Exodus 12:1-14a ; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-32) ; St John 13:1-15, 31b-35
(Jesus) said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?”
In tonight’s readings and liturgy, as always (if we’re paying attention) we find good news…and bad news…or at least good news and not-so-good news…
“Do you know what I have done to you?”
Note that Jesus, after washing the disciples’ feet, does not say, “Do you know what I have done FOR you?” (Admittedly, the Greek could go either way, but let’s focus on the fact that most modern English translators have chosen to use “done to you” rather than “done for you”…)
Done to you vs. done for you…just a small difference in wording, but I think it is actually a very important difference…
Think about it…In our day-to-day conversations, when we say something like, “Did you hear what he did to her?” or, “Do you know what she did to me?” we are usually implying that something unpleasant or maybe even unjust or harmful has been done by one person or group to (or against) another person or group.
On the other hand, when we say something like, “Did you hear what he did for her?” or “Do you know what she did for me?” we are usually implying that something good, something generous, something helpful has been done by one person for another.
And, if we think about it a little more, if someone has done something for me—say, for example, if a colleague has visited a patient, or helped a student or has run an errand for me or for you—that usually means that they have done it instead of me…and it usually means that now I don’t have to do it. Or they’ve done it instead of you, and now you don’t have to do it…
But guess what…this is not what Jesus says to the disciples…or to us…
Jesus says to us, “Do you know what I have done to you?
Now, I do not mean to imply that Jesus has done something unjust or harmful to us.
But…I do think he has done something provocative…maybe even something a little ominous…certainly at least somewhat frightening…
There are clearly mixed emotions among the disciples.
Peter, in the foreground has his head bowed almost to his chest as Jesus grasps his right foot. At first, Peter appears sleepy…but if you look closely, his eyes are open and he seems to be watching Jesus very carefully—but in a way which seems to indicate that he is at least somewhat disturbed by or even a little afraid of what is happening…
The disciple behind Peter (John?)—his head is up—almost tilted back a little; his eyes are closed and his hands are clasped tightly under his chin. He looks as though he’s swooning—almost in a kind of ecstasy.
Another disciple at the back of the table—his chin is lowered, but as he watches Jesus and Peter, he is clutching his head in his hands—almost like he is terrified… or caught up in great despair…or in terrible pain…
At any rate, they all seemed to know that something was up…something that was both beautiful and ominous…good news and not-so-good news…
Jesus says to us, “Do you know what I have done to you? I have set you an example. And it is a difficult example. But it is also a hopeful example.
On this night and tomorrow and the days after that, we will walk with Jesus through his betrayal and abandonment, his physical and spiritual suffering, his death and his resurrection.
And sometimes (maybe often), it will be easy to think that God’s life-giving, healing love was only at fully at work on Easter morning. Or that God’s life-giving, healing love is only fully at work in the bright, triumphant moments.
But this is not the message of these intense days in Holy Week…
But first, let’s look more closely at the liturgy of the Eucharist…
Now anyone who has studied theology or probably anyone who has hung around the Church for a long time will remember that when theologians talk about the structure of the Eucharist, they often talk about the four-fold movement of the Eucharist—or four dominant patterns or actions that take place in each celebration of the Eucharist (bear with me here):
This pattern forms the skeleton—or backbone—of each celebration of Eucharist. It describes what happens to the elements of bread and wine…but it also describes what happens to us. These actions/experiences—of gathering and blessing and breaking and giving are also inscribed on our lives.
Now, when we gather to make Eucharist, as we have tonight, this pattern—gathering, blessing, breaking, giving—is usually more orderly…more obvious…more sequential…more controlled than it is in our daily lives.
But if we’re honest, we know that, no matter how hard we try, we can never impose the kind of order on our lives that we can (or sometimes can) impose on a formal worship service. In our day-to-day lives, we are usually experiencing gathering and brokenness, and blessing and scattering all at the same time…Or one part of our life might feel blessed while another feels broken, etc.
But…this kind of jumbled-up experience does not mean that God is not at work in us and through us.
I think that one of the messages of Holy Week is that God is always at work—God is always working to germinate something new and life-giving even in the midst of things that are ending and dying. God is at work even in the darkest and most confusing times.
(Please note that I am not saying that God causes the dark times…or that grief and loss are somehow necessary or integral to some kind of grand divine plan…that’s another sermon…or rather a lifetime’s worth of spiritual wrestling…Suffering is not to be dismissed or ignored.
But what I am saying is that the presence of suffering does not automatically imply the absence of God—even when it feels like God is absent.
What I am saying is that somehow, even when we are incapable of perceiving it, God is still present and active in our lives…)
And, if you think about it, the Eucharist springs up from the very same meal we remember and re-enact tonight—Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. A time of ending…of fear…of confusion…or grief. (It is no accident that we use crushed things—crushed grapes, crushed grain—to mediate and to proclaim God’s life-giving presence…)
And once again, we see that God can cause something new and life-giving to take root and grow out of an experience of profound loss—even betrayal and death. We see that God can work through broken people to bring new and unexpected life to the world.
So, when Jesus says, “Do you know what I have done to you?” there is good news and challenging news.
Jesus says, “Do you know what I have done to you? I have called you to serve when you feel betrayed. I have called to you love your neighbor whether or not you feel loved.
Jesus says, “Do you know what I have done to you? I have made it impossible for you to say, “…well, God couldn’t possibly use me…God couldn’t possibly use me because I am way too damaged…way too sinful…too old…too young…too weak…too broken…”
Jesus says, “I have shown you that God loves to work through broken things and broken people to bring new life and healing to the world.”
This is good news…and hard news. This is comfort and challenge.
In the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in the US, there is a paragraph in one of the Eucharistic Prayers (Prayer C) which reads:
“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table
For solace only, and not for strength;
For pardon only, and not for renewal.
Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ,
that we may worthily serve the world in his name…”
We do not come to this table only to receive our own personal, interior healing—even though we all do need that.
We come to this table in order to be strengthened so that we can participate in the healing of the world. We come to this table to be forgiven so that we can become forgivers. And God calls us to this struggle—God calls us to participate in the healing of the world even when we ourselves are feeling gathered and scattered, blessed and broken.
Jesus says, “Do you know what I have done to you? I have set you an example. I have gathered you to my table to receive solace and strength, to receive pardon and renewal. And I send you—I scatter you into the world to bring solace and strength and pardon and renewal where grief and guilt and darkness seem overwhelming. I have called you to spend yourselves as I have spent myself.
This is good news and it is hard news.
May God give us the grace and courage to follow where Jesus has led.
© Jacqueline Cameron