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.