A mini-sermon for Maundy Thursday on how hard it is to receive love
Or, The Friends That Kept Jesus' Favorite Beer in the Fridge
Gospel Text: John 13:1-35
I used to think this day was called Monday Thursday, which of course makes no sense whatsoever.
But it’s actually called Maundy Thursday. Which also makes no sense whatsoever.
Until you realize the word Maundy originates from the Latin, mandatum – when means, a command, or order. The Gospel reading for today, recounts the last supper – when Jesus gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom…and how he got up from the table, tied a towel around his waist and began to wash the feet of his disciples…and said, that he gives us a new mandatum – a new commandment, to love as he has loved. This is Christ’s command, that we love one another.
I’ve been thinking about that all week, and how simple it sounds, but how hard it is. Not the loving others part although that’s plenty hard –especially because humans can be difficult. No. The thing I keep thinking about is how hard it is to be loved. To receive it, to feel worthy of it, to not flinch when it’s given. Sometimes it really can be easier to give than to receive.
So I’ve been thinking about how Jesus received love. The Gospels tell us Jesus had friends. Mary, Martha and Lazarus weren’t his disciples. They were his friends. Perhaps they were friends with whom he could relax. I imagine it was in their home that he could be more than just a messiah, he could also just be a guy, he could be seen for all of who he was, not just teacher and rabbi. Maybe it was at his friend’s house that they gave him a hard time, teased him a little, loved him a lot, not just for his work as a healer and teacher, but also for just being him. All of him. I like to think he was loved in a really particular way at their house. And that like, they kept his favorite beer in the fridge.
Maybe that is why he went back there for a dinner party, to Mary and Martha’s house after he raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. A dinner party that was just 5 days before the night he was betrayed by the disciples whose feet just washed.
Mary, Martha and Lazarus hosted a small gathering, I imagine, with good food, and great wine and amazing friends. There they were, lounging at the table, finishing off the last of the hummus, when suddenly Mary is carrying a small jar of nard, a very costly perfume traditionally used to anoint the dead. She carried this jar over to her friend Jesus who she loved and who had raised her brother Lazarus from the grave.
The authorities sought to arrest Jesus after he raised Lazarus. After all, if they let him go on like that, everyone would believe in him and no one would believe in the authorities. So the drama was building, that night Mary carried some perfume over to her friend Jesus.
This friendship with Mary Martha and Lazarus cost Jesus more than his freedom. It cost him his heart. Remember that famous “jesus wept” verse…well that was when he stood at Lazarus’ tomb. He loved them.
But they also loved him. We don’t talk about that much – the way in which Jesus was loved. We speak of how he showed love, gave love, was love. But what about the way in which he received love?
Mary removed the cork stopper from the jar she carried, and perfume filled the room, infusing it with a sad beauty. She loved him. She loved Jesus enough to cook for him, laugh with him, tease him, cry with him, and now, anoint his feet for him with the perfume she bought knowing he’d be killed soon. See, she’d seen death take Lazarus and she knew it was also coming for the one who raised him. Everyone got really quiet as she reached for the feet of her friend, covered them with perfume, and wiped them with her unbound hair.
I’ve wondered all week, how did he receive this love? Was he like me, hesitant, suspicious, resistant? Was he needy? Embarrassed? Did he try and get her to stop?
Or did he receive this love with a heart that was open knowing this was exactly what he needed to get through the last week of his life. I don’t know.
But I do know that five days later, he was reclining at the dinner table with his disciples, who were finishing off the last of the hummus, when suddenly he carries a small basin of water over to Peter and the others.
Having loved his own, he loved them to the end, the Gospel says of that night.
He washed their dusty feet and dried them with a towel that he had tied around his waist.
I do not know how he received the love from Mary in the moment she offered it to him. But given what he did at a dinner 5 days later, I know that Jesus became what he received.
This is how it works, of course - that hurt people hurt people and forgiven people forgive people, and loved people love people.
But it doesn't make it any easier to receive love well.
Because it’s hard to be loved. I mean, it seems like it wouldn't be. I mean love me for my writing, fine. Love me for my work, ok. Love me for me – just me – all of me- everything I am good and bad – that stings.
It feels like a trap.
I’d rather earn love in some way because I was good, or it was reciprocal or because the only reason someone loves me is because they don't really know me. But to be loved without condition for all of who I am good and bad? That stings. Because it brings up all the ways I don't feel worthy of it. It reminds me of all the ways I have loved poorly or not at all.
But maybe it is be receiving it, by allowing ourselves to receive love…that we become loving.
You want to give it, it has to come from somewhere.
Jesus knew what was about to go down later that night. He kept telling them that he would be betrayed and denied and handed over to be killed. What I mean is that after it all went down, Jesus wasn't like “man, I can’t believe I washed the feet of those guys and then they treat me like this”. He knew them – good and bad – and still he loved them.
I give you a new commandment, Jesus said to his disciples that night, after he had washed their feet - that you love one another.
I’ve always heard that as a command to be loving and yes, it is that. But maybe we are also commanded to receive love as well? Which is not always the easiest thing. But if everyone gave and no one received, the commandment would never be fulfilled. And yet we seem to only focus on how Jesus wants us to love others when in fact we are also the others whom Jesus wants to receive love. You are worthy to receive love.
That’s our Lord’s economy.
Let us love one another. Let us become what we receive.
Not because we are good, but because we are loved.
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Emily Scott’s upcoming book, For All Who Hunger concludes with chapters that reflect on Holy Week celebrations, and she is sharing them with us as a special celebration during this uncertain time. Each day of Holy Week, she’s reading an excerpt!
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