Loved To The End
A Maundy Thursday Reflection
by Eric Elkin
It’s the evening of the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting, no reclining, with his disciples around a table. The intimate group of friends probably does not look like the image Leonardo da Vinci imagined in "The Last Supper." There is most likely no table clothe, nor chairs. The men would be laying on sofas or on mats while they ate.
They are so close that the disciple whom Jesus loved is reclining with his head on Jesus’ shoulder. I can only remember eating this way a hand-full of times. Those times were always with the closest of friends and when we were much younger.
The thing I want to know, is, where do you see yourself in this story? I am assuming if you are reading this reflection there is some part of you that desires to be close to Jesus. So, where do you see yourself in this story? There are several options available.
Maybe you see yourself as a disciple, one without a speaking part. You have been faithful in following and listening. Yet, on this evening, you have no clue what is about to take place. Could you be one of the followers on the periphery? You waved palms in the morning and watched Jesus turn over tables in the Temple. Now at the evening meal, you sit with your own family talking about all these events.
Few ever identify themselves with the Sanhedrin, the rabbis with authority. They were eating dinner this night and making plans to hear the case regarding Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone who has ever served on a church council during a time of conflict knows precisely what it feels like to be the Sanhedrin. Personal opinion does not matter. They have a law to enforce, and Jesus broke the rules. People will not like their verdict regardless of the decision.
Are you Peter taking the lead in desiring to be washed first? Could you be Judas? No one ever wants to be Judas. However, a more just examination of him would probably reveal a person who thought the whole movement was getting out of control. The actions Jesus was taking were just getting to be too confrontational.
So where are you in this story?
There are two critical pieces to this story. First, apart from the Roman authorities and guards, everyone in this story is a faithful Jew. Too often, some see the disciples as good Christians and the Pharisees as bad Jews. This is not true. At the time, everyone, even the Pharisees and Sadducees, was attempting to be faithful according to their own understanding. That should count for something, right?
The second critical point is how the context is set in the Gospel of John. The whole scene about to unfold is set by these words, “Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end.” If this statement is true, then Jesus loved Judas. And, Jesus loved Peter who would abandon him at the critical hour.
The older I get, the more it moves me that Jesus washed Judas’ feet. My entire life I was taught what a despicable character Judas was in this story. Judas was the one it was okay for Jesus to abandon. Yet, in the story, it says, “He loved them right to the end.” As if to drive home the point, Jesus washes the feet of his betrayer. He gives him bread and permission to leave. To me, it is not Jesus who abandons Judas, but Judas who runs away from God.
We tend to read the Passion story as though there were good responses and bad ones. Yet, when you think about it, who is good in the story? Jesus is either betrayed or abandoned by everyone. And, still, he loved them to the end.
Some years ago, I found out one of my sister’s high school acquaintances was, in her adult life, a psychic. When I told her about it, she replied, “Wow, she had a really tough life growing up. That means she saw the whole thing coming.” I think of her comments every Maundy Thursday. Jesus knows everything that is going happen; the betrayal, abandonment, and death. Still, he loved them to the end. Not only did he love them to the end, but he also invited us to love the same way.
As we were headed into Holy Week, Christianity took the stage on the campaign trail. Democrat mayor and presidential hopeful, Pete Buttigieg faced anti-gay heckling while making a stop in Iowa. The Christian heckler told him he was betraying his baptism and yelled some other pro-life comments before being ushered out of the room. To Buttigieg’s credit, he calmly identified the differences in their approach to the Christian faith.
At nearly the same time, Michele Bachmann, speaking on a conservative Christian radio show, called President Trump, “Highly biblical.” Adding, “We will in all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetimes.” There are a lot of characters in the Bible. I wonder which one she was thinking about? Regardless of my personal feelings about President Trump, I’m not sure what makes any president, “godly.”
What caught my attention about these stories were the three main characters. Each one claims a Christian identity, and each one understands this identity in radically different ways. It would be easy to pick out the one you agree with as authentic. Then claim the other as unauthentic, but Jesus would have us love our neighbor and our enemy. To what ends would he have us do this? He would have us love them all the way to the end.
I would like to stand here and tell you how to do this, but I don’t know how. My own anger and frustration with my enemies can get the best of me. I struggle to love as I should. I fight to accept others as I should. I battle the urge to make fun of my opponent. It doesn’t take long to reach my end.
Where do I see myself in this story? I see a part of me in every one. The desire to do what is right is often interrupted by my poor ability to execute. Thankfully, Jesus loves me to his end and not my own. And when I forget the depth of Jesus’ love, he has given my enemy and me a feast to gather around and eat. A heavenly food to remind me I am loved, even when I don’t deserve it. A meal that draws even those on opposite sides of the spectrum into an intimate relationship.
Tonight, if you find yourself coming to Christ’s table to dine, eat this meal with full awareness of God’s love for you. The bread you hold is the Bread of Life. The cup you drink is the Cup of Blessing poured out for you and your enemy. We share in this meal so we might taste and see what it means to be loved to the end.
Click to read John 13:1-17, 31b-35
In your mind, what does the Last Supper look like?
Who are you in the story?
How can Christian people be so diverse in their view of the faith?
What does it mean to be loved until the end?