Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Maundy Thursday + March 29, 2018
Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35
The question of the Passover is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
The Jewish answer is, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” (cf. Exodus 12:26-27; 13:14-15)
But this is not the answer our Jewish Savior, the Messiah, Jesus gives. That’s because on this night, He does not point to something in the past, but to something which is happening in the present.
The Evangelist John makes a point repeatedly to distinguish between “Passover” and “Passover of the Jews” (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55). The Passover of the Jews is the meal that has been commemorated since the day God led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. Such was the Passover…until the Lamb of God came.
You see, God had promised salvation by a Lamb even before the Red Sea. It was the promise made to Abraham, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). It was there in the near-sacrifice of Isaac, where God provided a lamb. What this shows us is that there was something greater than the Passover of Exodus.
God was bringing about that which was greater than the Passover, fulfilling the blessing and promise that He had made to Abraham so many generations before. He would provide the Lamb, not in the flesh of an animal, but Jesus was the true Lamb of God—God’s Son and our brother.
So, the Evangelist John makes this distinction, because the true Passover was about to take place. With a strong hand—pierced by the nails—and an outstretched arm—upon the beams of the cross–the Lord God would deliver a people for Himself. Not just from physical bondage, but from spiritual. For, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) And after this Lamb of God has died upon the cross, the whole burnt offering consumed by the wrath of God, John remarks that they did not break Jesus’ lets, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water…these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’” (John 19:34, 36; Exodus 12:46)
The question for us Christians is, what makes this night different from the Passover? And our answer is,
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way also 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 testament 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.”
So then, why is this night called Maundy Thursday? Because of the Gospel reading appointed for this holy night from John 13. Where the other three Gospels focus on the atoning work of Christ for us, John leads us to reflect on what it means that Jesus, our Teacher and Lord, does this for us:
1Now 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. 2During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5Then 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…
12 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? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you…
34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:1-5, 12-15, 34–35)
The name “Maundy” comes from verse 34, “a new commandment I give to you, from the Latin mandatum. So that means Maundy Thursday is about more than the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It’s also the night where He exemplifies loving service by humbling Himself, even to the point of death, and giving freely to those who could never dream of paying Him back.
Our Lord Jesus doesn’t just give His Body and Blood for our forgiveness, but also to transform us to be like Him. “14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” The Body and Blood of Christ works in believers to humble our pride, soften our bitter hearts, loose us from our sins, and also to grow in love for others—just as Jesus does. The strength He gives in His Body and Blood is a strength for bearing the cross and serving, just as He did. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” This is where Christians receive the power for Christ-like service, because we are joined in flesh and blood, spiritual union with our Lord and Teacher.
In the prayer after Communion, we often ask the Father, that “of Your mercy, You would strengthen us through [this salutary gift], in faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another.” This is what Jesus is talking about with this new commandment. May He fulfill in us what we are unable to do on our own: to give us humble, loving hearts that do not shy away from lowly service, but count it all joy for the sake of the world’s salvation. Amen.