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LSB Holy Thursday Sermon – John 13:1-17, 31b-35

April 2, 2015

April 2, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

Last wishes and instructions are usually respected in our society. We recognize their significance and importance. When an individual knowingly has death pressing in on him, he doesn’t mince words or beat around the bush. Time is of the essence; there will be no opportunity for further clarification or explaining of the matter. Whatever is to be transmitted must be done with urgency and care.

That was happening with Jesus as He eats the Passover meal with His disciples. Dusk settles over Jerusalem on that Thursday evening. Jesus dines with His followers. He uses the opportunity to hand over important matters to them. Of great significance is the institution of the Lord’s Supper, a sort of last testament of Jesus. You heard how Paul’s account of that: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” You will have the opportunity to eat and drink this again tonight.

Jesus discusses other important mattes with His disciples. John’s gospel devotes five entire chapters to the acts that Jesus performed during that evening. Later in the Easter Season, you will hear more excerpts of Jesus’ discussions about His going away from His disciples and the sending of the Holy Spirit to them. Tonight, you heard of the act of servitude that Jesus performed for His followers and the corresponding instruction that He gave to them.

As the evening begins, Jesus acts like a common servant: “He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then 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.” This act of servitude shocks the disciples, particularly Peter: “He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’” Peter knows that Jesus is greater than he is; Peter knows his proper role as a disciple, a follower of his Master. But at that moment, Jesus acts like the lowliest among them.

Why does Jesus perform such a menial act? His response to Peter begins to explain it: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” He comments further about it: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus provides an example and model for His disciples to imitate. They are to act as servants, as He did that evening. He states that this is an instruction they must follow: “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.”

Jesus’ statement includes a very significant term: “just as”“Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” It indicates a matching or a copying. Jesus says that His disciples are to love each other in the same way that He has loved them. But what is the love that Jesus has shown? In what manner has He loved His disciples? Jesus isn’t referring to the washing of feet. He isn’t commanding His disciples to clean each other’s heels, soles, and toes. He isn’t instituting a foot-washing ceremony to be done as an attempt to re-create that Thursday evening of long ago. No, the love that Jesus has shown goes much further than using a water basin and towel.

The love that Jesus has shown to His disciples is the taking on the form of a servant who gives Himself for the benefit of others. That is expressed in the statements that He makes when instituting the Lord’s Supper: “This My body which is for you…. This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” Jesus has literally offered Himself to His disciples. He lays down His life for them. He dies for them. Jesus alludes to that further: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” Those words take the disciples back to what Jesus had spoken on Palm Sunday, when He spoke of being glorified by being lifted up from the earth and drawing all people to Himself in His crucifixion. That form of love is the “just as” which His followers are called to match.

Does this mean that Jesus’ disciples are called to die for each other? Perhaps so. There may be times and places where that is actually called for. Our fellow Christians around the world who have suffered persecution and death can testify about that to us through their works. But for most of Jesus’ followers, literal dying for each other will not be necessary.

Yet giving oneself for the benefit of another can be done, even without the literal loss of earthly life. The bond that Jesus creates among His disciples includes being concerned with the welfare of your fellow believer. This is an aspect of having a share with Jesus as you and your fellow disciples have been washed by your Lord in Holy Baptism. Such concern for each other’s welfare becomes an identifying mark of being one of Jesus’ followers: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

The bond that Jesus creates among His disciples is reinforced by the sharing of the meal that commemorates His giving Himself for the life of all His followers. The Collect of the Day refers to this: “Grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of Your body and blood that the fruits of Your redemption may continually be manifest in us….” The fruits of redemption includes carrying out the new life that has been given to us through Jesus’ dying and rising again. That new life was mentioned in the Confessional Address that began tonight’s Divine Service: “As our Lord on this night exemplified this love by washing His disciples’ feet, so we by our words and actions serve one another in love. For we are all one bread and one cup. For just as the one cup is filled with wine of many grapes and one bread made from countless grains, so also we, being many, are one body in Christ. Because of Him, we love one another, not only in word, but in deed and in truth.”

During the first part of Lent this year, this thought undergirded the Consecrated Stewards curriculum that we went through to talk about part of our discipleship life. Using our money, ability, and efforts for the benefit of our congregation of disciples and the other followers of Jesus that we are connected to is part of the “just as” love that we show as we imitate our Lord Jesus. This is how we give ourselves in service. Made holy, washed by Jesus and connected to Him, we take what is ours and hand it over for others to put to use. As this is done, we can say: “These are my property and assets given for you. These are my talents and skills given for you. These are my time and energy given for you. I offer them because of the command that our Lord gave. I may not have understood why this was done at first. But now I understand how this is how I show the love that has been shown to me by Jesus.”

Doing this abides by the new commandment that Jesus gave to His Church. As we perform such acts, we show that we have a share in Jesus and His redemption. We are in communion and fellowship with our Lord. As we perform such acts, we also show that we have a share in our fellow believers. We are in communion and fellowship with them. Our Lord has established this by giving Himself for us and for them. That has bound us all together as recipients of His redemptive work, as bearers of His name, as His cleansed people, and as members of His kingdom.

When we eat and drink of what our Lord has given for us, the bond that Jesus created between Him and us is reinforced. As we give of ourselves to our fellow disciples, the bond that Jesus created between them and us is reinforced. These bonds are the fruits of His redemption. And they are manifested by our words, our deeds, and our truth, as we follow Jesus’ instructions: “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.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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