Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tonight is the first of the three holy days leading up to Easter. On these days, we will meditate on what Jesus did for us in order to save us, how He laid down His life as a ransom for many, how He went to the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Tonight we begin in an upper room in Jerusalem and Jesus with His disciples. Paul, reminds us how our Lord on the night of His betrayal took the bread and the cup of the Passover and made them something new and something more: His own Body and Blood which He would give the next day on the cross for the life of the world. John fills in the gaps around the Supper, focusing on what Jesus said and did. And so there two things we want to focus on this evening: first is Jesus’ example, and second is what this example means.
The Example Jesus Gave Us
John tells us that while they were in the middle of supper, Jesus got up from his place, took off his robe, tied a towel about his waist, took a basin of water, and one by one washed the feet of His disciples. That is a bit odd to us because we don’t usually wash other people’s feet. In the ancient world, people wore sandals as they walked on the dusty roads. Foot washing was an act of hospitality, a courtesy extended to your guests, and a necessary one since you sat on the floor all huddled together with your neighbours feet rather close to your face not to mention your food. So, unless you wanted stinky feet in your face as you ate, you made sure to appoint your lowest slave to wash feet. Scrubbing between dusty toes isn’t the most appealing job in the world, is it?
This helps us to understand why none of the apostles did the washing. Each of the disciples thought he was too good, too important, to serve others. Each thought he should be the one being served.
Jesus did not mean for us to perform some kind of ceremonial foot washing. He gave a pattern, an example to his disciples, that they would reflect his servanthood in their servanthood, that they would love each other in the same way that he had loved them. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That love expresses itself in the little and lowly things. In bending down to wash the feet of another. In bending down, like the Good Samaritan did, to help the broken bleeding man who fell among thieves lying in the ditch.
The Law says, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus adds a new commandment: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” Service always means bending down. Getting down off your high horse, setting aside your pride and ego. It is not the way of a christian to say “I do not like that person, so I won’t lift a finger to help them,” or “That’s below my pay grade.” Nor is it the way of a follower of Jesus to say, “I’ve done my turn and now it’s your turn.” To be a Christian is to be a servant. In the face of that, is there any task beneath your dignity? “A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” What would Jesus do? He would wash dirty, smelly, gnarly feet. He even washes the feet of Judas. Love one another! Serve one another! It doesn’t matter if you don’t like them, Jesus told you to love them. Stop gossiping and instead, speak kindly to them. How can you show your love for one another during this time? How can you bend down low for them? Can you get their groceries? Can you pick up their prescriptions? Can you give them a call or talk to them? What can YOU do to show your love?
The point is that we should be looking away from ourselves, and at those we are supposed to be serving. Where the needs of others and our vocation meet is where we ought to be, ready to love and serve our neighbour in whatever way we are called.
Jesus does not command the apostles to show love to others until after they have received love from him. His love comes first. First he washes the disciples’ feet, then he tells them to wash one another’s feet. First he bends down to serve us, and we, after we have been served, bend down to serve one another. When Jesus washes the feet of others, they are called to share the love they have received from Christ. First, Jesus serves us. Jesus came to minister to us, so that we might minister to others.
What Jesus Did For Us
“Do you understand what I have done to you?” Jesus asks. That question can easily be redirected. Do we know what Jesus has done to us? When a free person washed someone else’s feet that meant they were assuming the position of a slave. The only reason someone would do this voluntarily was to show just how completely devoted they were to another person. This is what Jesus does here. He assumes the role of a slave to show the depth of his love for his disciples.
Pause and consider that for a moment: God became flesh. He laid aside the clothes of glory, and put on our human nature, in order to wash our feet? The Lord and Creator of all, bends down to do the work of the lowliest slave. Jesus is showing us who God is; the kind of God we have. The Master becomes the slave. There is no task so low that Jesus will not stoop to do it. That’s the point. He comes not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life. He is the servant of all, the Suffering Servant who stoops as low as the grave in order to save you. The shepherd loves his own sheep, and they love him in return. And the greatest thing the shepherd can do for them is to lay down his life.
During the last supper, Jesus changed his clothes; but the next time Jesus has his clothes changed it will be when they are stripped from him on Good Friday; after that he will be naked on the cross, revealing the the true extent of his love for you as he gives his life to pay for your sins. During the last supper he poured out water and washed the Apostles’ feet, but on Good Friday he shed blood and water to cleanse you from your sin and defilement. During the last supper he wrapped himself in a towel; but after his crucifixion he was wrapped in linen burial clothes. As our text says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” (v. 1). Not just with a dogged see-it-through love. He loved them ‘to the uttermost’. There was nothing that love could do for you that Jesus did not do.
Come then to his table on this night which commemorates the night on which Jesus your Savior was betrayed into death for you. The same Meal he gave to his Twelve, he now gives to you. Receive the bread he prepared for you and eat it. With it he gives you his body, your manna to sustain you in your wilderness journey until you rise to walk in promised land. Receive the cup He prepared for you and drink from it. With it he gives you his blood, poured out for the many, poured out for you. This is wine from Calvary’s vineyard to gladden your sin-saddened heart. What greater gift can Jesus give, than to give you the fruits of His Cross, His own Body and Blood?
Washing feet was the example. That was something the disciples could do. But giving His body to eat and His blood to drink; that was something only Jesus could do. He unites us with Him in His death and life. Jesus’ body and blood put us into fellowship with one another. Communion with Christ is also fellowship with one another, because the same Body and Blood that goes into you also goes into me. St. Paul puts it, “We are one body for we all partake of the one bread.” One bread, one cup, one body and blood, one holy church. Here our sad divisions are healed. Here the walls come tumbling down. Here all the barriers that we put up against each other are knocked down.
As we prepare for Good Friday, we too join Jesus at his table. Jesus loved us to death, and we need to receive the type of love he gives us. And in that love, you are given to love one another, reflecting to each other the love that you have received. Love that bends down in service of the neighbour – both friend and stranger. Love that seeks to serve Christ in the least, the lost, the lowly. Love that washes dirty, smelly, gnarly feet.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.