Thursday, April 13, 2017
Holy (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.
“And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.” This is the Word of the LORD, and truly it says it all – I will pass over you. I will spare you. I will redeem you from sin, guilt, death, and from Satan, the grave, and from hell. I will do it all because I love you, and you will remember that I did it and that I do.
Oh, I know. You think that you did something by killing the lamb, by preparing it, by eating it, and by smearing its blood upon the doorposts and lintels of your homes saying, “I will,” “I did,” “I do.” But, don’t be a fool. The blood of the lamb only caused the LORD to pass over your sin and guilt because He attached His Word of promise to it proclaiming that it would, the very same reason the fruit of the Tree of Life gave life, and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil brought death. Fruit trees do not bestow life and death anymore than do lambs, unless the LORD says that they do. And so, the Passover is the LORD’s work, not yours. Likewise, salvation, redemption, and justification are the LORD’s work, not yours. They are His work of love for you and for the world that you might be restored to Him and live with Him again, now, and forever.
Indeed, the entire sacrificial system of the Jews was a gift of the LORD’s love that there might be a way in which He could spare them the wages of their sin, death, for a time, in order that He might still abide with them in His holy Presence and love and not consume them and destroy them in His holiness and righteousness. The blood of bulls and goats caused the LORD to look away from their sin and guilt because He said so – period – but, only for a time, hence those sacrifices had to be repeated again and again, year after year. Of this the Preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” This is most certainly true. The LORD knew this, but He had a plan in mind, a mission: He would send His only-begotten Son, His beloved, into your flesh to become a man, to suffer and die as the true, only, and final sacrificial Lamb that would actually take away the guilt of sin forever and restore you to a right relationship with your God, your Father, forever – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Couldn’t God just forgive and forget? Well, in short, no. It’s not a matter of will, but it is a matter of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness. You see, this is something that is, for the most part, lost on Christians today. Generally speaking, we do not understand, we do not remember, what it means for God to be holy and righteous. That God is holy means that He is utterly distinct, separate, other, and in a class by Himself. This really isn’t that hard to comprehend if you only consider what the LORD says about Himself: In the beginning there was God, and nothing else. All things that are are because of Him. This means that the LORD is before all things, distinct, the source, cause, and creator of all things. In the beginning, our First Parents were in complete harmony and unity with God in His holiness; they were holy and righteous. However, their sin, and our sin, have made us something other than God, separate from God, and thus unholy. God couldn’t just forgive and forget, for His holiness and righteousness and our unholiness are simply incompatible. Yet, the LORD demands that you be holy, as He is holy. Since God’s own holiness and righteousness will not permit Him to simply forgive and forget, if we are to be holy, then He is going to have to do something to make us holy once again. For this reason the Son of God became the man Jesus, that He might die for our sins and shed His blood to make us clean and holy once again and be restored to a right relationship, a relationship of holiness, with God.
Did God have to do this? Well, yes and no. No, by no right or force did God have to sacrifice His Son to make us holy. In truth, He would have been fully righteous to destroy us and to completely and wipe us from His memory. However, God is love. Love is an essential quality of our LORD. God’s love is the reason there is something instead of nothing. God is love. And, greater love is not possible but that a man should lay down his life for his friends – and so, love is sacrifice. Therefore, God so loved the world in this way: He sacrificed His Son Jesus out of love for you to restore you to holiness and to Himself. And God’s Son, out of love for you and for His Father submitted Himself to humiliation, suffering, and to sacrificial death to make you holy once again.
In a final display of His love for us, Jesus instituted this Lord’s Supper for His disciples, and for you and I, before He suffered and died for our sins. In St. Luke’s narrative of the Last Supper Jesus says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The original Greek is more poignant: “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” It is that word desire that communicates the depths of God’s love Jesus poured out that night and in His subsequent Passion and death. It was the LORD’s passionate desire and love to restore you to holiness that carried Jesus through the terrible events of Holy Week.
As in love for you the Son of God humbled Himself to become a man, so Jesus in love for you took on the role of a servant. He removed His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist, and bent down and began to wash His disciples’ feet. It was customary for those who were otherwise clean to have their feet washed by a servant before eating, but not by a rabbi. The exchange between Peter and Jesus is revealing. Rightly did Peter protest Jesus washing his feet out of respect and reverence for His teacher. Likewise, when Jesus explained to Peter that He must wash him in order for him to have a share with Him, Peter zealously desired that His entire body be washed. But, Jesus’ meaning is that the cleanliness He bestows is not a matter of dirt being removed from the body, but of the stain of sin and guilt being washed away in His holy, innocent shed blood. Thus Jesus answered Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Only he whom Christ washes and cleanses from sins can have part with Christ: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Then, after serving His disciples by washing their feet, symbolically foreshadowing His washing them in His blood on the cross, Jesus celebrated His final Passover supper with them. It was in the context of this Passover meal that Jesus interpreted the bread and wine to be His very own body and blood: “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; 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’.” Through these clear, precise, performative, and creative words Jesus transformed the Passover Supper into the Lord’s Supper in which He, the Lamb of God’s own offering for the sins of the world, would cleanse and absolve, nourish, strengthen, protect, and send His disciples, His Church, for the life of the world. God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son. Jesus so loved you in this way: He willingly laid down His life in sacrificial service for you that you may live in Him. “And when I see the blood,” says the LORD, “I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.” I will pass over you. I will spare you. I will redeem you from sin, guilt, death, and from Satan, the grave, and from hell. I will do it all because I love you, and you will remember that I did it and that I do.
And, now He sends you bearing His love, to love one another, as He has loved you saying, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus has washed you and made you clean. In your holy baptism you have been given a share in Him, in communion with Him. Now you may, indeed you must, love others with His love which you have received, give to others with the gifts you have received from Him, and forgive others with the forgiveness you yourself have received as a result of His boundless love for His Father, and for you, and for all the world. No, your love is not a work that you do, but it is Jesus work done for you, to you, in you, and through you. You share with Him, in communion and partnership with Him, this work of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbors, for your enemies, and for all. Do this in remembrance of Him, to the glory of God the Father.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.