It was not the darkest of days. That would come a little later. Yet, you can feel the tension present as Jesus enters the room.
Interesting, we are told of the longings and love of Christ in these words:
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you… (Luke 22:15)
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
What a unique insight into Jesus’s overall mindset.
Yet, in the same moment, he knew it was time to suffer, that the hour had come for him to leave the world. The weight of the world was literally upon his shoulders.
This was to be a time of celebration, feasting, story-telling and the like. Yet Christ is headed to a meal that would be his last. Entering the door of that famed room would be entering the door of suffering and death.
I can’t imagine all of what is going through the heart, mind and body of Jesus. I would suspect that one, or more, of the lament Psalms was at the forefront. Perhaps he was already mentally reciting, quietly praying Psalm 22, which he would later utter its first line as he hung upon the cross.
The gospel writer, John, gives us another insight into the mind of Christ in this time: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (John 13:3).
A fairly compelling statement, if there ever was one. Christ is the one with all things under his power, yet he proceeds with a quiet confidence in the Lord. Maybe mixed in with a lament psalm, Jesus also remembers the words of one of the shorter, ascent psalms: But I have calmed and quieted myself (131:2).
Upon being seated, Jesus recognizes no one has performed the servant’s duty of washing the feet of the present guests. We can hypothesize about the seating arrangement of the disciples and guess fairly accurately that Peter had been sat in what was the servant’s spot. Shocking though it may have been (for Peter and the other eleven), this meant he was expected to wash their feet. Yet Peter could not pull himself to perform the task. I imagine this is why he has a little spat with Jesus about the washing of the feet (see John 13:6-9). It was to cover over his own shame.
In one sense, we could stop there. The one who held all power had now stripped down to an inner, linen garment and began washing the dirt-encased feet of his followers (and who knows what else was on their feet!). This is utterly astounding on its own. But the story doesn’t stop there. We know this. Yet, let’s not rush ahead to the more known, and perhaps commercialized, points of the story.
Jesus has become servant to both reveal the true nature of the divine and to also exhibit what he desires his followers to emulate. Their Lord and Teacher had washed their feet and now they needed to become the serving foot-washers themselves. No royal robes nor insignia rings. Rather a basin and a towel. They should have expected it, right? He’d been enacting this kind of service for some time now.
Christ has entered the room of betrayal, he has sat at the table of betrayal, and he will soon share the bread of betrayal. Paul uses this word as well in his own exposition on the Eucharist—”on the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23). He has enough to carry, but he continues forward with washing twelve sets of other people’s feet. What resolve. Not out of dreaded obligation, but out of self-sacrificial service and love.
It is at the table of betrayal that Jesus perhaps flips the script on one of the most quoted and well-known psalms.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. (Ps 23:5)
Considering the actions of Jesus, it may just be that these words now tell a different song:
You prepare a table before me
and I invite my enemies.
It wouldn’t be unlike Christ to declare, “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .” His followers already had to provokingly swallow this kind of paradigm shift in the Sermon on the Mount. Why not in the final days of his passion with one of their (and our) beloved songs?
Today the church remembers Maundy Thursday, which centers in on the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper. And it wasn’t just any supper like we might partake of this evening (even in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic). It was a table of betrayal. It was treachery at his most vulnerable moment.
Yet, the betrayer Judas was still invited to partake of the meal and the hard-headed Peter was still loved deeply.
Christ wasn’t finished yet. There was more to endure. Much, much worse. But he truly loved them to the end. Even in the midst of betrayal.