“Why is this night different from all other nights?” The youngest child at a Passover Seder asks this question early in the Jewish annual ritual commanded in Exodus 12 that commemorates God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
Christians might well ask the same question of Maundy Thursday. In the accounts of the first three gospels, on this same Passover night Jesus shares his last supper with disciples using language and gestures that echo the Passover ritual while transforming it into what we recognize today as the sacrament of Holy Communion.
John 13, however, presents a dramatically different scene. Although the text does not say that the “supper” mentioned was the Passover meal, Christians through the ages have interpreted it that way. Instead of doing anything with bread and wine on “this night,” Jesus performs a ritualistic action that the lowliest of servants, a slave, carries out upon people’s arrival at a house: he washes his disciples’ feet.
Then, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to follow his example and wash each other’s feet—like him, they and we are to become servants. Just as the Passover brought a liberated people of God into being, Jesus’ feetwashing brings God’s people as a servant people into being.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Perhaps it is the night when Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship that follows not only the way of the cross articulated in the Eucharist, but also the way of the servant epitomized in the taking up of the basin and towel, leading us to be the liberated people of God, too. “O Lord, I am your servant . . . ,” the Psalmist declares, “You have loosed my bonds.”
The Rev. Heather Warren