Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Maundy Thursday 2007
John 13:1-15, 34-35

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
That night, in the upper room, Jesus knew His hour had finally come. His exodus was at hand and the reason for His incarnation was about to be fulfilled, for “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
What did that love mean? It meant taking on the form of a bondservant, becoming a slave. It meant rejection by the very people He had come to save. It meant arrest and torture after being betrayed with a kiss. It meant being deserted by those He loved— being forsaken by man and God. It meant the silence of His Father in the hour of His greatest need. It meant suffering alone, utterly alone, the horror of crucifixion. But, above all, it meant loving you to death, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” (John 3:16) into death for you, that you might believe and live. That is what this love of Christ means.
So, it is that, Jesus girded Himself with a towel, poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ dirty feet. He took on the task of the lowliest of house slaves as an example of His humility and sacrificial love. Jesus knew, only too well, what the coming hours would bring. After all, it was for this purpose that He was born.
St. Paul tells us Christ “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
Jesus came to serve and to cleanse, to give Himself over to the wrath of His Father in your place and pour out on you, and into you, the holy Blood of the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) “The Son of Man did not come to be served,” you see, “but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45) So Jesus foreshadows His greatest act of love by washing with water those He would soon wash in His Blood.
On this most holy of nights, Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples in keeping with God’s command. In this, He brought to an end the old covenant, and immediately established a new and lasting covenant in its place; a covenant in His Blood. On this night Jesus set aside the things of the former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness, for the Law made nothing perfect, and He gives to us a new and better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19) He gives to us His own Body and Blood.
No, St. John does not include our Lord’s institution of the Supper in his description of what took place on that night. For that, we must turn to Saints. Matthew, Luke, and Paul. Still, that does not mean that the Supper is not there, for it is in the very fabric of John’s entire Gospel account. It is woven into the tapestry that is the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, it is seen in John’s account of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turns water used for ritual washing (the Law of the Old Testament) into the (Gospel) wine of the New Testament.
We see it in the multiplying of the loaves and fishes as Jesus feeds five thousand plus on life sustaining bread and then compares Himself to the manna, or bread, from heaven, and we hear the Supper preached in Jesus’ upper room discourse: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Finally, it is seen in the Blood flowing from the nail wounds in His hands and feet, from His lacerated flesh, and His spear pierced side.
Therefore, one cannot possibly understand or remotely comprehend the love of God apart from this sacred, priestly feast. For in this Holy Supper is the very Body given in love for you, and the very Blood poured out in love for you. It is for this very reason, Jesus calls Himself the true Bread from heaven, which gives life to the world, (John 6:32- 33) promising that whoever eats this Living Bread and drinks His Blood will have eternal life, being raised up by Him on the last day. (John 6:53-54)
This Blood is inextricably entwined with the waters of Holy Baptism. And so the washing of His disciples’ feet this night, a picture of Baptism, and the water that also rushed from Jesus’ riven side on Calvary, are bound together with the Blood of Christ, poured out, making you children of the Most High God, giving to you His Holy Name, and through faith, mystically joining you to Jesus, giving you a share in His death and resurrection, and bequeathing to you His righteousness and eternal life.
So there, in the Upper Room, in spite of knowing all that was in store for Him, in spite of knowing all the ways with which He would be betrayed, Jesus girds Himself as a slave and washes the filth from the feet of His betrayers. Jesus knows all that will shortly take place and yet, His compassion, His love, is for His disciples and for you. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
His concern is not for Himself; His heart is set on His disciples, and you. He knows that He will accept the scorn of the world that you would have the Father’s love. He will die alone that you would have the company of heaven. You see, this is the will of the Father, for He does not desire the death of a sinner, but would have all men be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4) He has loved you to the end.
And so, to the end, which is no end at all, but the beginning of your eternity, you receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in remembrance of what He has done for you—putting to death, death itself, and conquering sin and the devil. In His Holy Supper He feeds you with the Bread that came down from heaven to satisfy your hunger for righteousness. He offers you the Blood that He sweated in the garden and the Flesh that was nailed to the Cross as the perfect love that never ends. He gives you the same Body that left behind the shroud and napkin in the empty tomb and ascended to God’s right hand. Jesus gives Himself, His life, and His love, for and to you. Jesus takes away all your foul sins and in their place gives to you His righteousness, His forgiveness, and His peace.
Jesus fulfills the promise of the first Passover with His death. By His Blood, death can no longer harm you. Death passes over. With His Blood Jesus has made you His own, a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Come now, you who have been bathed and are completely cleaned. Receive the love of Christ that you may love one another. Receive that which gives you strength to give as you have received. Receive His true Body and Blood, given and shed for you and hear the Word of the Lord, “I forgive you all your sins.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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