The Room Where It Happened


April 13, 2017

John 13:1-17; 31b-35


The most popular Broadway show of late is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton –

Yes, the guy on the 10 dollar bill.

I haven’t seen the show, but I’ve heard the music.

Maybe it’s so popular because many of the songs

are relevant to today.


One song I’m thinking about on this Maundy Thursday

is, “The Room Where It Happens.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda said it’s one of the two best songs he’s ever written…

(I could be wrong…but I think it’s probably more because of the banjo

than because of its relationship to Maundy Thursday).


The song is from the second act.

Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison,

(an immigrant and two Virginians) meet over dinner.


Hamilton has been at odds with the other two leaders.

As Secretary of the Treasury he has come up with a financial plan

that they’ve been opposed to.

So there’s some wheeling and dealing;

some quid pro quo behind closed doors.

And then they’re done.


By the end of the meal,

the three leaders have made an unprecedented decision.

It’s called the Compromise of 1790:


The capital of the United States will be moved to the District of Columbia,

and Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan is approved.

The deal is hashed out over good food and drink,

privately among leaders –  in the “room where it happened.”


The way this deal is made isn’t all that surprising.

We’re used to these kinds of things happening among those in leadership

In board rooms or conference rooms.

The power players get together,

A vision is set;

Plans are made;

They make sure everyone is on the same page –

(privately in that room where it happens) –

And then together they announce the plan to the world.


Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover.

As the gospel of John tells the story,

after he raises Lazarus from the dead,

Jesus has gained a large following – there is a crowd following him now.


This is no longer a small cult;

It’s no longer just a handful of people following a carpenter from Galilee.

This is now a movement.


They could have ignored a small group of rebels.

They can’t ignore Jesus.

He now leads a movement which needs to be stopped,

and they plot against him.


In the midst of all this, the disciples and Jesus meet for a meal

in an upper room.


As the disciples see it, perhaps it’s a strategy session –

not unlike the one with Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison.


It begins as expected,

Food is served; wine is poured.


They look at Jesus to begin the conversation

about how they’re going to rise up against the opposition.

How Jesus plans to show the Roman and religious leaders that he is the messiah!

How he plans to defeat the powers that be which are against him.


Eventually, during supper, Jesus rises from the table.

“This is it,” the others think.

“This is where we get the inspirational speech.

This is what we’re here for.”

And they’re right…but it happens all wrong.


Jesus takes off his outer robe,

and ties a towel (not a sword) around his waist.


He pours water into a basin,

and begins to wash the disciples’ feet.


One by one he washes the feet of all of them.

Some are embarrassed for him…

getting on the floor for God’s sake!

Some are disappointed by him…

what kind of plan for defeating the enemy is this?

All are confused by him…


Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment.

That you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”


Of course this commandment is not really new…

It is in the Torah – in the book of Leviticus.

But in that upper room, with the leaders of this revolutionary movement,

Jesus sets a radical vision.


He says, this is what my followers will be known for…

This is what the mark of one of my disciples will be…


You will be known not for how you defeated an enemy…

But for how you caree for one another.


And that’s when they realize that this board meeting

is not what they thought it would be.


In his historical novel, Ah But Your Land Is Beautiful,

Alan Paton tells the true story of a white South African judge named Jan Christiaan Oliver.

(story re-told by Paul Duke in Interpretation[i])


A black pastor invited him to attend his church on Maundy Thursday.

In the days of apartheid, the judge knew the risk of accepting such an invitation

but he accepted anyway.


He discovered it was a service of footwashing,

and was urged to participate.


He was called forward to wash the feet of a woman named Martha Fortuin,

who as it happens, had been a servant in his own house for thirty years.


Kneeling at her feet, he was struck by

how weary they looked from so many years of serving him.

Greatly moved, he held her feet with gentle hands and kissed them.


Martha fell to weeping, as did many others in the room.

The newspapers got word of it, and Oliver lost his political career.”


Jesus says this is what my followers will be known for.

This is what the mark of one of my disciples will be.


And ever after they told the story about the room where it happened.

The room where it happened.



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