He Loved Them to the End

A sermon by Michael Pahl on April 18, 2019, Maundy Thursday, called “He Loved Them to the End.” It is a reflection on John 13:1-15.

Here is a written excerpt:

“He loved them to the end.”

It’s a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross, coming up in the story. The uttermost end of love looks like God in the flesh, pierced on a cross, extending open arms of mercy even to the cruelest of enemies.

“He loved them to the end.”

That’s pretty extreme, that love. That’s a once-in-forever kind of love, that is. It really is the uttermost end of love. There is nothing left to give, once this love is given.

Which is why I’m glad this reference to Jesus’ “love to the uttermost end” is also cast for us in more prosaic terms in John 13: washing someone else’s feet.

I don’t know if you’ve done this before. Foot washing has not been a regular practice in our church. And it’s not a regular practice within our culture.

But back in Jesus’ day, in the dust and heat of Galilee and Judea, this was a regular practice. It was a simple act of necessity, washing dusty feet. It thus became a sign of true hospitality.

But this simple act of necessity, this sign of true hospitality, was normally the task of a common slave. In a wealthy household, the home of a great lord, the host himself would not stoop to wash a guest’s feet. That simple act of necessity and sign of true hospitality was assigned to a household slave.

This simple act, the task of a common slave—cleaning the dusty feet of a weary traveler, welcoming them into your home, to your table—this simple act is a powerful symbol of Jesus’ “love to the uttermost end.”

The foot washing interprets the cross for us, for this is in fact what Jesus’ death means: God comes to us as both host and servant, cleansing us of all the dirt and grime we accumulate from traveling in this world, and welcoming us into God’s home to feast around God’s table.

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