Sermon, Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Gospel, John 13:1-15 34, 35
I remember as a boy hearing the words“Maundy Thursday” and wondering what it was about. It sounded like “Monday Thursday.” Was it Monday or Thursday? Then my parents told me it was Maundy Thursday, not Monday. They might have told me why it was called by that name, but if they did I don’t recall them doing it. You may not remember, either. So I’ll refresh your memory. The word maundy comes from the Latin word for command–mandatum, which in Old English and French was pronounced mahn-DAY. It refers to the new commandment or precept that Jesus gave the disciples that Thursday evening quoted in our Gospel text. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have love you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV).
Jesus told the twelve gathered in the room, and by extension, all His disciples to come that they are to love another. And how are they to love one another? “As I have loved you.” He says. How had He loved them? Well, He had, just moments before, given an example, an object lesson in his washing of their feet before the Passover meal. They had walked from Bethany to Jerusalem to the upper room to share the meal with Jesus and the dust of the road clung to their sandaled feet. No servant was present in the upper room to wash their feet, but a basin with water and a towel was there if anyone wanted to use it. As they reclined around the table, no one offered to wash feet, so Jesus got up and laid aside His outer garments, and tied the towel around His waist, as a servant would. Then the disciples’ master, teacher and Lord, washed their feet, not to observe any command of God, for there was none, but to observe a good custom, and to show them again that the Son of Man came to serve, not to be served.
Peter, as he had done before, used the washing to correct his master, saying, “You shall never wash my feet.” no doubt from a sense of it not being right that the master serve them in such a menial way. Peter honored and believed in Jesus, in his imperfect way. But He didn’t seem to always trust Jesus’ judgment, how he did things. There was the time when Jesus told him that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and be crucified. Peter thought Jesus should never do that, and he told him so. Jesus rebuked Peter then, saying, “Get behind me Satan!” But he didn’t fire Peter. He forgave Peter his imperfect faith and continued teaching him.
Then there was the time when Jesus appeared to the disciples walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee. When they were frightened, Jesus told them not to fear,, “It is I,” he said. But Peter needed more than Jesus’ word. He wanted a sign. So He asked Jesus to command Him to come to Him. And Jesus did. But when Peter started to sink in the stormy waves Jesus didn’t let him go under. He pulled him up and saved him. He forgave Peter his demand for a sign, and His unbelief, as He would forgive him when he boasted that He would never leave Jesus, even if all the others did, even if it caused him his life, only to deny Jesus three times a few hours later that very night. For Jesus forgives those who are His, who seek Him in repentance, asking Him for forgiveness, who believe in Him, even in their imperfect and often confused ways.
On this night of when Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter when he objected to the master washing his feet. Jesus simply taught him. He told him that though he didn’t understand now, he would later on, and that if he didn’t allow Jesus to wash him, he would have no part of Him. So Peter submitted to receiving this gesture of love from the Lord, although it must have gone against every grain in his body. It was not his personality to be waited on. He was a doer, not a receiver. That was his personality.
The disciples were a mixed bag of personalities, young, old, assertive, timid, hard-headed realists and dreamy eyed optimists. But their love and faith in Jesus held them all together. As long as Jesus was around to set them straight when they argued and clashed with each other, they were fine. But now Jesus knew He was about to leave them. He was about to go out of this world to His Father. He loved His apostles. He loved them to the end. He even loved Judas, the one He knew was about to betray Him. He knew that they could easily turn on each other in blame when He was crucified, or in rivalry and jockeying for position after He had risen in glory. If others saw that happening they would be discouraged from becoming a disciple themselves.
So He gave them a new commandment. It was very much like the old commandment, to love God with all your heart and mind and body and your neighbor as yourself. But this commandment was new in that it was directed to the disciples of Christ. They were to show Christ’s love, his servant love, in their love for one another, as Jesus demonstrated to them that night before they ate. They were to serve and love one another as Jesus had loved them. His greatest act of love would come the next day.
In His great love and obedience He gave Himself up to die for the sins of the world on Mount Calvary. There is only one sacrifice for the sins of the world, and Jesus Christ is that sacrifice, the Passover Lamb of God. He alone could do that, for He alone was true God and true man. Disciples are men or women, boys or girls. We are not called to atone for the sins of the world. That has already been done. But we are called to look to Jesus’ example and give the good confession of our faith even unto death, as our dear brothers and sisters in Kenya so bravely confessed this day. May God comfort and strengthen their families and loved ones.
We are called to forgive our brothers and sisters in the faith the trespasses they commit against us, the trespasses that are like dirt on their feet, to be wiped with our thoughts and words of kindness and forgiveness. Jesus washed us clean from slavery to sin in our Baptisms, and He gave us faith to receive His cross-won forgiveness. So we are clean, as Jesus described the eleven apostles who believed in Him. We do not need to be baptized again. But our sinful thoughts and deeds, the products of our inherited sinful nature, are like dirt that collects on our feet in our daily walks through this life.
When we confess our sins to God, we admit our need for daily forgiveness, of washing. And our Teacher and Lord washes us with the forgiveness He won for us on the cross, He speaks peace into our hearts with the words of absolution, spoken by the pastor. With a clean conscience we may go to the table of the Lord to be served by Him yet again, to receive His strengthening and forgiving body and blood with the bread and wine.
As He serves us in the Sacrament with His love, forgiveness, and fellowship, He commands us to serve our brothers and sisters in the faith, with love, forgiveness and fellowship. He asks us to forgive them their dirty feet, as it were,to wash them clean for His sake, in our hearts and minds. I want you to try a little experiment. Close your eyes. Now picture someone in the congregation, or if you are a visitor, anyone you know, whom you have had a hard time loving as Jesus would have you do. Now picture that person sitting on a wooden chair in a large room with a wooden floor, like the upper room. In your imagination see them sitting with pants legs are rolled up with bare feet. Now picture Jesus kneeling there at their feet with a basin of water and a towel. See Jesus gently using water and His bare hands on the dusty feet, wiping the dirt from them. Stay with this picture for a little while. Now open your eyes. Picturing Jesus’ washing that person’s feet is powerful, wasn’t it? It is a form of wordless prayer for that person. In your mind you have brought that person to Jesus and also to yourself as well as a bystander in the room. Jesus has forgiven that person. Can we not forgive what Jesus has already forgiven? Can we not try to love our brothers and sisters, and ourselves as He has?
We will try and we will certainly fall short. But Jesus will forgive us again and again. So let us not be discouraged. Let us show our thanks, our gratitude to our Savior for all His gifts, His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in His life, death and resurrection for our sins; for the gifts of His Word in Holy Scripture and the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Let us show our gratitude to Him in our love for the body of Christ, His church, our brothers and sisters in the faith, by forgiving them when they trespass against us, by washing the image of their dirty feet from our hearts and minds, by lifting them up in our prayers, by worshipping and communing with them in God’s house, by sharing our tithes and offerings so that the work of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel of reconciliation may continue in our midst and in the community. And by our this all people will know that we are His disciples, that we have love for one another. Amen.