A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Ascending and Descending in Christ

Christ washing the feet of the Apostes. Mosaics in the monastery of Hosios Loukas.

Maundy Thursday – Descending and Ascending in Christ

Doug Floyd
John 13

God is kneeling.
before a man who will betray him to his enemies.
before men who will deny him and forsake him.

The High and Holy One descends to the misery of broken people with broken hearts and broken lives, who keep on breaking His glorious creation.

Jesus descends into the mess and messiness of this creation marred by sin. He comes from the Father in Heaven. Jesus lives and moves and speaks in participation with His Father by the power of the Spirit.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus shines with a light that is brighter than the noonday sun. The very Son who shined with blinding light atop the mountain, descends below the Pharisees, the Priests, the Tax Collectors, the Samaritans, the lepers and even the slaves. He descends to the valley of the shadow of death.

Tonight Jesus is kneeling before Judas, Peter, James, John and a band of world-weary disciples. His heart is heavy with the coming night. Even in this dark moment, he pours out his love. The Gospel of John tells us,

“Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”(John 13:1)

He loved them to the end.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” (John 13:3)

In this act of removing his garments, taking towel, girding Himself and serving the disciples, Jesus anticipates the even of the coming day. He will be betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter and abandoned by the disciples. He will be stripped, beaten, and hung naked before a jeering world. From the cross, he will offer his life in service to the enemies of God.

He loved them to the end.

In some ways, Maundy Thursday is an extended meditation on a love that does not stop, does not falter, does not retreat when everything is stripped away. In fact, the stripping away, the abandonment, the absolute humiliation of Jesus only serves to reveal a love that cannot be quenched even by death. Jesus loves them to the end.

He actively loves them in words and deed. He calls the disciples to himself. Even as He washes their feet, he will clean their hearts in his work on the cross. He loves them and calls them friends.

Even as we consider the love of Jesus poured out upon his disciples, we remember the love of Jesus poured out upon a world in need. Jesus kneels into the very heartbreak of humanity. He kneels into the darkness of man turned and turning away from the brightness of God’s glory.

We need only read the newspaper or watch the evening news to behold the darkness of humanity turning away from God into the nothingness. We need only look in the mirror to behold a human who denies God and betrays other humans. Though we dress up nice and convince ourselves that we are pretty good, we are all stained with sin and in desperate need of redemption.

God descends in Jesus Christ to the person in the mirror: To you; To me. He comes down into the dark struggle of the human heart. He descends into the utter sinfulness of sin that leads death, even death on a cross. In his fall, he gathers the fallen. Hans Von Balthasar writes,

[Jesus] wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.[1]

In his humiliation, we behold a glory that is greater than the light of a thousand shining suns.

As G.K. Chesterton once proclaimed,

“Glory to God in the Lowest”

“Outrushing the fall of man

Is the height of the fall of God.”[2]

Jesus descends into the posture of a servant, a slave and serves his servants. His humility and coming humiliation reveal the very shape of God’s life, the very shape of God’s love. Jesus is the express image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Even as Jesus kneels to wash the disciples feet, he is revealing the life of God.

The same Glorious Creator who spoke worlds into being lives in a communion of love between Father, Son and Spirit. The very shape of God’s life looks like that of a servant kneeling before His friends. The Father, Son and Spirit live in a never-ending reciprocation of love. This never-ending circle of love is so beyond the grasp of sinful man that we only begin to get a grasp of it in the Jesus’ life poured out on the cross.

When Jesus serves his disciples, he is revealing the never-ending servant love of God. Jesus told the disciples in Luke’s gospel, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them” (Luke 12:37). This act of serving is not momentary but is the very nature of a God who loves without restraint.

As we behold Jesus, we behold the faithfulness of a God gives without holding back, who pours His whole being into the act of love. In Christ, we come to realize that the very life of God is a life of never-ending gift. Long before we know the love of Christ, we have been overwhelmed with the gifts of God in Christ.

By His Spirit, Jesus will lead His disciples to know this gifting God and participate in His life.  Peter, James, John and each of us, fall into His descending love. Christ lifts up his children, his friends into the love of God. In the ascending life of Christ, we ascend into a never-ending communion of faithful love.

As we offer our words, our hands, our bodies in service, our meager offering is transformed. Jesus lifts up the very stuff of humanity into the light of God’s glory. Jesus takes hold of bread and wine. Human hands made this bread and wine. He lifts it up in thanksgiving. Then he offers is back to his disciples as real food and real drink: the body of Christ and the blood of Christ.

The mystery of humanity’s ascension into glory is hidden the mystery of Christ descension into sin and death.

Tonight we are falling down before Christ and before one another. In the act of washing one another’s feet, we are rehearsing the love of God poured out in our midst. Even as we kneel before one another, we are ascending, being lifted into Christ, into the glory of God, in the hope of all things made whole.

This formal act of washing feet is but a rehearsal for the daily of acting kneeling in service before our brothers and sisters. We are learning to descend, to humble ourselves before one another and before the world in service. We are learning to live in the reality of the gifting God, by giving ourselves to God and one another in worship. We trust in the faithfulness of God to meet all our needs according to his riches in glory. As we descend, we are being lifted up into the love of God.

We descend and ascend in the hope of Christ who loved us to the end, who is faithful and sure, and who is leading us into a love that will never end.

Originally delivered at Apostles Anglican, April 17, 2014


[1] Hans Urs Von Balthasar. The Heart of the World. Ignatius Press, 1980 (p. 43).

[2] G.K. Chesterton. “Gloria in Profundis” from Ariel Poems. Faber and Faber, 1927.

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