t believe it’s foolish to trust that, by God’s grace, we can be forgiven and can try again to live up to Jesus’ words. We don’t consider it foolish to believe with Paul that, while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. That God proves God’s love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That if while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to God through the death of God’s son, much more surely will we be saved by his life. The world may consider Jesus’ words to be weak and foolish, but we know that they reveal the wisdom and power of God. The world may consider the message of the cross to be nothing more than an April Fool’s joke on a grand scale, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

On this April Fool’s night, what we remember is not a foolish thing, but God’s love poured out on us through Christ’s suffering and death. As we come to the table, as Jesus and his disciples did so long ago, let us remember that the foolishness of the cross gave us the victory over sin.  As we witness Christ’s Passion, let us remember that on the cross, he turned the foolishness of death into life everlasting. Amen.

~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young