Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-15, 34-35)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Maundy Thursday + April 18, 2019

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35

When we think about the Lord’s Supper as Christians of the Lutheran confession, we talk a great deal about the nature of the Sacrament (what it is), and how it benefits us personally.  And it is necessary for us to know that, but as they say, there’s more to the story.  The setting for the institution of the Lord’s Supper is the discourse Jesus has with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed.  Here’s how the story continues after the assigned pericope:[1]

16Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

21After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 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.

Love is essential to understanding what Jesus was doing for the disciples that night.  It’s also essential to what He expects them and us to continue to do in our continued life together.

Contrary to popular thought, the most insidious thing in God’s sight is not gross immorality; it’s people who call themselves Christians but have no need for a Savior. They may be able to recognize true from false doctrine; they may love conservative practices over clever innovations.  But if you truly desire to be a Christian, you must confess yourself a sinner.

Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, you shall never wash my feet!”  This is like saying, Thanks for the teaching Rabbi, thanks for giving me a religion to follow on my way to heaven.  But you can’t come already clean to Jesus. “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  You must know that you are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked,” (Rev. 3:17) and dirty.

This empty-handed sinner’s confession is central to the Lord’s Supper.  As the Lord says in another place, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:32) One who has no need of this medicine and antidote to the poison of their sin has no place at the feet of Jesus.  And at His feet, Jesus washes us where we are the filthiest—in our innermost being, in our heart. 

But what about love? On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus says: “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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This is a commandment that cannot be fulfilled merely by outward action.  It must begin in the heart.  An evil heart, a heart that has not been broken by the weight of sin and healed by the Lord cannot achieve this commandment.

What kind of love is this? It says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  The example that Jesus gave was that He, their Teacher and Lord, humbled Himself as a servant and washed His disciples feet.  But that also included loving the very one who would betray Him.  The kind of love which our Lord commands us to do is that you give of yourself, even if the only payback you get is betrayal.

But how can we be capable of such love?  That brings us back to the Sacrament of the Altar.  In Luke 7, Jesus enters the house of a Pharisee, where besides the invited guests, a sinful woman comes and dotes on Jesus in a really embarrassing way: “When she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”  What could have inspired this unabashed love?  Jesus says of the woman, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little loves little.” (7:47).  It’s the forgiveness of sins.  When we recognize and appreciate what our Lord has saved us from, we love Him and others that much more.

This is what the Lord’s Body and Blood is capable of doing within us.  In it, Jesus releases us from our sins and raises us up with new hearts for loving service.  That’s why we often pray after receiving this gift: “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.” (LSB 201)


[1] Periscope means “to cut around” and describes the complete thoughts into which the Bible readings are divided. Many Bibles use subheadings to indicate this.

Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-15, 34-35)

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.