Maundy Thursday (Viral) – April 9th, 2020 – John 13
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. This verse has always struck me as a bit odd. A new commandment? From the beginning we have been instructed to love one another. When Jesus sums up the Law, He sums it up as “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How is this “new”?
Well, this is one of those places where as modern, 21st Century people we don't hear Jesus fully. When we think of “new” we tend to think of the latest, the greatest, the new invention, the novel – that's what “novel” means in the “Novel Coronavirus” - it's just the new one, because there have been plenty of other coronaviruses before. Now Greek had two words that often get translated into English as new – one you know. Neo. That is new, especially as we think of it. The start, the beginning, a neophyte is a beginning, neo-new. But Jesus here uses the other word for new, and that is Kainos – and this is new, but it is more like new and fresh and clean – like if I were to say, “I love the smell of a new spring day,” I don't mean that there was nothing beforehand, but there's a renewal, freshness, the spring back in the step aspect to it.
Jesus is freshening up the Commandments, He is renewing them. Why? Because we had totally messed up God's commandments, God's law. And what I mean by that isn't just the breaking of the law – we had forgotten what the purpose and point of God's law was. Ever since the fall, ever since we sinned, mankind has misunderstood the point of the law. Sinful man thinks we can use the law to get back on God's good side. Sinful man thinks we can use the law to manipulate God – if I just do X, Y, and Z then I will make God give me blessings. We, in our sin, try to work our way back up to God – we think the law is the way that we elevate ourselves back up to God.
And that's catastrophically dumb. St. Paul points out in Romans that since the fall the Law ought to silence every mouth and simply show us our sin, how we have fallen short of the glory of God and that it is impossible to work our way back up to God. But our sinful flesh always wants to try to use our works to manipulate God. That's what we do – we manipulate people by our actions, and we think we can do the same thing with God. And so every act, every thing we did, we made it something we gave up to God to work our way closer to Him.
That was the point of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, that was why the Chief Priests and the Scribes so fought against Jesus. He overturned their “holy works” in which they trusted. This is why the Pharisees fought against Him – in your pride you leave the temple unjustified, for no one will be justified by his own works. Your scheme, your plan, your way of thinking is wrong. You cannot work your way up to God, that's not how the story goes.
And so, on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus changes the story, refocuses the Disciples and us. John gives this really long introduction to this – 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. 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. We can hear this and think, “that's a lot of preamble just to get to the story.” No, it's not. It's important. John is reframing the story. What Jesus is going to do isn't going to earn Him heaven – He's already received everything from the Father. This isn't about buttering up the Father a bit more – this isn't to earn His ticket to heaven. This is simply to love His friends, because that's what Jesus does.
And then, “He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. 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.” Jesus doesn't elevate Himself – He lowers Himself. He's not going to get a thing out of this action, no reward, no merit, no pat on the back. He is simply going to love His friends and serve them – because it's good for them. That's all, that's the only point. Love and care shown simply for the sake of those receiving love and care.
Peter balks – Peter didn't understand. Peter would have refused – You shall never wash my feet. No, Jesus, you can't lower yourself, you can't simply serve me. That's not how the pious old story goes – I'm supposed to work and elevate myself up to you. Jesus cuts that off – If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me. Peter, I show love, and if you refuse My love and service, our relationship is broken. That's what sin is – it's refusing to receive God's love and service that He gives to you, it's running off after something else. Which is why Peter then bounds to Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Let me give you a better idea, let me tell you how to do things Jesus. And thus it has been since the fall – not just all the other trees, but let's eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil too! No, Peter – just receive the love, the good gifts that God knows you need.
And so Jesus washed the disciples feet. They had been dirty – now they are clean. And Jesus gained nothing for Himself by this – no honor, no praise. There was no elevation, no self-aggrandizing glory. Simply this – love and service flowing to take care of what was needed. No thought of pay back, no thought of restitution, no thought of merit. This is how it is now. And the commandments are freshened up.
And then Jesus fulfills it all. Then Jesus goes to the Cross, utterly lowering Himself to our level. And He dies, taking up the weight, the filth of our sin upon Himself. Then He rises – and gives us His own life as well. And we are freshened up.
You don't have to do anything to prove yourself to God. You don't have to do good works to get on His good side. You don't even need to attend Church X number of times to prove your love or devotion to Him. That's not the point. That's not the story. No – God loves you. You are forgiven and redeemed in Christ Jesus. And He gives you blessings. He serves you. And likewise you are free to do so to your neighbor. Not to earn anything – for God already gives you everything and more. Not to prove anything, because Christ Crucified is all the proof of life and salvation that could ever be needed. Not to atone or make up for anything – Jesus has already done that. Nope – we simply receive from God good things, and others receive from God good things too, sometimes through us. And we are free in Christ Jesus to delight in it all.
Because as Christ loves you, as He fills your cup – so you will love one another, so too will your cup overflow unto them. And not in a “you have to” sense, not in a “you better” sense – simply because this is what Christ gives you to and what Christ brings about in you. You've been freshened up – and yes, you are still sinful now, so there is this constant struggle. You constantly sin, and yet God constantly redeems and works good through you – daily die to sin, daily rise – the new man shining forth. But the same God who redeemed you comes to you and blesses you and enlivens you now. It doesn't hinge upon you, It hinges upon Christ the Crucified, and He has cleansed you. Sometimes sin drives us to forget this – but when He comes again we will be utterly free of sin and we will see nothing but Christ Jesus and His love and blessing for us. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Of course He will – tomorrow we will hear Him cry, “It is finished, it is complete.” He has done it all for you, and now we simply receive, Even in our works, in our giving – even these we simply receive. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +