Thursday, April 17, 2014
Homily for Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday)
John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” By how much you go to church? No, that’s not it. By how much money you give to the church or to your favorite charity? No, that’s not it either. By how “churchy” you appear outside of church, even in very “unchurchy” places? Nope, wrong again. Well then, what is it? What is it that Jesus declares will be the definitive characteristic you must display that will cause all others to know that you are His disciples and follow Him? Are you ready? Here it is: Love. All people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples when you have love for one another.
“It can’t be that easy,” you say? Don’t worry, it’s not. Indeed, there’s nothing easy about love. In fact, love is hard. Love hurts. Love is sacrifice. Jesus commands you to love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you. That’s hard! However, even when it’s considerably easier to love someone, someone who’s kind to you, someone who loves you in return, even then love is hard, even then love is still a sacrifice. You always sacrifice and give away a part of yourself when you love. And, that’s why love is the definitive characteristic of the Christian. By this all people will know that you are Jesus’ disciples, when you give away a part of yourself, when you think more of others and their comfort, safety, needs, and salvation than you do of yourself and your own, when you sacrifice yourself for one another.
It’s always been about sacrifice, because it’s always been about love. God is love. He created this world and everything in it, He created humanity, He created you out of divine, holy and perfect, selfless, sacrificial, love. God walked with Man in the Garden, and Man with God. God provided everything for the Man He loved, even a woman for him to love and to return love that Man would know God better still by experiencing and sharing His love for another. And God blessed the Man and the Woman that they would be fruitful; He blessed them with the fruit of life that they might together love and sacrifice themselves for another, an extension of God’s sacrificial love once over again.
For a time, God only knows how long or short, all went along swimmingly. Man lived in accord with God’s will and loved with His love. It was Paradise. But, then, one of God’s creatures who refused to love set about to teaching Man to do the same. “Did God really say?” he asked. Man knew what God said from His very own voice! “You will be like God,” he said. They were the hand-made creatures of God, the very crown of all He had made, made in His own image and likeness! Lies, damned lies and deceptions, that’s all that ever came or that ever comes from that hateful creature’s voice. But, the deception took, the seed was planted. Doubt began to grow, faith and trust began to weaken and die. Man now knew the difference between good and evil. Man knew a will that was distinct from God’s will; he knew his own will and He willfully acted upon it. Love had begun to die, for self-centeredness and self-interest are the very antithesis of love. Me, myself, and I don’t much care about you, you, and you.
But, what did your God, who is love, do? He did the loving thing; He did the sacrificial thing. God made a covenant promise that He would send one from woman’s seed who would crush Satan’s head. However, God also said that this Seed would in turn likewise receive a serious, even fatal blow. That was His Word, His Promise. Then He gave a sign of that promise until it was fulfilled; God made a sacrifice of animals, shedding their innocent blood that Man’s nakedness might be covered. It was a sign, a symbol, of the sacrificial shedding of innocent blood God would provide in that Seed of the woman, His only-begotten Son, whom He would send, and who would willingly go, to be the Passover Lamb of God’s self-offering to take away the sins of our First Parents and all their sinful progeny forever.
That initial blood, the blood of innocent animals, was a sign, a symbol. There was no power in the blood itself to forgive sins or take them away. The only reason the blood covered sins was because God said so. When the blood was shed, God lovingly and sacrificially looked upon His sinful people as if they were not sinful. God so loved the world and the men He made to love that He did what was necessary to restore that relationship. In the wilderness, God set Himself to dwell with His people once again. However, sinful men simply couldn’t bear being in the presence of God’s holiness. It would literally destroy them. Therefore, once again, He did what was necessary in order to show His love to His people. He lovingly and sacrificially gave them the tabernacle and the sacrificial system that the blood of bulls, goats, and lambs might be sacrificed so that the people could live in the presence of God for a time, but only for a time. Indeed, as these sacrifices never took away sins, they needed to be repeated regularly and annually. They were signs and symbols pointing toward the sacrificial Lamb of God’s self-offering whose shed blood would take away the sins of the world forever.
