April 9, 2020
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The Gospel of John says that Jesus showed the fullness of God’s love at the Last Supper. Throughout the Christian tradition, the Church has
typically imagined that the twelve disciples were the only guests at the table with Jesus. Think, for example, of Da Vinci’s famous Last Supper
mural in Milan: twelve men gathered around Jesus at the center. A close reading of John, however, invites us into a fuller imagination of the Last Supper: who was around the table, and whose feet Jesus washed. Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown observes that John never gives a complete description of who was at the meal. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that many more friends from Galilee were present. It could be that the women who went to the empty tomb on Easter morning were also there at this meal: Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary’s sister, Mary wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. Still others, whose names we never learn from the Gospels, may have eaten with Jesus on the night before his arrest and crucifixion.
When Jesus fills a basin and ties a towel around his waist, he washes the feet of every guest at his meal. It’s a symbolic act that says that anyone who follows him should serve and love their neighbor. Jesus is saying that this is what we should do for one another until he comes again. During this Holy Week, all of us are separated from one another while we continue to remember the Lord’s Supper. This year’s Maundy Thursday is an opportunity, in our physical absence from one another, to reflect on fellow guests at Jesus’ table whom we often do not see. For example, at Nassau’s online coffee hour last Sunday, my friends Francisco, Brandy, Oliver, and Max reminded our breakout group to pray for migrant farmers who harvest the crops that fill our grocery stores. Many of them do not have adequate protective gear or access to healthcare for themselves while they make sure that we have enough food to eat.
There are many children in our school districts who have relied on school lunches as part of their own food security. In Princeton Public
Schools, 12% of enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. As they stay home because of school closures, many are at risk of going hungry when their parents face the most severe repercussions of our present economic crisis. There are also the countless non-essential workers who are without work right now, and essential workers who put themselves at risk so that others can practice social distancing and flatten the curve of the virus’ spread. Healthcare workers; grocery store employees; truck drivers; first responders like firefighters, paramedics, and police officers; we often overlook the depth of how they are caring for others. When we expand our imaginations to include the people we do not see as guests at Jesus table, it’s also an invitation to understand Jesus’ act of washing people’s feet in a new way. We call this night of the Last Supper “Maundy Thursday” because of an old Latin phrase, novum mandatum, “a new commandment.” It’s what Jesus says later in John’s Gospel, in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In her book The Amnesty of Grace, the Mexican theologian Elsa Tamez describes how the Lord’s Supper is a sign of God’s radical inclusion of every single human being, especially people whom we typically overlook, forget, or pretend not to see.
As we draw near to the end of this Holy Week in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, I invite you to imagine Jesus washing the
feet of the unseen fellow guests in our midst: children in danger of going hungry, migrant farm-workers, healthcare professionals, first responders, volunteers with groups addressing local needs. Who are some of the people who come to mind for you when you imagine other guests at Jesus’ table?
Even though many of us are staying home as much as possible to flatten the curve, we can imagine what it looks like symbolically to wash
one another’s feet as Jesus did. If you are able, you can give to groups like Arm in Arm or Princeton Children’s Fund. Arm in Arm continues to address hunger and housing issues locally. Princeton Children’s Fund, which in the past has supported enrichment opportunities for children enrolled in Princeton Public Schools, is collecting donations for a Coronavirus Relief Fund for local families that have been affected by work stoppage.
So much of our lives has changed in the past month, but the opportunities to love others remain. When we give to help our fellow guests around the Lord’s table, we are living out Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, just as he has loved us.