The Phrase I Overlooked

There is a phrase in the Eucharist liturgy that, until recently, didn’t impact me much.  With so much repetition it had become commonplace in my hearing, but now it is tremendously profound every time I read it.  The phrase is:

“For in the night in which he was betrayed,…” 

I had come to simply hear it as a marker in time like, “The year in which King Uzziah died..” or “Immediately the disciples went out..”, but in reality it is full of rich and life-impacting Truth.

Today we celebrate what is known as Maundy Thursday.  John 13 describes the events of this important night in Jesus’ ministry before his death and resurrection.  It was the night He washed his disciples feet and gave them passover/communion meal. This meal, of course, has become the central part of our worship together and displays the mystery of being one with Christ.  His washing of the disciples’ feet set an example, for all of us, in how to serve one another. Also, in the midst of all these great things, this was the night Jesus was betrayed. 

In his account, John gives us details about the sequence of events on this night.  He wants us to know that Jesus’ washing his disciples feet, and giving them the bread and the wine of passover happened BEFORE the betrayal. Even though, Jesus already knew what was in Judas’ heart:

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:2-5 


Matthew actually tells us that Judas started planning to betray Jesus while he was still in Bethany, right after the woman anointed Jesus with the expensive oil.

In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”  

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.  And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.  Matthew 26:12-16 

When we learn these sequences of events, it is even more amazing to think of Jesus’ disposition that night. One can only wonder what was going on in Judas’s heart, but we can all agree that Jesus’ display of Grace and Love towards Judas, in the breaking of the bread and washing of his feet, is the definition of Unconditional Love. He knows that at the end this is the Love that leads us to repentance. He also knew that what he was about to accomplish could only be done in Love.

Jesus was not oblivious to Judas’ scheming. He chose to love him despite of it. One may argue that loving the unlovable and forgiving your ‘enemy’ is one of the hardest commandments in Scriptures. Yet, it is nearly in every story we have about Jesus, and it is on full display in this intimate moment between Him and his betrayer. If you look closely, you will see Jesus teaching us that no one is unlovable (although, we may easily come up with reasons why someone is hard to love). Peter clearly learned the lesson, as he tells us later on, in 1 Pet 4:8:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

If you continue to struggle with forgiveness, or washing the feet (i.e. ‘serving’) of anyone, especially those who have hurt or betrayed you, consider this scripture in a parable Jesus taught.  It says:

I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? Matt 18: 32

Jesus said this within the Parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven MUCH, probably a lifetime of wages, but did not forgive even a very little to what was owed him by another.

When we don’t forgive others it shows something about us that we may not want to readily admit.  It reveals that you have not let the forgiveness available to you, through Christ, sink deep down into every area of your life.  It shows there is a disconnect between the love and forgiveness you have received from God and the love and forgiveness you extend to others.

If we truly ‘understood’ the great forgiveness of God, if we truly ‘understood’ the unbelievable grace God has given us in restoring His image in us, then we would lavish His love and forgiveness on others. What we need to know is that our understanding of God’s love and forgiveness does not come rationally, as head knowledge. It rather grows out of relational knowledge, out of time spent with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our Triune God invites us to learn from Him how to love and serve with Joy, even when doing it sacrificially. 

He wants us to experience the freedom of being lavish in our love for and service to others.  He has united Himself to us through his body and blood, despite the fact WE betrayed him. Let’s not despise His incredible gift, but TRUST that He can empower us to display His Glory to others, with the same Grace and Love He has shown us. 

Maundy Thursday comes from the root in Latin mandātum, which means “mandate or command”.  It alludes to the Great Command – the one Jesus gave to the disciples that same night:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34

Many traditions use this Thursday worship service in Holy Week to literally wash each others feet, as Jesus washed the disciples feet.  Other traditions take up a special collection for the poor.  No matter what tradition you have had in your past, I want to challenge you to contemplate who you still need to forgive, or may find hard to love and serve. 

I pray you take time to sit with God. I pray you let His love and forgiveness for YOU cover you – like living water bathing you. Healing the areas of your life where you may not have felt His love and forgiveness before. Bringing fullness of life to you in such a beautiful way that you want to share it with others. That’s how we extend love, forgiveness and service to others – by experiencing it first.

This Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I pray you meditate on the greatest gift made available to all of us, remembering that it happened under the circumstance of a betrayal. 

“For in the night in which he was betrayed,…” 

He didn’t give His Great Command lightly. He didn’t suffer on the Cross to no avail. He opened up the path, for us to die and be risen with Him, to a new way of living. Let us come together this Sunday, and celebrate Easter, with joy and expectation of more of Him in us. 

Blessings and peace,

Rev. Todd and Dr. Christiane