Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; John 13:1-17,31-35 / Holy Thursday / 21 April 2011 / Holy Trinity Lutheran Church – Hacienda Heights, CA
Tonight is the first of the three holy days leading up to Easter. On these days, we will meditate on what Jesus did for us in order to save us, how He laid down His life as a ransom for many, how He went to the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How He took our sin and death to His grave and buried them there so that we would no longer be slaves to Sin and held captive to Death.
Tonight begins in an upper room in Jerusalem and Jesus with His disciples. There are two versions of this night, one from the synoptic evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the other from John. Both versions have their particular gift, and we will consider them both. The synoptic writers, along with Paul, tell us of the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Passover meal, how our Lord on the night of His betrayal took the bread and the cup of the Passover and made them something new and something more: His own sacrificial Body and Blood which He would give the next day on the cross for the life of the world. John fills in the negative space around the Supper, focusing on what Jesus said and did.
And so there are not one but two gifts these evening – the first by way of Jesus’ example, the second by way of Jesus’ sacrifice. A way of life, and His life.
John tells us that while they were at table, in the middle of supper, Jesus got up from His place, took off his outer robe, tied a towel about His waist, took a basin of water, and one by one washed the feet of His disciples. Foot washing was an act of hospitality, a courtesy extended to your guests, and a necessary one since you sat on the floor all huddled together with your neighbor’s feet rather close to your face not to mention your food. Foot washing was reserved for the lowest rung of slave, usually a Gentile slave. And it was a rule that a disciple was never to be asked to wash the feet of his rabbi. Here, the rabbi (teacher) washes the feet of his disciples.
Peter is outraged, as only Peter can be. First, he protests. “Seriously, Lord! You’re going to wash my feet?” Then, not understanding what’s going on, he goes over the top in the wrong direction. “Well then, not only my feet but also my hands and head.” So typically Peter! But Jesus is not giving out baths; He’s washing feet. There is no task so low that Jesus will not stoop to do it. That’s the point. He comes not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life. He is the servant of all, the Suffering Servant who stoops as low as the grave in order to save. And they, as His apostles and servants, are to do the same. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
Jesus did not institute a ritual or a ceremonial foot washing, as is practiced in some churches. He gave a pattern, an example of His disciples, that they would reflect His servanthood in their servanthood, that they would love each other in the same way that He had loved them. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That love expresses itself in the little and lowly things. In bending down to wash the feet of another. In bending down, as the Samaritan did, to help the broken bleeding man who fell among thieves lying in the ditch.
Service always means bending down. Getting down off your high horse, setting aside your pride and ego. It is not the way of the disciple to say “That’s beneath my dignity” or “That’s below my pay grade.” Nor is it the way of a disciple of Jesus to say, “I’ve done my turn and now it’s your turn.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a servant. His service comes first. First He washes His disciples’ feet, then He tells them to wash one another’s feet.
The old Law read, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The new commandment says, “Love one another just as I have loved you.” His love comes first. First He bends down to serve us, and we, having been served, bend down to serve one another.
Submerged under all this talk of foot washing is also a nod to Baptism: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,” Jesus says to stubbornly objecting Peter. Not a foot washing, but the washing of regeneration and renewal, a washing of water and Spirit with the Word. In Baptism, Jesus again stoops down to us, the Holy One reaches down to wash the filthy sinner. Unless we are washed by Jesus, we have no share with Him. Only He can cleanse you from sin, only He can make the sinner clean.
If you turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke or 1 Corinthians, you get a different perspective on this night. It is Passover night for Jesus and His disciples. Curiously, Jesus is with His Twelve not His family. This is no ordinary Passover being celebrated in the borrowed upper room. This is the Lord’s Passover and He is with His Israel, about to undergo HIs “exodus” from death to life by way of the cross.
In the first Passover, the blood of the Lamb was painted on the doorpost. Israel walked to freedom through the blood of the Passover Lamb who stood for the firstborn. Where the blood, there death passed over. In this Passover, Jesus takes the cup after supper, the third cup, and declares, “This is the new covenant in my blood.” The covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah in which God would forgive iniquity and remember sin no more. He gives His sacred blood for wine to gladden the hearts of sinners. He seals the new covenant with His own blood, HIs life in place of the world. By His blood, we have our freedom and Death passes over. Where His blood is, there is life and forgiveness and salvation.
So also with the bread. The bread of the Passover was the bread of affliction and slavery, unleavened and hard. Jesus does something entirely new with it. “This is my body,” He declares. This bread of the Passover is the body of the Lamb of the new Passover, His body which He would give into death for the life of the world. In the old Passover, the lamb was eaten roasted to the point of being burnt to a crisp. In this new Passover, Jesus gives His body for bread, the bread of life, true and living bread come down from heaven like manna to feed those who hunger for righteousness.
With His body and blood come all that Jesus has and does to save us. To eat of His Body and Blood is to receive all that His saving death has won for the life of the world. It is our wilderness food, as we make our way through this life through death to eternal life. Sin and Death cannot harm us, nor can the Law accuse us, for the Body and Blood testify on our behalf. We are justified for Jesus’ sake.
Do you hunger and thirst for a righteousness that avails before God? Then come to ths Supper and be blest! Are you weary from the struggle against sin and wary of your death? Then come to the Supper and find refreshment. Do you seek eternal life? Then come to the “medicine of immortality,” the Body and Blood that have conquered death.
Jesus’ body and blood do not leave us in isolation, but they put us into fellowship with one another. Communion with Christ is also fellowship with one another, because the same Body and Blood that goes into you also goes into me. We are “bodied” and “bloodied” together, or as St. Paul puts it, “We are one body for we all partake of the one bread.” One bread, one cup, one body and blood, one holy church. The church is the Body of Christ precisely because the church eats the body of the Christ. “You are what you eat.”
Here our divisions are healed. Here the walls come tumbling down. Here all the barriers that we put up against each other are knocked down. The is but one Bread and one Cup. the Lord’s Supper is personal but never private. It can never be reduced to a “private moment with Jesus.” It is always corporate, together, side by side as the body of Christ. Christianity has infinite room for individuality, as we are, each of us, God’s unique and uniquely gifted creatures. Yet there is no room for individualism, the idolatry of self, the heart curved inward. The church is a body of members, not simply a bunch of members and especially not an isolated member.
From this Supper of His Body and Blood, faith toward Christ and love for one another. Jesus loved us to death, giving His Body and Blood on the tree of the cross, lifted up for the life of the world. He loves you, washing you in the water of Baptism, giving you the bread of His Body, the wine of His Blood, all of it as gift to you – undeserved, unmerited, unearned, gratis, by grace.
And in that love, you are given to love one another, reflecting to each other the love that you have received. The world cannot see Jesus’ love. They can hear it, they can taste and see that the Lord is good. But they can’t see it. What they can see is you. “This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another”
He gives His life. He gives a pattern for life – love. It is the Lord’s Passover.
In the name of Jesus,