Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. —John 13:1-5
In the story of Maundy Thursday, heaven and earth whirl together in startling and poignant ways. Consider the way the Gospel of John describes the scene: Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
Knowing that he had come from God, and was going to God, Jesus decides to wash people’s feet!? Does that seem right? Normal? This is Christ’s last meal. He will soon “return to God.” Aren’t there more important things for him to be doing? Are callous removal and the fuzz between the disciples’ toes really his priorities?
In recent years, it has become common for people to reference their “bucket list”—a list of activities they would like to accomplish (experiences they would like to have) before they die. What’s on your bucket list? A safari in South Africa? A cappuccino at a café in Florence? A spin around the track at Daytona? A zip-line through a rainforest canopy?
Maundy Thursday puts the “bucket list” question to Jesus. Knowing that you are about to “return to God,” how would you like to spend your final hours?
Jesus picks up a towel.
What do we see in this moment? Surely, Christ’s actions are symbolic. We all need to be washed by God. Right? We need to be cleansed of the hatreds, resentments, prejudices and bitterness that coat our souls. God is going to save us by making sure that we are clean!
Maybe. Or maybe, something simpler—infinitely simpler—is happening here. Simple and beautiful. Maybe the top item on Jesus’ bucket list is the same thing he pursued every other day of his life.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
Gracious God, wash me with your love this precious day. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is the senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.