Three motifs run through the history of the chosen people. The first is Law. God made a contract with the people and the signature on that contract was the Law given to Moses. This same Moses also said that God would raise from among their number a prophet like himself. A millennium later, Jesus was anointed as this prophet. Just as Moses’ laws were intended to show our love for God, so Jesus gives us a law, a new commandment. We are to love one another as Jesus loves us. This new law has the same force as forbidding theft or murder or lying or idolatry. Jesus chose love as the key because scripture tells us that God himself is love.
Second, law always requires interpretation, so we need a barrister of the faith. Jesus was such a teacher; in Aramaic, he was a rabbi. Like all rabbis, Jesus had a close group of nomadic followers who followed everywhere. A Rabbi could ask his disciples to do anything. If they didn’t like it, they simply ‘tore up the contract’ and left. We see some of Jesus’ first disciples doing that when Jesus told them they must eat his flesh.
The only thing a Jewish rabbi could not ask of his disciples was for them to wash his feet. Only a slave could be asked to do that. In context, then, the story of Jesus washing the feet of his own disciples is odd. The Bible tells us the disciples were confused. They knew Jesus was saying something radical. Some were either too afraid to face it, others too embarrassed at his unorthodox approach; maybe some did not understand.
It’s obvious to us what Jesus was saying: love makes a servant everyone. Loving servanthood is an central part of being a Christian and there is nothing that we cannot be asked to do.
And there’s a third seam running through the granite of faith that underpins the history of the chosen people. We don’t know when it started, but there arose the idea of grapes, a vineyard and therefore wine. Jesus wanted to show that he was the next chapter of the story, so he took bread and wine, blessed them, ate and drank, and said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
We immerse ourselves in our own Holy week and as we do so we see the outworking of these same ideas:
- We learn His New Commandment to love, and his invitation to use love as the sacred cement that binds us together.
- We learn that love is a form of servanthood to the extent that we are slaves to Him who was love.
- And, to prevent our forgetting the new commandment to love, we break bread and drink wine each day as a way of remembering the way that love became incarnate—God became a man to show us the outworkings of this love.