The photos in this post were taken last year, as the very short spring warmed up suddenly into summer. We were walking the Norfolk Coast Path, which was my first long distance path – flat, and easy to navigate with the sea on one side. It took us through many lovely, varied landscapes and small settlements.
It helps to have an image in your mind when thinking about the Way, as we are this week.
As we enter the traditional season of Passiontide, drawing closer to the Cross, we enter too, in our reading, an intense dialogue between Jesus and his friends, in which Jesus seeks to explain the terrible thing that is going to happen. To prepare them, and to show them the necessity for it.
We will touch on the themes of Way, Truth and Life here, and seek to work them into our days.
We are continuing this Lent series drawing on my book, Jesus said, I am – finding life in the everyday.
John 13- 14
Jesus knows that the time when he will be abandoned and betrayed by his friends, and then crucified, is getting close now. Knowing this, despite this, he loves them to the end. Knowing that the Father had put all things into his hands, he strips and kneels and washes their feet. He gives them bread. In doing so and by what he says, he tries to prepare his friends for what will come – must come. He does so with sadness and compassion. These are dark and difficult words. But, there is more. There is also a vision of love, service and life itself – the way of the Spirit, the Comforter. It offers them a way they can live when Jesus is no longer with them They do not want to see ahead to such a time. This next ‘I am’ saying is part of all this preparation – showing them a way forward – a way that will endure. Jesus is that way. He will remain that way, even after.
We are not there yet, though. We need to stand back a little and see more clearly.
Jesus Washing the Feet of his Disciples, 1898 (oil and grisaille on paper) by Edelfelt, Albert Gustaf Aristides (1854-1905)
© Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden
Finnish, out of copyright
Jesus gets up from the table, strips off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and kneels to wash his friends’ feet. This is part of the way ahead – the way of love and service. It is an instruction for how they are to live when he is gone. They are to imitate this act – and a concrete task can help us through a difficult time. It is hard for them to receive it. This kneeling and washing, acting like a humble servant, is part of the self-emptying way that Jesus is following, a small foreshadowing of the self- emptying of the cross. The way of love and life passes through the darkness of death.
No wonder it was hard to grasp. This is what glory looks like: tying a towel around your waist, a friend leaving to betray you with the taste of bread still in his mouth, being lifted up on a cross.
What might it mean for us, to know there is glory even here?
This encounter between Jesus and Judas – as he washed his feet, as he shared bread with him – has given me much to think about. I wrote about it here.
However much they did not understand, his friends did seem to grasp that he was going to leave them. That this leaving would be for them – that it would bring them the greatest good – was beyond them. The loss of Jesus could not be but terrible in their eyes.
And so, he tries to frame it for them.
Something profoundly essential is happening – terrible as it is – that will ultimately work for the good.
This is the only way.
A spacious home
Jesus gives them a picture of what the good will be – a picture of the host going on ahead to prepare rooms, or dwelling places. This is why he must leave, to unlock the door, to get things ready, to open and air the rooms. It is a large and spacious illustration, one that would conjure up Middle-Eastern principles of hospitality and welcome…..
There is an expansion in these pictures, and a deep sense that Jesus will go to considerable pains, even to the loss of his life, to bring home the sheep, to make a place in the Father’s house. Images of hospitality abound in the other three gospels, for the kingdom – images of banquets and wedding feasts and wide tables. Here, we find these: a large and hospitable house, a generous sheepfold.
It is entirely understandable that Thomas replies, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Now is the ‘I am’ moment: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. Can we think of a person as a destination? For that is what we are invited to do. ….
As we seek to walk along the way of love and service, we walk along with Jesus. We remember that the earliest name given to Jesus’ people was not Christians, but followers of the Way. We walk with Jesus, and with each other, on this path. That is the way.
It is Jesus who is Way, Truth and Life all. That begins to shift us to a different way of understanding what these things might be.
The reality behind it all, the reality we can trust, is love. That is why Jesus goes on ahead through what we cannot, and then comes back for us again.
The way of love is not soft, comfortable or secure. It will take Jesus to hell and back. It will take him to the very worst that can be done to a human being. This is the way that humanity will see God’s outstretched arms, and be liberated to enter abundant, overflowing life. Jesus is making the way.
Way, truth and life are here.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:14
Reflection and response
John often has parallels, patterns in his Gospel. You might like to think about Mary kneeling to anoint Jesus’ feet (see last week’s post) and Jesus kneeling before the disciples. You can use the pictures in each post to imagine what it would have been like to be there. You might like to think about what they have in common.
Consider more deeply these themes of the Passover: slavery and servanthood; a meal overshadowed by death and departing. Do these help your reading of the last supper?
I am struck by the fact that the Passover celebrates liberation from slavery, and this newly formed Passover – the Last Supper – includes a command to imitate the actions of a slave – washing feet – in free loving generosity.
How do you respond?
You will need: water, washable pens, paper, kitchen paper.
Imagine Jesus kneeling before you to wash your feet. Imagine you are there, in that upper room. What do you feel at first? What do you feel at the end? You might like to paint your response.
You could use washable pens on your hands, remembering things that do not fit with the command to love. Then dip your hands in water and watch them become clean.
Thank Jesus for his loving sacrifice and his example. Thank him for the gift of forgiveness.
Remember a time when someone offered you love, and practical service. What was that like? Remember a time when you did the same for someone else.
Think of what it means to be a leader like this. Where do you have opportunities to lay aside status and simply serve?
Life and Service
In every situation today, take this as your starting point: how can I best love and serve this person, these people?
My Father’s House
Think about times you have received hospitality, and given it. What stays in your mind?
Can you expand your current practices of hospitality – even a small step?
You may wish to go on a journey with a spiritual purpose and particular destination in mind. You could travel far or go on a walking tour of local places of worship and ancient holy sites. You could use maps and photos to imagine yourself on such a journey if mobility is an issue. You can go with friends, or alone.
In the current state of our news and social media, I think this one is particularly relevant. I would add to it now, as we are all empowered to generate our own content, and to share stories….. what are we spreading? Is it true, loving, kind? Does it promote understanding or division?
Be on the lookout this week for where and how you learn about the world. Look at your news sources. Consider how you listen to more personal news from friends and colleagues. Whom do you trust and believe? If you do not already do so, consider fact-checking, and reading and viewing things from perspectives that differ from your own. What do you find out?
Be particularly alert to this question: does this presentation of the facts encourage love and peace between people, or fear, hatred and hostility?
Does it help or hinder me in loving God and loving others?
Thank you for reading.
Please feel free to share any of the material you find helpful, saying where it is from.
If you’d like a copy of the book, you can ask your local bookshop, or order online.
Here are a few suggestions:
The publishers, BRF