The last hours of a person’s life bring clarity, focus, and poignancy. Deathbed confessions receive special consideration in a court of law, and “last words” often ring for generations because of their pithy power. In his last week on earth, Jesus the Nazarene chose to spend time with his closest friends. In the intimate setting of a meal, reclining together at the table as was the custom in the Near East, some of his final words clearly focused on friendship, and the signature stamp it gives his followers. One of His final statements was elevated to the status of a command, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Recently, I saw this bold challenge lived out in the lives of students right here at Regent University. A group of students gathered together on Maundy Thursday, the day during Holy Week that Christian churches celebrate Jesus’ giving of this new commandment. There, they took Jesus’ words literally, and “loved one another” as Jesus loved his friends. They washed one another’s feet! As an expression of love, friendship and service, they physically removed the shoes and socks of their friends, and bathed feet and toes in cleansing wash.
The moment that challenged me, however, was when one Caucasian student from the Deep South and one African-American brother from the “North” washed one another’s feet. I saw in that simple basin some of the hatred and prejudice that has so long clouded ethnic relationships in our country washing away. I knew that this was no “for the cameras” moment, but reflected a deep respect and friendship built on prayer, listening, and honesty. Truly, these two young men bore the signature stamp of Christian love and friendship, proving to be followers of Jesus.
It made me wonder, “How can I overcome barriers to love others around me more fully?” What keeps me from being a friend to others? What hinders me from taking Jesus at his word, and loving those around me in the simple, servant fashion that He did? When I look at my life in hindsight, as Jesus was able to do in that Upper Room, will it be filled with selfless service to others in demonstration of true love and friendship? Only if I challenge my own failure to love can we become the community envisioned by Jesus, the Nazarene…the one who died that I might be called “friend.”