Maundy Thursday 2008 – John 13:1-15
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. One of the interesting things about John’s Gospel is that it works differently than the other Gospels. Through John’s Gospel we almost get a behind the scenes look at how Christ and His Disciples interacted – how things work. That’s what we see in our Gospel lesson tonight – John putting things in perspective. Do you wish, dear Christian, to understand Maundy Thursday? Do you wish, dear friends, to understand what the Lord’s Supper mean, why it is there, what it is for? Look to the Gospel of John. Why does Jesus do what He does on Maundy Thursday – He acts out of love. Love for the disciples, love for you. Christ sees the Cross before Him – He knows that His time of teaching will be coming to an end, so Christ prepares the Disciples and the Church for life until His second coming.
In the middle of the Passover Supper – in the middle of the evening where the Lord’s Supper was instituted – Jesus does something odd. Actually, the fact that Jesus does something odd isn’t in and of itself odd – God likes to use object lessons that make people think – just read the book of Ezekiel if you doubt this. However, in the middle of Supper, Christ pauses, gets up, and starts washing the disciples’ feet, wiping them with His own towel. And when Peter is perplexed, Jesus says to Him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” So let us pause tonight and ponder and understand what Christ is doing – for indeed, in this footwashing of the disciples we see an analogy for all that Christ does for us, and indeed, how He keeps us in the one true faith.
Know and understand that footwashing was a job for a servant. People wore sandals – walked on dusty dirt roads. Sweat and leather and dirt combine to make a grimy, smelly mixture – and so it was generally the lowest servant who did this. It was the job you didn’t want. You had to be low, on your hands and knees, you had to handle smelly feet – indeed, you had to wipe them off with your towel, so that dirt and smell clings to your own stuff. Is this not what Christ does for us? When Christ Jesus comes into this world, He comes as a servant – and He comes to clean us from the grime and filth of our sin. And how does He do this? He does this by taking our sin unto Himself – the sin that had clung to us, Christ takes upon Himself, and holding on to that Sin He goes to the Cross, so that sin, our sin, is put to the death. He sees our sin and says, “I will serve, let me get that for you, let me suffer so that you may be clean.” Christ is the servant who shows love – Christ is the servant who takes up our sin – even if it means getting down in the muck in our place, even if it means doing the job that we can’t, that we wouldn’t want to do. Understand what you see when you see Christ – you see God willingly become the servant of sinful, dirty man, to clean us with forgiveness.
Peter, good old stubborn Peter sees that Christ is lowering Himself, and Peter gets a little put off. Never Lord! Peter, this is what I have to do. Indeed, as Christians we are defined by receiving forgiveness and cleansing from God. And then Peter chimes in with "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” This is the description of our life in the Church. We have been baptized, we have been cleaned, washed of our sin. And yet, what do we do – we wander the streets of this world, we live out our lives as Christians here amongst our neighbors. And we get dirty. We don’t live as we ought, we fail, we sin, we forget to show love. God knows that. God knows the trials, the struggles you face against sin – and so God says, “Let me help you with that.” It is informative to know that Jesus does this in the middle of the Passover meal – Jesus pauses in the very meal during which He institutes the Lord’s Supper to give this demonstration. Why? Because it explains the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Luther asks us in the Catechism “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” to which we respond, “These words, ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” We need forgiveness over and over again. We are clean, we are in Christ, but in the trials of this life, our feet get dirty – and if we don’t get them cleaned, we can start to stink. We can start to get infection, our feet could even stop working and we could waste away. God doesn’t desire this – so He calls us – take and eat, take and drink – be forgiven again, be prepared for your life in this world, stride forth clean and forgiven by Me. We need frequent care, we need forgiveness often – and so Christ leaves us such a wonderful gift in His Supper – See, here I am for you – Here is My Body, Here is My Blood – and now you are clean, you are prepared. The Supper gives us forgiveness.
But our Lord has one more lesson to teach with His footwashing this night. When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "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. Do you understand? Jesus here isn’t instructing us to simply wash each other’s feet. We learn from His example. Just as Christ served and showed love – we too are to serve and show love, even if it means hardship for us. Just as Christ desired that the disciples be forgiven, we too are to cast aside grudges and hurts and seek for our neighbor forgiveness, proclaiming to them what Christ has done. Just as Christ shows love to the disciples, we are to show love to our neighbors. We call this night Maundy Thursday from the word “Maundatum” – command – like the word “Mandate”. It’s a command – and Christ says later in John 13 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” These are our marching orders until Christ comes again – that as we trudge through this sinful world, we show love to our fellow sinners. That just as we receive forgiveness from Christ, we remember that our neighbor who sins against us, who has hurt us is simply another fellow sinner whom God loves, whom God desires to forgive. This is what Jesus teaches us with the footwashing – and this is what Jesus prepares us for and strengthens us towards in the Supper. Hear again the prayer that we often pray after receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood. “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and 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.” What Christ desires of us – that we love one another – He provides us the strength and power for in His Supper. What Christ desires for us – that we be forgiven – He gives to us in His Supper.Learn from Christ’s example, dear friends – how love is to be the shape of your life. Learn from Christ’s example, dear friends, that He knows how difficult this is for you – and learn and see the lengths to which He will go to clean you and support you through the trials of this life. This, dear friends, is the gift He gives to you in His Supper. Amen.