Church of England Diocese of Sheffield Stannington

Thought for the Week: The Last Supper and our call to Love Each Other

9 Apr 2020, 7:30 p.m.


You can watch this thought for the week on our YouTube channel.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17 31b-35

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Good News Translation (GNT)23 For I received from the Lord the teaching that I passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, 24 gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.” 25 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, “This cup is God's new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me.”

26 This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N. All Glory to you, O Lord.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 Good News Translation (GNT)

Jesus Washes His Disciples' Feet13 It was now the day before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He had always loved those in the world who were his own, and he loved them to the very end.

2 Jesus and his disciples were at supper. The Devil had already put into the heart of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, the thought of betraying Jesus.[a] 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him complete power; he knew that he had come from God and was going to God. 4 So he rose from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist. 5 Then he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Are you going to wash my feet, Lord?”

7 Jesus answered him, “You do not understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later.”

8 Peter declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!”

“If I do not wash your feet,” Jesus answered, “you will no longer be my disciple.”

9 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!”

10 Jesus said, “Those who have taken a bath are completely clean and do not have to wash themselves, except for their feet.[b] All of you are clean—all except one.” (11 Jesus already knew who was going to betray him; that is why he said, “All of you, except one, are clean.”)

12 After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table. “Do you understand what I have just done to you?” he asked. 13 “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. 14 I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. 16 I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. 17 Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice!

The New Commandment31b Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man's glory is revealed; now God's glory is revealed through him. 32 And if God's glory is revealed through him, then God will reveal the glory of the Son of Man in himself, and he will do so at once. 33 My children, I shall not be with you very much longer. You will look for me; but I tell you now what I told the Jewish authorities, ‘You cannot go where I am going.’ 34 And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Footnotes:

John 13:2 The Devil … betraying Jesus; or The Devil had already decided that Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, would betray Jesus.

John 13:10 Some manuscripts do not have except for their feet.This is the Gospel of the Lord. All Praise to you, O Christ.

I saw a someone on social media recently complaining about the quantity of times that the word unprecedented had been used. However, at the risk of upsetting them, it is an appropriate term for the changes we are going through.

In the day to day struggle that is living, even taking stock of our lives and looking for opportunities for change is difficult, so whenever something drastic turns our world upside down it helps to take a step back and think about what the drastic change has revealed. Change gives us two options, one is to fear the change and recoil from it, the other is to engage with it, adapt and learn from it.

We are making enormous changes to our lifestyles, our incomes, our work patterns. Things that would have been considered outrageous, impractical and uneconomical six months ago are now viewed as a necessity for survival. We sometimes have to hunt for basic things such as bread, pasta or toilet roll.

Change is afoot, change on a scale that hasn’t been seen for nearly a lifetime. We are recognising some important truths about society, surprising truths about who has a critical role and how they have been under-valued.

In Corinthians Paul reminds us of the critical change that took place in the upper room on the night before Jesus died. A seismic shift was occurring, that would eventually tear the disciples, Jews born and bred, away from the control and stipulations of their lifelong religious rites under the auspices of Judaism. Bringing his core disciples together, Jesus shared with them a special meal, a last supper, that was to become the foundational rite of the Christian church. Sharing together in the body and blood of Jesus has become a core element of the function of the church. For thousands of years this rite has been protected and guarded by the church as communion. Now we are faced with the very real prospect of doing without communion for a significant period of time.

We are no longer able to meet together, no longer able to break bread together and drink from the one cup, but we should not fear this change, we should use it as an opportunity to explore the fundamentals of our faith.

To find new ways in which we can maintain a physical demonstration of our unity. What might a social distancing version of breaking bread together look like?

Many people in the church are now a part of networks that meet regularly, but remotely. If you are not in one of these networks and would like to be, then please make contact with someone from the church so you can be included.

Question One: what do we miss most from meeting as a church and how can we adapt to get what we miss from our new surroundings?

Our current situation finds some parallels with the last supper, something that could be argued to be the starting point of the Christian faith being set loose from its moorings to Judaism. From the last supper, events were set in motion that would eventually lead to the newly named Christians being expelled from the temple and the synagogues which they had called home. They had to rethink what Christianity meant in the absence of the buildings, structures and institutions of their religious childhood, and eventually lose the protected status of their faith within the Roman empire. They had to step into a new world of disorder and chaos, where they had to find new ways to meet, in homes and secret places. At the same time they had to discover the crucial elements of their faith outside of the safe umbrella of Judaism.

Tradition is something that is easily added to, but not so easily let go of. Each generation might add minor traditions to religious observance, but once they have been adopted, there is no easy mechanism for letting go of traditions. We seem to find it hard to distinguish between the core elements of our faith and the particular way in which we have got used to practising it.

In that sense, being prevented from meeting in the church building is an opportunity to re-evaluate what is vital to our Christian faith, and what is accumulated tradition that may have become unnecessary. This is not to say that we cannot learn from tradition, just that we also need to be discerning over what is core and what is peripheral.

The practise of communion grew out of the last supper, but until the church became more organised and structured, and liturgy was formalised, it was in essence a shared meal. While today a communion service is highly regulated and must be led by authorised people, the church of England also allows for an agape meal, which has a much looser remit. It is not recognised as sacramental, it does not require bread and wine to be blessed by a priest, in fact bread and wine are not even needed, any food or drink can be used as it focuses more on the sharing element of the meal. While sharing a mealtime together is difficult to do remotely, it is not impossible. However as means of sharing our faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and of the command to love one another, it can be very effective. It is particularly suitable for use within households at this time as a reminder of our faith and of Jesus last supper.

Question Two: How do we define our ‘Christian’ identity while confined to our homes? How can we best express our Christianity in a time of social restriction?

The final point I would like to leave you with is the last part of the John reading. After the meal Jesus then does two things to bind the disciples together as a group, firstly washing their feet and second by issuing the commandment to love one another. First washing their feet is a display of humility, not only for the person washing the feet, but also I think, especially in our era, an act of humility in allowing someone else to wash your feet, especially if it is someone you respect and look up to. I am sure many people today would feel uncomfortable about having someone else touch their feet, let alone wash them, but Jesus made it clear that the disciples needed to be open to this form of shared humility, or perhaps you could say the disciples had undergone a baptism into humility. Fresh from this ‘baptism of humility’ Jesus secondly binds the disciples together with a commandment.

Question Three: How can we be baptised into humility and the commandment to love one another while respecting isolation? How does being humble and loving show itself in these times?

Discussion starters:

Question One: what do we miss most from meeting as a church and how can we adapt to get what we miss from our new surroundings?

Question Two: How do we define our ‘Christian’ identity while confined to our homes? How can we best express our Christianity in a time of social restriction?

Question Three: How can we be baptised into humility and the commandment to love one another while respecting isolation? How does being humble and loving show itself in these times?

Jon Foster, 09/04/2020