Maundy Thursday, 2016 – John 13:1-15
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
To be a Christian is to be a servant. It is as simple as that. This is the lesson that Christ our Lord teaches us this night. The example is clear. On the night when He was betrayed, just hours before He is to go to His passion, our Lord Jesus Christ pauses, rises from the Supper which He had just instituted, and He pauses, strips downs, puts on a towel, and carefully and individually washes the feet of every disciple there. Consider that for a moment – how much time that would take? You’ve got 12 disciples – at least a minute or two each to wash them well, and Jesus doesn’t do things not well, so at least 15 precious minutes, possibly even 30 minutes, devoted simply to cleaning their feet. Jesus didn’t have many minutes left – but He puts off the Words that John will record in the next few chapters, puts off the prayers in Gethsemane – and instead this act of service is given priority. And it is a lowly act of service. No one wanted to get down on their hands and knees and deal with the stench of the day’s grime on someone’s feet. It was the task of the lowest, most humble servant – and yet Christ stops, quietly goes about His task solemnly – only speaking when Peter is tomfoolish and stubborn. He corrects Peter, and then He meekly goes back to His work - and why? “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 also should do just as I have done to you.”
This is the example of what the disciples’ lives, what our lives are to be. And the point is not specifically washing feet – this isn’t a command that we all ought kick off our shoes now – but rather this. To be a Christian, to be one who follows Christ, who says that Christ is True God and Savior, is to be a servant. And not an uppity servant who only does that which is fun and glorious – not a servant who only acts under threat of punishment – not a servant who only takes the easy jobs – but a servant who gets down in the muck and grime and serves even those who wouldn’t expect to be served. This is why Paul begins so many of his letters saying that he is a servant, literally a slave of Christ. To be a Christian is to give yourself constantly to others – to put them and their needs ahead of your own, to constantly give of your own time and effort to them simply to aid them.
This is something we learned in confirmation class. Not only are we not supposed to kill, but we are to support our neighbor in his life. Not only do we not steal, we help the neighbor to improve his possessions and income. Not only do we not lie about our neighbor, but we chose our words with care so that their reputation might be improved. This is the standard, this is the service that we are called to. This is what St. Paul means when he says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are to abase ourselves, to make ourselves lower than our neighbor, to treat them as more important than ourselves. We are to seek to serve them, not seek to make them serve us.
And to be utterly honest, we find this command of God to be odious and burdensome, do we not? How often does it happen where an opportunity to show love, to be of service arises, and instead of welcoming it we joy, we grumble instead? We put on the brave face, but then mutter under our breath – how could this person be so foolish that they need my help again? Or how often do we hurry by folks, hoping that they don’t ask anything of us – how often do we turn our thoughts away from people lest we think of things that we ought to do for them? This is the plight of all sinful men – because in sin we desire not to serve but to be masters and rulers and in control. Sin makes us all desire to be petty tyrants, running roughshod over the lives of the people we come across. We desire to demand our way yet wish to have no demands placed upon us, to have our time and talents be ours to do with as we please while the needs of others slide away beneath our notice. They aren’t my problem. This is the heart of sin – and when our Lord washes His disciples feet – this is the lesson He teaches. Repent of your sin, O Christian; repent of your selfish desires, O disciple! If you hold Christ to be a Teacher, then learn of His example – you are to serve just as He serves, you are to let His life shape yours, you are to strive to be conformed to Him rather than trying to make Jesus fit your time and your desires. To be a Christian is to be conformed to Christ, to be shaped like Him, to be modeled upon Him. This is the goal that you are to strive for, and any thought, any feeling that would hinder this needs to be beaten down.
Yes, Christ Jesus is our example, but He is not only an example. He is the great servant of all, who comes to seek and save the lost. Christ Your Lord and Teacher is good, and He knows you well. He knows the frailties of your flesh, for indeed, in His incarnation, in His passion, He Himself bore them up. He knows that you of yourself have not the strength to repent as you ought, have not the strength to live as you ought, have not the strength to serve as you ought. And thus this time of teaching, this example is encased between two wondrous things. First, our Lord gave to the Disciples His most holy Supper – then, He gets up from washing their feet and goes to the Cross. To aid you in your striving to follow His example, He leaves for you His Supper, in which He gives to you His own Body and Blood – and this Supper gives you forgiveness – but it also gives you life, life that you live now, life that wells up in you and through you. It's the prayer after the Supper – that we are strengthened in faith towards God and in fervent love for one another... you realize that is a prayer asking God that we would be made fervent and eager servants, right? That we would show better and better actual care and service to one another? And this is what the Supper does indeed work in us. We are given strength, Christ's own strength, in this Supper.
Yet Christ knows you, knows this world, knows the frailty of your flesh. Those disciples who ate and drank His Supper that Maundy Thursday night were by no means suddenly perfect. Indeed, when the soldiers came, they all fled. They all failed. And none of us harbor any illusions that because we partake of this Supper tonight that the problems we faced this morning will evaporate and be gone. We will be strengthened and prepared... yet still, we will often fail. And so Christ Jesus, the true and great servant, goes forth, and without fail He goes to the Cross. And there, with His death, He destroys death – He changes the world, so that while we might not wake up perfect tomorrow, there will be a day, a glorious day, the last day, where on account of His perfect death and resurrection, on account of His declaration that It is Finished, we will rise to perfect life, we will completely follow His example pure. Until then, we receive His forgiveness, we receive His Supper and thus proclaim His death for us until He comes again. His service to you, this Divine Service remains now for us, even until we see it in full. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +