EASTER READINGS – JOHN – SESSION 10

INTRO We leave the ‘Book of Signs’ for the Book of Glory – from the Last Supper to Resurrection (John ch 13- 21). The final Sign – the raising of Lazarus – ushers in, even ‘generates’ the ‘Hour of Glory’ – the Glory that is the death and Resurrection of Jesus, the ‘lifting up’ that heals the world, that gathers ‘the scattered children of God’ into remarkable, sacramental unity of the Body of Christ.The ‘gathering of the People of God’ around the Cross, the ‘lifted up’ Word made Flesh, the ‘lifted up’ Divine Love – this gathering is the Glory of the Father (whose children we are), the Son (whose ‘Body’ we are) and the Holy Spirit (whose vessels we are). What a responsibility – we the Church are the Glory of God! (John 15: 8 ‘It is to the glory of my Father that you bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples’).

[1] THE LAST SUPPER DISCOURSES (John 13:1-17: 26). Note that this section is longer than the Passion and Resurrection  narrative. It is of vital importance to understanding the Johannine Jesus and the community this Jesus gathers, empowers and dwells in until the end of time! The first thing we notice is that John does not include an account of the ‘Breaking of Bread’, the institution of the Eucharist. John ch 6 presupposes the centrality of the Word and Eucharist for the Johannine communities, and the discourses following the Washing of the Feet (John 13: 1-16) express Jesus’ teaching on how the community of Word and Eucharist should live – with the constant primacy of love. Another issue to note is that John places the Last Supper on the Thursday evening, and the Crucifixion on the Friday (ie Passover preparation Day rather than Passover itself). The Synoptics however appear to place the Last Supper as the Passover meal. John also suggests that the meal is shared by the disciples (including the ‘beloved disciple’ who appears not to be one of the Twelve) , which in turn leaves the possibility (even probability?) that the women disciples were also present. Why this discrepancy between the Johannine tradition and the Synoptic tradition? One explanation is that John’s emphatic  theme that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, sacrificed for the People’s freedom and New Life, is expressed by the fact that his Crucifixion and death on Golgotha Hill  precisely co-incides in time with the priests in the Temple sacrificing thousands of lambs for the Passover meals to be celebrated after sundown on the Passover Sabbath. The true Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on the Cross replaces the now redundant multiple sacrifices of the lamb in Temple Liturgy. Another and possibly related explanation is that Jesus and his disciples were observing the Passover Calendar of the Essenes – the radical reform sect whose dualism and other influence is certainly found in the Johannine text. The idea that Jesus is celebrating a ‘subversive’ Passover meal certainly appeals to me! So much of the Gospel message is indeed subversive!

[2] How subversive indeed is Jesus washing the feet of His disciples (John 13: 1-16). The Book of Glory opens with the One to be glorified stooping low as with bowl and water and towel as would the lowliest servant or slave of the household. The supreme moment of Glory – the dying breath of Jesus on the Cross – takes place between two convicted criminals. Jesus is offering us an example of Glory that is totally counter-cultural in all cultures! Knowing his betrayer, he washes his feet, and shares the broken bread with him. The Church of Christ Jesus fails to be the Church of Christ Jesus if we are not the humble servant Church in the midst of the pain and injustices of the world. Peter does not understand – and indeed will not be able to understand this Divine inversion of Glory until Pentecost when the Wind, Breath and Fire of Jesus’ Spirit ‘shake the foundations of the earth’(Acts 2: 1-4)  and ‘leads them into all truth’ (John 14: 26 & 16: 13). The Washing of the Feet is the great sign of the ‘upside-down Kingdom’, teaching the Church what being the community of servant disciples in the world means – what our mission is! Washing feet is at  once a most menial service to offer and such an intimate form of touch. The Church (that is you and me! as well as priests, bishops and Popes!) is called to be a community where no human service, however menial, is ‘beneath us’; and a community that draws close to people in their need with great respect and sensitivity. When we humbly serve, we are being Christ in Glory! When we serve it is Christ in pain and woundedness that we serve. Jesus constantly says ‘If you do not believe my words, then believe my actions’ – because the Divine Word (‘dabar’ in Hebrew) is an action not just a concept. The God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and Scriptures is a God who listens to the cries and suffering of the poor and then acts! A God who is ‘involved’ suffering with, suffering in and suffering for a world in pain. Hence there is no authentic preaching of the Word, Proclamation of the Good News of New Life, witness to this God of vulnerable loving without the actions of love and service – the ‘washing of the feet’ of the poor and broken. There are some Pentecostal traditions that will not celebrate the Breaking of Bread without a washing of the feet – a right spiritual instinct. The Church is called to be a ‘deacon’ church – where service of the poor and hurting is the starting point of preaching of the Word. We are called to be Good News, to act Good News in order to preach Good News – disembodied preaching and teaching which is not an expression of the ‘flesh’ of loving, can never be ‘Kerygma’ – a proclamation of Good News. The ‘eloquence’ that the Spirit gives us is found not in fine and well-crafted words but in lives of loving, reaching into the world of pain, injustice and poverty. We have to be the Immanuel God (‘God who walks with us’) before we can proclaim or witness. The Word must be made Flesh or it is not the Word.

[3] The betrayal of Judas (John 13: 21-30) For John,  Jesus is not a helpless victim, but One who willingly sacrifices Himself. Judas does not leave the table of fellowship, the table of love until he is ‘dismissed’ by Jesus when He gives him the bread (John 13: 26). At this point ‘Satan entered him’. Jesus must enter into the darkness of the Third Hour in order to liberate all who are imprisoned in darkness. Judas leaves the table and ‘Night falls’ (John 13: 30). Within the apostolic group there is betrayal (as well as denial and desertion!). ‘As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be’! The real mystery is that God risks a Church that betrays the Gospel as well as proclaims the Gospel.  The Church is both holy and sinful, light and darkness, edifying and scandalous. But each of us needs to make a choice – will we live the table of Love that is the Eucharist in our everyday decisions and actions … or will we leave the Table of Love even though we receive the Eucharist. Are we a fellowship of Love and Service or an institution of religion?

[4] ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified’ (John 13: 31). This is the great Johannine paradox – betrayal, the darkness falling over Him who is Light – this is the moment of Glory. Only as death swallows Life, Darkness overwhelms Light does Life overcome death and Light shatter the darkness. This is God’s great risk – He ‘abandons’ the Gospel and the cause of the Kingdom into our hands, knowing our failures, weakness, sinfulness and betrayals – He risks us! As the scraps from the Feeding of the 5000 is gathered up in the 12 Apostolic baskets of mission – so with God nothing in us wasted, including and perhaps especially our mistakes and failures! As St Paul says – where sin abounds, Grace abounds even more abundantly! If He risks us – will we risk abandoning ourselves into His hands?

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