To Know and Yet to Love — A Reflection for Maundy Thursday

Obviously, this is a few days late for this year. The following is the transcript of a reflection I wrote and gave for a church on Maundy Thursday. Some details have been generalised or anonymised, as I saw fit.

I want to draw your attention tonight to two verbs: to know and to love. Those two words come up time and again in this famous passage, starting at verse 1: 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. And what Jesus knows comes up time and again, as we shall see. 

The relationship between knowing and loving is rarely easy and uncomplicated, though at one time it was. You will remember, no doubt, that sometimes the Scriptures use the words almost interchangeably: Adam saw his wife, and Adam knew is wife, naked and without shame. And yet since the fall, we have always felt a tension between knowledge and love: it seems there must be a trade-off between the two. We feel that we may be known, or we may be loved, but we fear than when others discover the ‘real us’, that is to say, when they really know us, the love may go. 

And so we find it very easy to love those that we do not know well. I recall helping at a student mission week a few years ago, and we had guests from out of town to help. One of them got talking to a friend of mine — let’s call him Jonny — and they hit it off. Johnny hits it off with most people. And this guest later got talking to someone else, and discovered that she was Jonny’s wife. He burst out, ‘You’re Jonny’s wife?! I love Jonny!’ And she gave him a look as if to say, ‘That’s very nice of you to say, but you don’t really know him. You like Jonny — I love Jonny.’ It’s easy to love those we don’t know, they demand nothing of us, and we need nothing from them. It is easy to love those we don’t know, because we never have to die to our own desires to do so. 

But knowledge of another person both produces and requires a very different kind of love to that. To know, and yet to love, that is more difficult. And so I want to reflect this evening on the knowledge and the love of Christ, and what that knowledge and that love does to our human knowledge and love. 

There are two things that Jesus knows. Firstly, the Lord Jesus knows where he is going. In verse one, St John tells us that ‘Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father’, that is — he knew that he was to be lifted up to the right hand of God in power, but by way of the cross, and in verse three, he knew ‘that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God’. 

Secondly, Jesus knows who his friends and his enemies are. His enemy, in verse eleven, ‘For he knew who was to betray him’, Judas Iscariot. And he knew his friends as well, in verse eighteen, ‘I know whom I have chosen’, that is, the disciples. 

When we better understand the extent of Jesus’ knowledge, we better understand the extent of Jesus’ love. Christ knew his power, and that all things had been given to him by his father. Yet how does Jesus Christ choose to spend his last night before entering his glory? He does not lord it over his friends, but serves them.

He also knew that he was about to die. How does he spend the last night before his suffering death? He does not ask his friends to comfort him, but he spends the evening comforting his friends. If Jesus did not know either of these things, his example would still be wonderful, but when your time is short, it is very precious, and this is how Jesus spends it. 

At the same time, Jesus knows his friends and his enemies. If Jesus did not know that one of those at the table would betray him and that the other eleven would abandon him, his example of love would still be wonderful. If Jesus were washing his disciples’ feet because he knew he could always count on them, and to say thanks for all their hard work and faithful service, I suspect we would still be talking about it tonight. But in fact, in love, Jesus washed the feet of his own betrayer, and he knew that he was doing so. Why? Jesus Christ loved Judas Iscariot too.

Let’s be honest, there are probably a lot of secrets, and a lot of shame in this room. After all, all of us have clothes on. Since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, we have worn clothes, a way of saying: ‘I have something to hide, and I must hide it for you to accept me.’ And you remember that the first person we hid from was God. Since then, we’ve all hiding, and God again and again has been searching for us, and in that upper room, God found these Twelve, and for the first time since Adam and Eve left Paradise, there was no trade-off between knowing and loving. 

This is the love with which Christ loves you. It is the same love which may find us in our hiding here tonight, if we let it. Perhaps you feel as though Christ loves you because he got your name mixed up with someone else. Or because he doesn’t know you well enough to know what you’re really like. We see this in how we still hide. Like Adam and Eve, we make clothes to cover ourselves. Like Simon Peter, we would rather wash our own feet than have Christ wash us. Sometimes, we might even prefer to stay dirty. But God in love, God in Christ, is always looking for us, and saying, ‘I always knew you, and I have still loved you with an everlasting love.’ A love which covers a multitude of sins, and removes our shame that we might stand before God again. 

Having received this love, what must we do? Well, in verse seventeen, our Lord tells us that if we know his example, we will be blessed if we follow it. ‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ What does that mean? It means that even knowing our high calling and status as Christ’s disciples, we serve, for that is the point of our calling. Christ did not so much lay aside his power in order to serve us, rather he used his power in order to serve. 

And this we do for the life of the world. The commandment our Lord gives — the mandate, from which we get the word ‘Maundy’ — is in verse 34: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

As Christ knows, he also loves, and by our love, others will know. Following the example of Christ’s love, we will be recognisable as disciples of Jesus. This is what is means for Christ to live in and among us. 

But we must always be careful about our excitement whenever we hear Christ call anyone blessed. Who does he call blessed? The poor, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted, and those who mourn. We are blessed if we love like Jesus — this is a nice idea, but of course he said this on the night that he was betrayed. Which is to say, blessed are we if we love unto death. Blessed are we if we love others, knowing their sin, and knowing the possibility of being betrayed and abandoned, for there we find fellowship with Christ.

In this meal, the Lord’s Supper, we are joined in fellowship with Christ. We are joined to Christ first as recipients of his love, drawn into the fellowship of the Trinity, and we are joined to Christ in order to show that same love to each other. Like Christ, and like this bread, we are — hallelujah — taken and blessed, but then we too are broken and given for the life of the world. Like Christ and this bread, we are taken, blessed, broken, and given in order that those who see our love may be found by Christ as well, and find themselves too to be fully known, and yet fully loved.

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