Maundy Thursday – April 2nd, 2015 – John 1 and John 13
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
To finish our Lenten midweek theme for this year about Jesus being the Lamb of God, we will start by considering a single verse from the John Chapter 1: “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” Thus far the text. I would say, dear friends in Christ, that the Apostle John, by recording these words of John the Baptist, set out for us how we are to read, how we are to understand everything that happens in John’s Gospel (or the other Gospels for that matter). What are you seeing when you see all these things happen in the Gospel? Are they nice morality tales? Are they good examples of virtue? Are they warnings against various vices? In part, but that is not what John’s Gospel is at it’s heart, that is not what the story of Christ Jesus is at its heart. The point is this – Behold the Lamb of God – who does what? Who takes away the sin of the world. The Gospel is the story of how Christ Jesus takes away the sin of the world, the proclamation of the Gospel is the proclamation that He has taken away your sin as well.
Everything Christ Jesus does, He does for you. The calling of His disciples, this is done for you, so that His Word would be proclaimed, and you are still part of that same Holy Christian and *Apostolic* Church that Christ founded through those disciples. The miracles – those too were done for you. As we hear after the changing of water to wine at Cana – “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” And having heard, you believe in Him too. Done for you. Everything, all of it, done for you – dealing with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the feeding of the 5000 – all of it, for your sake, leading and driving to the forgiveness of your sins.
And tonight, we get to the upper room, the start of Jesus’ passion in full – and tomorrow, on Good Friday we will spend more time directly considering our Lord’s Passion – we’ll hear John chapters 18 and 19 then – but for now, John records for us something neat, something wonderful. Our Lord’s Passion begins with our Lord instituting His Supper, the very Supper which He will give to us for the forgiveness of our sins this night – but John does something very neat. Listen again to how John introduces our lesson – “During Supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from Supper…” In the midst of His institution of the Lord’s Supper – Jesus pauses. And He washes the disciples feet. Think on the importance that John gives this – knowing that it’s all coming to a head, knowing that He is returning to God, that His work is to be accomplished, that in less than 24 hours he will cry out “It is finished” – He rises – steps away from the table, from the middle of the celebration of Passover, from the middle of the institution of the Lord’s Supper – and He washes the disciples’ feet.
It must be pretty important what He does then? I mean, I don’t stop in the middle of the distribution for just any old thing – right? I’m not going to say, “Wait, let me check the score of the ball game, I’ll be right back!” It is important – and at the end of the lesson Jesus says, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 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 should do just as I have done to you.” It’s an example! We should do it! So… um… why aren’t we washing each other’s feet tonight? I mean, there are places that do it – I know the Pope will go and do it – and I mean, it’s kind of cool, but seems a little hokey if you do it in the middle of the service. Why not? Here’s why. Listen.
“Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’” Pause there for a second – we don’t get the rhetorical thrust here. In Greek, a question phrased this way is a bit more forceful – it would be more like saying, “What in tarnation do you think you are up to?” And Peter is surprised, because washing the feet is the lowest job in the house – the lowest ranking servant got to do it. You are the Lord, you are the Teacher, what are you doing? And Jesus says to Peter, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Later, Peter, you’re going to get this all later. Doesn’t stop bold Peter – “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus, I’m not going to let you humiliate Yourself to clean my feet. This is an indignity! I can’t let you be humiliated like this! So defiant, Peter. And Jesus responds calmly – “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” No, Peter, we have to do things My way, you need to be joined to Me. That’s the way things have to be. And then Peter, lovely Peter swings to the opposite end of the spectrum; reluctance to enthusiasm boiling over. “Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head!” Then wash away! But again, Jesus responds, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And [y’all] are clean, but not every one of you” – for He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”
Did you catch it? The point isn’t dirt on the feet – Judas the unrepentant was not clean. Peter and the disciples, they didn’t get this, they wouldn’t get it until *afterwards* - not just after Jesus finishes washing their feet… they wouldn’t get it until after He died and rose again. I find that often hearing or reading sermons on this text will frustrate me, because the text will be turned into the great moral finger wag. You need to go love your neighbor. And that’s true – by all means, go love your neighbor. Serve them – be a good server, get your hands dirty for their sake. But Jesus isn’t just talking about dirt and doing dirty jobs. Who is this Jesus who is pausing from the meal to wash feet – Behold the Lamb of God who does what again? Who takes away the sin of the world.
You see, dear friends, Christ with this is teaching us about forgiveness; instructing us to forgive one another. You all are washed cleaned, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. You are joined to Him – you have a part in Christ by virtue of your Baptism whereby you received the adoption as sons. You are clean – but you are still a sinner in a sinful world, and what happens? Dust and dirt happen – sin happens. So for you, O Christian, forgiveness will be part of our lives every day here. Peter, you need to have your foot washed if you are going to be part of Christ – Christian, you need to receive forgiveness, Christ’s forgiveness. But also this – you, O Christian, are called by Christ to be an agent of forgiveness, a giver and proclaimer of forgiveness. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
Do you want to know what forgiving your neighbor is? It’s the nastiest, stinkiest job in the house. Forgiving your neighbor means that you will come face to face with their worst. Forgiving your neighbor means that you will have to get down on your hands and knees and be humble, put up with anger and abuse, you will have to get close to them – see them warts and sweat and toejam and all – and forgive them anyway. Forgiveness is hard, hard for us to do. To see people at their worst and yet still say, “Because of Christ Jesus, you are clean, for He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – even your sin.” It’s a tough row to hoe – and Jesus knows it is.
Do you understand what He has done to you? You are called to forgiven, and it’s hard forgiving. But let me ask a question – something I noted earlier. When does Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – when does He give us this example? During Supper. He rose from Supper. This whole discussion about forgiveness, about getting up close to your neighbor, bearing their shame and stench and caring for them and cleaning them – it’s all in the context of the Lord’s Supper. O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world – have mercy upon us, grant us Thy peace! Give to us Your own Body and Blood so that our sin is forgiven! And then what? As we pray afterwards – we implore you that of Your mercy – that it from, coming from, out of Your mercy that You have given us in this supper – we implore you that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another. Make me to remember Your forgiveness, strengthen my faith – because my neighbor’s going to do something this week that is going to get me mighty angry, and I will be tempted to forget that You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – I will be tempted to not forgive, to show them no love. Strengthen my faith, fix My eyes always upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so that when I see my neighbor’s sin I don’t see my own anger or revulsion, but I see sin that the Lamb died for, has already take away – so that I am ready to forgive. And make me to remember and know Your forgiveness and mercy when I see how often I fail.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. This is truth. We are called to forgive – but this forgiveness doesn’t spring from us. It isn’t what *we* primarily do. Christ forgives; He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And He richly and daily forgives you through His Word and Spirit, and He will open your lips to forgive others by His Word which He will speak through you. This is what He prepared you for by Holy Baptism; this is what He brings about in you and through you and for you by His Word and Supper. God grant that we ever more receive and live in Christ’s forgiveness, even until the life of the world to come! In the Name of Christ the Crucified +