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Comfort and Covenant

Prayer of Invocation

Covenant God, we bless and thank you for the gift of the meal that Jesus commanded us to share. We thank you for this sign of your presence with us and your love for the world that Jesus came to redeem. We long to feast with Jesus in the fullness of the coming kingdom. May our worship today deepen our anticipation of that glory. Amen.

Call to Confession

Christ shows his self-giving love by washing his disciples’ feet. Surely, we do not live up to Christ’s example. We confess now our sin and our need of a Savior.

Prayer of Confession

Loving Lord, you taught us compassion. You took a servant’s role and knelt at the feet of your friends. You gave us a meal to remind us of your life-giving love. You called us to love one another too. Forgive us, Lord, for not practicing the compassion you modeled. Forgive us, Lord, for wanting to be served rather than to serve. Forgive us, Lord, for not loving as you called us to love. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

We have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Jesus we remember tonight is the Savior of the world. In Christ we are forgiven. And through him God abides with even us. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

Prayer for Illumination

O Christ, by remaining faithful till death,

you show us the road to greater love.

O Christ, by taking the burden of sin upon yourself,

you reveal to us the way of generosity.

O Christ, by praying for those who crucified you,

you lead us to forgive without counting the cost.

O Christ, by opening paradise to the repentant thief,

you awaken hope in us.

O Christ, come and help our weak faith.

O Christ, create a pure heart in us;

renew and strengthen our spirit.

O Christ, your Word is near;

may it live within us and protect us always. Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sermon Comfort and Covenant

Good evening. So, in some ways, this feels just as awkward as preaching in an empty sanctuary. In other ways, it captures the intimacy of the story that we hear in the Gospel of John. Jesus and the disciples are gathered in an upper room for a meal. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. They don’t understand that he’s about to leave them.

This is the last time they will gather together. The last meal they will share with Jesus. The last set of lessons they will receive. This scene stretches out over several chapters; it’s a long conversation. Or perhaps I should say, it’s a long lesson. It begins with physical action—Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. And then it builds to words, a new commandment: “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

I want to remind you that when Jesus uses the word “love,” it’s an active verb. Jesus isn’t describing a passive state of being. For Jesus, to love is to act. To love is to teach. To love is to touch and heal. To love is to teach. To love is to feed. To love is to provide comfort to a group of people, the disciples, who are going to have to carry on Jesus’ work in the world, but without the human Jesus at their side. For Jesus, to love the disciples is to equip them for their ministry after his death and resurrection and ascension. He is anointing them for their mission.

The context for this scene is important. A week or so earlier, Jesus came to the village of Bethany. He visited the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus. Then he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. This story occupies most of Chapter 11 of John’s Gospel.

In Chapter 12, Jesus visits Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, in their home. Mary and Martha are also dear friends of Jesus. This is a few days before Passover and right before Palm Sunday. They are having a dinner in honor of Jesus. At that dinner, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (12:3).

Mary’s act comes from a place of profound gratitude and pure love. And the whole house is filled with the scent of grace. The scent of love and grace is inescapable. This anointing gives the human Jesus the love that equips him to minister to the disciples in tonight’s lesson. The scene is repeated when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples; his posture is the same as hers.

Beloved, in this time of social distancing we are all feeling drained to some extent. The well is running dry for each of us. These are interesting and challenging times for everyone. We all have challenging work ahead of us.

In tonight’s scene, in the Upper Room, there is a lot of foreshadowing. We learn that Judas is going to betray Jesus. We get hints that Peter is going to deny Jesus after his arrest. And we learn that Jesus knows all of this. Yet Jesus goes forward in love and grace and humility.

We live in a world where we are all rubbed raw. Many of us were on our last nerve before the coronavirus pandemic. And now we’re all trapped in our temporary tombs. Some of us are holed up in comfortable tombs. Some are having game nights and family crafts. Others are separated from friends and loved ones. Still others are confined with loved ones who are difficult to love. We all long for this time of quarantine to be over, yet we have no choice.

Jesus could call out Judas for his treachery. He could chastise Peter for the denial that is to come. Instead, Jesus chooses love and humility. Dwelling in love is the only way forward. And in this act of love, Jesus gives a new mandate, a new covenant: love one another as I have loved you.

Beloved, this time of social distancing will come to an end. But I urge you, do not return to normal. Do not return to your lives as they were before. Instead, during this time of social distancing, dwell in the love. Remember all the love you have received from your human family, your church family, and your friends. Cling to every bit of that love that gives you strength. You, too, have been anointed. Dwell in that love. Take comfort in that love. And then live into that new covenant, that new mandate: Love one another as you have been loved. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer for Peace

God of Grace and Mercy,

In this time of social distancing and heightened anxiety,

We come to you in search of peace.

We ask for the peace that comes from relationship--from truly knowing you.

We seek the real comfort of knowing that we are not alone, but truly loved.

We ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit.

Bless us as we strive to be a blessing to others.

May we feel your love as we share your love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


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