What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand. All of Jesus’ words are true, but sometimes we are able to perceive the truth of them more easily. And these words, when Jesus tells the disciples to just trust Him, that they’ll understand later – these words find application in our lives over and over. Jesus says this while washing the disciples’ feet. Peter makes it clear that he doesn’t understand at all, but if Jesus insists he needs to have his feet washed, he’s ready to have his hands and his head washed, too. And they do understand after He’s finished – because Jesus takes the time to say it slowly and clearly: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
But there were other things He said that night that were harder to understand: This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. And although they were gathered to celebrate the Passover meal, which had long foreshadowed the coming Lamb who would shed His blood to cleanse the people from their sins and save them, the disciples didn’t understand it at all that night. Jesus had been repeatedly telling them the truth about His coming suffering and resurrection, but they just couldn’t comprehend it. Again, they would just have to wait until He explained it to them – this time is His resurrected body.
But Jesus isn’t just talking to His disciples – He’s speaking to us, too. We cannot understand God’s plan for our lives – our perspective is too small right now. But we can trust that whatever He has in store for us, it is better than our plans. There are times when trusting Him is very difficult, when we see only our suffering and can’t understand why God doesn’t just make things easier for us, though we know that He disciplines those He loves. For when Jesus tells us “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” it takes for granted that each day will have its trouble. But though we may be weak and afraid, it is not our own strength we rely on, it is the power and the abiding love of the Almighty Living God – for we are marked, we are washed, we are baptized into God’s family forever by the blood of Jesus, the passover Lamb, and though plagues may trouble us here on earth, we will be saved eternally. He has said so, and His Word is truth.
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Exodus, chapter 12, verses 1-14:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
The Epistle lesson is from 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23-32:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
The Gospel for Maundy Thursday is from John, chapter 13, verses 1-15:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, by Ford Madox Brown [Public domain in USA; Copyright in UK by Tate Britain]