I Need a Hug!
Maundy Thursday John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Kristen often tells the story of one of her kids at work who objects when she asks if he needs a hug. Most kids are happy to get a hug, especially those who are having a tough day. I’ve had kids on my bus who are stinkers one day, and then the next day say: “I need a hug!” Since this is written you will have to imagine Kristen’s version of how he responds, as if she is crazy to suggests such a thing, when she asks him if he needs a hug, and he responds: “Nooo!” as if she had asked him if he would like to have worms for lunch or something. Here’s a kid I don’t understand!
I’ve had a real urge to hug people lately, even though I’m more of a tree hugger than people hugger. And not just the usual folks I hug on Sundays, but just about anyone. I miss being able to share the love and joy given and received in a hug. In this time of social distancing, we are deprived of many simple pleasures, like hugs. Hopefully having a hug-less existence will not be part of our new normal for much longer! I didn’t realize until recently how much I too sometimes need a hug.
What is commemorated on Maundy Thursday, Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet and institution of the Lord’s Supper, is all about humbly sharing intensely intimate moments, of physical closeness and emotional connection: what we get from a hug, too. Certainly, all parents cherish the memory of bathing their youngsters, or perhaps caring for their aging parents when they needed it. We all treasure special meals with friends and family, and perhaps the opportunity to be waited on at a restaurant, a joy we can’t experience right now. These simple things, a shared meal, tenderly caring for someone, a loving hug, are the kinds of things that make life precious and meaningful. Simple ways that we say “I love you”; simple things we miss when a special person is no longer with us. Now when I think of my grandparents and others no longer with us, I remember the way they gave a hug, and that is sometimes what I miss from them the most.
These are the simple things Jesus shared with his disciples, which we now share with each other in his name. His disciples bickered over who was more deserving amongst themselves, and even rebuked Jesus for doing such things, but Jesus teaches us to love unconditionally, even to love those we otherwise might overlook. All come to Jesus equally in need of his love and grace.
As John’s Gospel tells the story, it feels like we are witnessing a holy ritual as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. He makes it clear that he does this as an example, and they are to do likewise. Although he certainly has the power and the position to do so, he does not exalt himself, but takes the role of a servant. All of us are to do likewise, serving others, even those with stinky feet. We must not think we are better and avoid helping those in need. We don’t place ourselves above others and deprive them of those simple things: washing their feet (and hands!), sharing a meal, giving a hug. Jesus invites us to love one another as he has loved us: as beloved children of God worth dying for on the cross, all are worthy of forgiveness and eternal life, if we humbly come to him and believe in him. As he told his disciples that day, he tells us now:
“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.”