Maundy Thursday Sermon

April 9th, 2020

Gospel Reading:

John 13:1-17: Jesus washes his disciples’ feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Sermon: Washing up

If you insist on watching headline news channels, you will hear guidance on the deadly COVID-19 virus every day 24/7. Vigorously washing your hands is critical. Your eyes, noses, and ears are the most likely receptors of droplets from a sneeze or cough. Avoid touching your face, rubbing your eyes, and use Kleenex to wipe your noses. You can go a long way by avoiding unnecessary contact, remaining at a safe distance, and carefully monitoring your own health. Be watchful for a persistent cough, sore throat, and a high fever. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, seek medical assistance.

Jesus was dealing with a rag-tag group of followers, whose hands and feet were far from ceremonially clean. They slept outside under the stars, huddled under trees or in caves at night, and seldom had an opportunity to bathe. That being the case, it always made me wonder why Jesus waited so long to gather a basin to wash his disciples’ feet. They had already reclined at the table and received the Last Supper. It may also surprise you to learn that Judas Iscariot was still present when this foot washing sequence took place. Many Christians today assume Judas had already left to betray Jesus and missed the foot washing sequence.

The actual sequence of events was this. First, the disciples gathered in an upper room, where arrangements for the Passover Meal had been completed before their arrival. Another mystery: we have no idea who prepared the room in advance. Next, Jesus announced that one of his own would betray him that very night. The disciples jockeyed for position, each sure that it could not be him who would betray their master. That’s when Judas asked Jesus, “Is it I?” Jesus responded, “You have said it.” Jesus then served his disciples the Passover Meal; although we find few specific details in John 13 about that meal. The most familiar account is found in Luke 22:14-23. That’s where we find the traditional liturgy for Holy Communion and the Last Supper.

What actually happened was this. Jesus removed his outer garment, wrapped himself with a towel, and secured a basin to wash his disciples’ feet. This was a job relegated to the lowliest servant. Why? Imagine the smell of their dirty, dusty feet. It always brings to mind a muddy, sweaty locker room after a high school football game. This was the job Jesus freely accepted. One brash disciple named Peter initially refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Only when he learned that he would have no part with the Savior did he permit it.

Jesus Christ is the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 52:13-15, “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.”

This passage speaks not only to the servant washing his disciples’ feet, but also the Savior who suffered when beaten, humiliated, struck, spit upon, paraded through the streets, and nailed to a cruel cross. That picture is more vividly depicted in Isaiah 53:2-3, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Now we have seen both the lowly servant washing their dirty feet and the radiant Lamb of God, who laid down his life for his sheep.

Judas Iscariot departed soon after the Last Supper to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The remaining eleven disciples heard Jesus teaching about the Great Commandment that we love one another. Then Jesus predicted that Simon Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed. Again, many would assume that Jesus left the Upper Room immediately thereafter. But the truth be told, Jesus covered a variety of subjects as he continued teaching his disciples.

He calmed their fears and then explained that he was going to prepare a place for them, but would return so that they could be where he is also. When questioned, Jesus explained in John 14:1-6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus offered his perfect peace by way of a helper, God’s Holy Spirit. He explained that he was the True Vine and they were his branches as long as they produced good fruit.

Before departing for the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, Jesus told them in John 16:20-22: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”

Despite the depth of his love, the beauty of the Last Supper, and the mysteries of his teaching, his disciples could not follow one simple instruction in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was only to remain awake, watch and pray, lest they enter into temptation. Jesus had totally devoted himself for three years. He healed the sick, cured the lepers, caused the lame to walk, and raised the dead to new life. As Jesus prayed with sweat drops of blood on his forehead, his closest disciples were found by him to be sleeping not just once, but three times. Like Simon Peter’s denials in the outer court a few hours later, all of his disciples had failed him. Only then was Jesus prepared to face his betrayer, who greeted him with a kiss.

Your feet have been washed, you have received Christ’s precious body and blood, and were asked to watch and pray. Can we satisfy this request from the Savior who died to save us? Remember how Jesus suffered and died for your sake.

Watch and pray. Amen.

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