This is one crazy week. For us it began Sunday in recalling Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry. If we had a service every day this week as the early Christians did and many continue to still, we’d have heard the real life timeline. After raising Lazarus from the dead and triumphantly coming to Jerusalem the Lord, on Monday He goes into the Temple and turns the tables on those who are dealing falsely in the Temple and are common thieves. He then returns to Bethany, proclaims of a fig tree that it will no longer bear fruit and by Tuesday morning it is withered away. Wednesday He is back in the Temple, preaching and teaching about money and giving taxes to Caesar (would have been appropriate to hear this Wednesday).
All the while, the people are listening, some are anxious, some are curious, and many simply confused. They were around for these days the same reason we are around and have services these next three days, recalling and meditating on what the Lord has done for us.
There was a reason all these people were around and all this was going on. The Temple was the focus, everyone was there, for it was Passover. They didn’t have quite the elaborate seder meals that many hold today, simply a lamb was sacrificed, cooked with bitter herbs, and unleavened bread made. Of course, most people drank wine, it was the best way to clean water after all with the alcohol. It was also the drink of freedom.
That is after all what is recounted. This was the command to do in memorial, in remembrance, and was God’s covenant with His people. It was their freedom. Freedom from slavery in Egypt. Freedom from 430 years of bondage. The Lord passing over the houses of Israel and sparing them from death, giving them life. This is what is happening, they are in the process of doing this meal and recalling the mercy of God and the work He has done.
What Jesus does on this night is similar and yet completely different. It was the first duty of the host to wash the feet of their guests who traveled, several times in Genesis and Judges this is referenced and to not wash the feet of the guest was a marked sign of unfriendliness. In Exodus it is noted that just before approaching the altar of burnt offerings, the priest’s feet had to be washed.
Jesus is serving on so many different levels on this night. In a place that is not His home, He takes on the duty of the host. At this Passover meal, in memorial to God’s work, Jesus gives that which names the day, Maundy Thursday, “mandatum, mandate or commandment.” To love one another as Christ has loved you.
This is much more than be nice to each other. Much deeper than smile, keep pleasantries, and act cheerful. Think of who Jesus is talking to and who He loves. He loves and washes the feet the one who in a few hours will betray Him and hand Him over to be arrested. He loves and washes the feet of the one who will deny Him three times. And before we get to much on the case of Judas and Peter, the others flee and don’t even stick around for it all. To love as Christ loved. To die even for those who turned against you and betrayed you. That’s love.
This is Jesus doing what He has always done. He is YHWH, the Lord, who comes down from heaven to be with His people. He came down in a cloud at Sinai, He lead the fleeing Israelites by pillar of cloud and fire. He ate and drank. Feasted with Moses and Aaron and the elders. He is the host. He is the host who serves. He gives and His people receive.
Jesus is completely taking over this Passover night. He is the host who washes the feet. He washes just before the sacrifice is to be made, His sacrifice. Peter thinks like we like to think. Jesus shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t serve. We ought to serve Him. But the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give His life. If Jesus does not stoop down and wash, then we cannot be raised up, we cannot stand on clean feet. Unless Jesus gives Himself, we have nothing to receive that grants forgiveness and life.
He Himself is the Host of the Passover meal and He serves. Service always means bending down. Getting down off your high horse, setting aside your pride and ego. It is not the way of the disciple to say “That’s beneath my dignity” or “That’s below my pay grade.” Nor is it the way of a disciple of Jesus to say, “I’ve done my turn and now it’s your turn.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a servant. His service comes first. First He washes His disciples’ feet, then He tells them to wash one another’s feet.
The old Law read, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The new commandment says, “Love one another just as I have loved you.” His love comes first. First He bends down to serve us, and we, having been served, bend down to serve one another.
Where Peter failed, our Lord was faithful. Peter is told that he is clean, not because he loved Jesus so deeply or because he didn’t really mean to sin, but because Christ loved him. He needed to be made clean, he sinned, constantly. He needed an ongoing cleansing with constant forgiveness, and Jesus gives it. Only He cleanses. Only He brings freedom that Passover promises.
The Passover ritual involved the instruction of children of the freedom the Lord had delivered. They were to ask of the unleavened bread and of the Lamb to be eaten, “what is this?” or “what does this mean?” The unleavened bread of slavery, the feasting of the Lamb is entirely taken over by Jesus. This is my body, given for you. I couldn’t have come up with this, neither would you. The Lamb of God gives manna, bread from heaven, to save us. The Passover Lamb is sacrificed and bread from heaven is given as we are given to eat His body and drink His blood. The Passover involved instruction for it had to passed down, given for the next generation. The Apostle’s give as it was received from the Lord, and so to do we continue: “Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night He was betrayed took break, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same manner He took the cup after Supper and when He had given thanks He gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.’”
The people of Israel celebrated Passover in communion, in community, in life together. For in the Passover was the common confession of what God had done for the people of Israel and the promise of the Messiah still to come. So still, the new covenant, the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament joins us together as the people of God. You (plural), you together, proclaim in participation the death of Christ. One bread, one cup, one body and blood, one holy church. The church is the Body of Christ precisely because the church eats the body of the Christ. “You are what you eat.”
Here divisions cease. Here at the altar, whatever discord may go on amongst yourselves, you partake together in the one bread and one cup, as one body, one Holy Church. For the Lord’s Supper is never private. It is not just personal time between you and God but is always together. The church is a body of members not simply a bunch of members in one place, but together the body of Christ. He bends down and serves you. He gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. He makes all things new. He serves as the Host and Himself the Feast. He gives; you receive. He empties Himself in the chalice, so that you are filled up with Him by drinking from it. And He fills you with His love. For what you eat and drink is love itself, love in the flesh, taking up residence now in you.
This is irony in Maundy Thursday. It is such a joyful and wonderful gift our Lord gives on this night. He serves us in every way and gives us Himself; this is how He loves you, that He is going to die for you. And for this night the Lord’s name will not be put on us in the Benediction. For this is the night in which He was betrayed, the night of His arrest, and the beginning of His long trial and torture, all of which He endured for you. Even the Trinitarian Invocation will not be heard again until Easter. Symbolically, the name of the Lord will not return until we have commemorated the Resurrection at the Easter Vigil.
In this Holiest of Weeks the joy of the Lord’s Supper is muted for a moment. The body and blood Christ given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. As you receive this gift you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Once again, the Lamb is slaughtered and the Lord once again passes over His people and delivers you from sin and death. You are served and washed by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Given the new testament. Given Him who loved you to the end, your cup pours over and you give forth the love of Christ. The world can’t see Jesus’ love. They can see what you proclaim. They see you here. They see you in day to life. They can’t see Jesus but they can hear it, they can taste and see that the Lord is good, and they see you. “This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” You love in living and proclaiming Him who loved in giving His life, in death and resurrection is love. Still today, by the blood of the Lamb the Lord passes over your sins, grants you pardon, freedom and life, in this is love.
So we pray: 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 toward You and in fervent love toward one another.
His Body and Blood for your faith in Him and your love for one another.