Skip to comments."Love for Disciples" (Sermon for Maundy Thursday)
Posted on 04/09/2009 12:41:54 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
Love for Disciples (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Yes, he did. Maundy Thursday is all about Jesus love for his disciples. Love for Disciples to receive, Love for Disciples to learn.
Love for disciples to receive--in the footwashing. Lets set the scene. Its the evening of the Passover. Time for the Passover meal. This is the meal all Jews ate every year on that date, to commemorate the night the Lord brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt. It was a special occasion, solemn and sacred. Jesus had desired to eat this Passover with his disciples--a private meal, just he and they. They would have this meal in Jerusalem, and because they were not from Jerusalem, they would have to find a place where they could have it. Earlier that day, Jesus had dispatched Peter and John to go to a certain house and get the guest room, a large upper room, which was all furnished and ready. And they made the preparations for the meal.
So when they get to the upper room, the reclining couches for dinner are there, the meal has been prepared, and somewhere in the room there was a jug of water, a wash basin, and a towel. This was customary, nothing out of the ordinary. These items were for the purpose of washing feet. You see, in that culture it was customary that when you walked some distance to get to where you were going, and you entered a house, you would take off your sandals and have your dirty, dusty feet washed. Either the host would provide the water and towel and you would wash your feet yourself, or if the host was well-to-do enough to have a servant, the servant would do it.
But in this case there was no servant on hand to do the task. The water and basin and towel were there, but who would do the footwashing? It might have been an awkward social situation. Is Jesus going to assign one of us to do the footwashing, maybe the youngest perhaps? No one seems to be sure what to do, and no one volunteers.
No one volunteers. This is the bunch, remember, that is concerned about status and pecking order and whos the greatest. These guys are worried about who gets the best seat, with the most prestige. Theyre not thinking about how to serve, especially when it comes to such a lowly, menial task as washing feet. No one volunteers. How slow of heart they are to get it, even after all this time with Jesus. Hey, maybe theyre a little bit like you and me.
So they just sit down to dinner without anyone doing the footwashing. At this point, Jesus does something unthinkable. He gets up, takes off his dinner jacket, if you will, he rolls up his sleeves, wraps the towel around him, and grabs the water and the wash basin. This is crazy, shocking! Jesus, the dinner host, the lead guy, humbling himself like that, taking the place of a servant! Jesus, the master, the teacher, actually is going to wash the feet of his disciples?! This cant be! Its beneath him! This sort of thing is just not done!
Peter objects: Lord, do you wash my feet? This is like the time when Jesus had told him that the Son of Man was going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die, and Peter said, Never, Lord! Not you! Now its, You shall never wash my feet. Peter still doesnt get it. He still has in mind the things of men, not the things of God. And the things of God require that this Messiah must humble himself and serve. That is why he came. Such is the love Jesus has for his disciples.
Love for disciples to receive--in the footwashing, and the footwashing points to the cross. For there is where this great love of Jesus will take him, and in just a few short hours. The footwashing points to the cross. Something interesting in the way John writes this account in his gospel, the word choices he makes. Notice how he describes Jesus actions: He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. And then afterward, When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments. . . . John says that Jesus laid aside his garments and then put them on again. But he doesnt use the common words you would normally use for taking off and putting on clothing. Instead, he uses words that say Jesus laid aside or laid down his clothes and then took them up again. In fact, these same Greek words occur a couple of chapters earlier, where Jesus talks about laying down his life and taking it up again. Same words. In the footwashing, Jesus lays down his garments and then takes them up again. In the crucifixion, Jesus lays down his life, and in his resurrection, he will take it up again. The footwashing points to the cross. And in both the footwashing and at the cross, Jesus garments are taken off him, showing how he humbled himself to serve, even to the point of death on a cross. Think of that tonight when, at the end of the service, we have the stripping of the altar, showing in a vivid way the shame, the humiliation, the stripping bare, that our Lord endured for us.
The footwashing and the going to the cross are of a piece, both flowing out of Christs indescribable love for us sinners, even us not-getting-it, slow-of-heart, self-serving disciples. But it is by Christs humble, servant, self-giving love--love that serves and suffers and dies, love that washes feet and washes sinners--it is only by receiving that cleansing love that Christ has to give us that we have a share with him and share in his righteousness and life. We are washed clean by the blood and water that flow from his pierced side. You and I have been bathed in the waters of Holy Baptism and so we are completely clean. Our dirty feet, dirty and dusty from walking in this sinful world--Christ washes our feet time and time again in the words of Holy Absolution. Yes, when Christ washes you, you are clean.
Jesus shows his love for his disciples by washing their feet, and that same love then takes him to the cross. Love for disciples to receive. But it is also love for his disciples to learn. 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. A new commandment: Mandatum novum, in the Latin, and thats where we get the word Maundy in Maundy Thursday. A new commandment. Whats new about it? Its love connected to Jesus, love that flows out of faith in him and the new life we have in him. Jesus makes all things new, including our love for one another. Its love for one another as I have loved you, Jesus says. Theres no love to speak of unless its love that comes from Jesus. We know his love, we have received it, and thats what makes us able to love others with that kind of love. Servant love. Humble love. Self-giving, footwashing kind of love. A new commandment I give to you. But Jesus is more than just a Master and Commander, barking out orders, telling us what to do. Our Lord gives us the very love we need to do the job.
Are there feet for you to wash? Is there a towel around, and are there people to serve? Look around. The room is already furnished and ready, the opportunities are there--you have been furnished and ready, furnished with the love of Christ and made ready to serve. You are disciples of Jesus. And Jesus has love for disciples to learn and to do and to put into practice.
This Supper here tonight--the Lords Supper, the one he instituted on this very night, at that very meal--this Supper will strengthen you for that life of love and humble service. Jesus knew who he was and where he was going, and that made him secure enough to get up and serve. Likewise, you, knowing who you are in Christ and where you are going, secure in Gods love--this will strengthen you for service. When you know your sins are forgiven--and this Supper assures you of that, as Christ gives you his body and blood for that forgiveness--when you know who you are and whose you are and where you are going, you will be free enough and secure enough to humble yourself and serve. God strengthens us through this salutary gift in faith toward him and in fervent love toward one another. Here at this altar is love for disciples to receive and then to pass on to others.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. He loved them to the end. Thats an interesting expression, isnt it? It could mean, he loved them to the nth degree, and one translation takes it that way, he showed them the full extent of his love. But I think its more likely that he loved them to the end means, he loved them all the way to the end, the goal, which he would reach on the cross. The Greek word telos thats used here is the word for a goal to be reached, and its related to the word thats used later in Johns gospel when Jesus cries out on the cross, Tetelestai! It is finished! The goal has been reached! Mission accomplished! Jesus loved his disciples to the end, the telos, all the way to the goal he accomplished by dying for the sins of the world on the cross. Even as he is approaching and entering into that most intense suffering, Jesus is still thinking of his disciples, and he is loving them, serving them and teaching them. Oh, the depths of the love of Christ!
If you are ever wondering if God really loves you, think back to this upper room. Think of the towel and the wash basin and the water and Jesus on his knees. Think of the Supper, this feast of love in which Christ blesses us even now. Think of the agony in the garden, the unjust trials, the beatings and the stripping bare. Think of the crown of thorns, the nails in hands and feet, and the spear in the side. There you will see love. There you will find love. Love for disciples to receive. Love for disciples to learn and to give and to do.
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, Simons 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. 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Lord, do you wash my feet? Jesus answered him, What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand. Peter said to him, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no share with me. Simon Peter said to him, 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. And you 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.
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 anothers feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, Where I am going you cannot come. 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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
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