It is the night of that fateful day on which the Son of God incarnate in our human flesh laid down His life to save the world. In the rhythm of the day as it appears in the Bible, evening marks the beginning of the day. Darkness into light. Evening into morning. This is the evening Jesus was handed over; the morning would bring his death for the life of the world.
Jesus is in an upper room at table with His disciples, His Twelve, His Israel. They are celebrating the Passover, the OT sacrament by which you were joined to Israel on the night they walked through a blood-stained doorway into freedom from slavery. “This day shall be for you a day of remembrance, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, you shall observe it as an ordinance forever.”
At this table, Jesus gives His disciples in two ways. First, He gives them a pattern to follow, an example of sacrificial service, of holding others of higher regard than self. He takes off his tunic, takes up a towel and a basin of water, and washes the dusty, dirty feet of His disciples. The Lord and Creator of all, bends down to do the work of the lowliest of servants. The Master becomes the slave. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for the many.
At first, Peter would have none of it. Pride gets in the way of our being given to. It is so terribly hard to be given to. We say it whenever we receive an unexpected gift: “You shouldn’t have.” We mean it. But Jesus, ever patient, persists. Peter must learn the way of being give to as well. Before you can give of yourself in service, you must receive from the divine service of the Suffering Servant.
In washing their feet, Jesus gave them an example to follow, “that you should do as I have done to you.” This is what it means to live under Him in His kingdom and to serve Him. He is the King who bows before His subjects and washes their feet. In the face of that, is there any task beneath your dignity? “A servant is not greater than His master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” What would Jesus do? He would wash dirty, dusty feet.
If clean feet were all Jesus gave out that night in the upper room, He would not have given anything new. Examples are nice, and examples from the Lord are even better. Who can argue with a Jesus example? But apart from His death and life, apart from our union with Him as branches to the vine, we can do nothing. The spirit may indeed be willing to wash feet, but the flesh is not only weak, it is dead.
And so Jesus gives to His Twelve in yet another way. Not the way of pattern but the way of sacrifice and gift. He takes the bread that opens the Passover meal, the hard, unleavened bread of affliction, He gives thanks, and He breaks it into pieces, handing a piece to each of His disciples. To receive the piece of bread is to be admitted to the meal. You belong at this table. He says words never before heard in a Passover liturgy: “This is my body, which is given for you.” His words tell us what we could not know for ourselves. This bread is Jesus’ body, what will later that day be given into death on the cross. Here bread finds the highest and holiest use – to be the vehicle to deliver Jesus’ body, the Bread of Life, living Bread come down from heaven as manna to feed His Israel. His Israel, His church, would live off the Bread of His death until He appears again in glory.
He takes the cup of wine after supper, the blessing cup. He lifts His cup, gives thanks, and gives each of His disciples to drink from it. Again, Jesus says words never before uttered in a Passover: “This is the new covenant in my blood.” Covenants were sealed with sacrificial blood sprinkled on the people. This covenant blood is given to drink. Here too, wine finds its ultimate purpose, binding those who drink of Jesus’ cup in a covenant of His blood. In the OT, blood stood for life. “The life of the creature is in the blood.” This blood of the new covenant is a blood that was poured out for you, in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins.
Washing feet was the example. That was something the disciples could do. But giving His body to eat and His blood to drink; that was something only Jesus could do. He unites them with Him in His death and life. He is the vine; they are the branches. His body and blood, His death and life flowing into them make them fruitful foot washers. Apart from Him, they can do nothing. Nor can you.
Come then to His table on this night which commemorates the night on which Jesus your Savior was betrayed into death for you. The same Meal He gave to His Twelve, He now gives to you. Receive the bread He prepared for you and eat it. It is His body, your manna to sustain you in your wilderness journey until you rise to walk in promised land. Receive the cup He prepared for you and drink from it. It is His covenant blood, poured out for the many, poured out for you. This is wine from Calvary’s vineyard to gladden your sin-saddened heart. What greater gift can Jesus give, than to give you the fruits of His sacrifice, His own Body and Blood?
He gives His all to you so that He might save the all of you. Nothing stands outside His forgiveness. Nothing can separate you from His self-sacrificing love. No greater love is there than that this self-giving love that lays down its life for another. In His Supper, at His table, He lays before you the gifts of His cross and says, “These are for you.”
And from this holy Meal arise refreshed, renewed, restored. Let Jesus’ Body and Blood have its way with you, enlivening you in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. Love that bends down in service of the neighbor – both friend and stranger. Love that seeks to serve Christ in the least, the lost, the lowly. Love that washes dirty, dusty feet.
In the Name of Jesus.