The tabernacle was literally a moveable tent. The people were nomadic at the time and they needed to move from time to time. God promised to go with them. Thus, He did not have them construct a permanent structure, but a moveable one. When they were on the move, God went before them as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. But, when they made camp and set up the tabernacle, the Glory of God filled the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle and remained there until it was time to move again. Again, the tabernacle was but a temporary means by which God could dwell with His people and bless them with His presence. The tabernacle was not the fulfillment God had promised. There was something greater still to come. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” This passage from John’s Gospel refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The words translated as “made His dwelling amongst us” literally mean “tented” or “tabernacled.” In the Incarnation of the Son of God, God literally “pitched His tent” amongst the men He created. The Word literally became flesh and blood that He might be pierced with nails and shed His holy and innocent blood and become the sacrifice that truly takes away the sins of the world.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is sacrifice. On the night in which He was betrayed, that is this night, Jesus ate one last Passover with His disciples whom He loved. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” In His words and actions, Jesus both loved them and instructed them in the way of love. First, He washed their feet. Washing the feet was a humble activity typically done by servants. Here, Jesus serves His disciples and washes their feet. It was a loving and sacrificial thing to do. When Peter objected, then Jesus got theological saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This washing meant more than removing filth from the feet, it meant communion with Jesus. You are washed clean of your sin-guilt through faith in Christ and the sign and seal of His forgiveness, Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism you are washed clean in Jesus’ blood and are covered in His righteousness and holiness. In the Last Supper, Jesus connected this washing to the blood He would pour out for you upon Good Friday’s cross. In that Passover meal, Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb of God who willingly and lovingly laid down His life for all mankind. He washed them, then He fed them, and then He sent them to love others as they had been loved.
He gave them the bread to eat saying, “This is my body which is for you.” Then He gave them the wine to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” All that He is He gives for you in selfless, sacrificial love. He gives His blood for you, not merely to cover your sin, but to take it way. Man was commanded to not drink the blood of animals, not even the Passover lamb, for life is in the blood, and man receives his life from God alone. But, the blood of Jesus, who is life, He commands you to drink. Jesus brings a New Covenant, for He is the fulfillment of the First. Jesus is the Seed of the woman promised to our First Parents in the Garden. On Friday, He would crush Satan’s head even as that worm sunk his venomous fangs into our dear Lord’s flesh and He died.
Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross for you was the ultimate gift of love that can be given. “Greater love has no man than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends.” After His resurrection and Ascension, His disciples would remember His words, “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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” But, how can you lay down your life for others? Do you have to sacrifice yourself and die? Well, maybe, in extreme cases. But, what do the Scriptures say? “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Love others as you have been loved by God in Jesus Christ; love with His love. Give to others as you have been given to by God in Jesus Christ; give with His gifts. Forgive others as you have been forgiven by God in Jesus Christ; forgive with His forgiveness. But, first and always, love, for love is the fulfilling of the Law, and love is the fruit of the Gospel.
Jesus is the tabernacle and temple of God. While in the flesh on earth, the Man Jesus was the dwelling place of God with men. Now ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus is Man abiding with God. In His death and resurrection, Jesus restored Man fully to God – “It is finished.” Now a Man sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Yet, because of His loving sacrifice, shedding His holy and innocent blood to cleanse you from your sins and guilt, where He is He has promised you shall be also. It was the loving, sacrificial will of the Father to restore you to a right relationship with Him. Jesus is the love of God poured out for you to cleanse you of all your sin. He has made the Tree of the Cross a new Tree of Life that you might eat and drink of its fruits and live in the Garden of heaven with God, Father, Son, and Spirit once again and forevermore. This is His gift of love to you. Eat, drink, receive, believe, share, live – now and forever.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.