Sermon: What the Lord Gives on Maundy Thursday

Text: John 12:1-7, 31-35; 1 Cor. 11:23-26
Maundy Thursday
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread.” Did you notice that? “On the night when he was betrayed.” That’s tonight. Today is Thursday in Holy Week, which means it’s the night when our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed. Tonight, we remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper and his betrayal.

We call it Maundy Thursday. Those who find out about the origin of the word Maundy are often surprised. The word comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning command. When we speak of Maundy Thursday, we mean commandment Thursday. So you may be surprised to discover that Thursday of Holy Week was not named for Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Maundy Thursday is named from his beautiful 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.” So why is the gospel reading for tonight about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet? What’s the connection between washing the disciples’ feet and the Lord’s Supper?

He Gives an Example

During the Last Supper, Jesus first gave His disciples a pattern to follow, an example of sacrificial service, of holding others in higher regard than ourselves. 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. What’s the dirtiest and grossest job you’ve ever had to do? Washing someone else’s dirty feet must be right up there. In the ancient world, people wore sandals as they walked on dusty roads. And then, when people went to dinner, they didn’t sit on chairs but reclined on their sides upon couches. So, unless you wanted stinky feet in your face as you ate, you appointed your lowest slave to wash your feet. Scrubbing between dusty toes isn’t the most appealing job in the world, is it? The Lord and Creator of all bends down to do the work of the lowliest of servants. The Master becomes the slave. He came not to be served but to serve and lay down His life as a ransom for the many.

Luke records that the disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). The disciples were more interested in being the top dog than volunteering for the menial task of washing feet. Serving the others was beneath their dignity. But our Lord came to serve and not to be served. He took up the job to the shame of them all. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. That was His life, and it was a life that loves to the end. And so, it is a life that serves. Jesus wanted them to understand this. He showed His almighty power with a bowl of water and a towel. He showed them that this is who God is: the one who came not to be served but to serve. God serves with a bowl of water and a washing that gives a share with Him in His life.

In washing their feet, Jesus gave them an example to follow, “that you should do as I have done to you.” Jesus did not command a ceremonial foot washing each year. He gave a pattern, an example for His disciples.  Jesus gives us a new commandment: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” Jesus is the King who bows before His subjects and washes their feet.

The same self-sacrificial love that led Jesus to wash their feet is the same self-sacrificial love that led him to the Cross. That’s why the Apostles should not have been surprised that Jesus rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and wrapped himself with a towel to perform a slave’s task. Shouldn’t they have been more surprised that although he was in the form of God, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness? During the last supper, Jesus laid aside his clothes; but he was stripped of his clothes on Good Friday. He wrapped himself in a towel, but he was wrapped in linen clothes after he died on Good Friday. He poured out water and washed the Apostles’ feet during the last supper, but he shed blood and water on Good Friday to cleanse us from our sin and defilement.

Is there any task beneath your dignity in light of this kind of service? Christ wants us to imitate His example of servanthood. He wants us to love each other in the same way He has loved us. “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Love is serving others. Service always means bending down and getting down off your high horse, setting aside your pride and ego. Love expresses itself in tiny and lowly things and when we bend down to wash the feet of others. To be a Christian is to be a servant of all.  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. How can you show your love for one another? How can you bend down low for them? We should not be so focused on ourselves. Instead, our focus needs to be on those we are supposed to be serving.

He Gives a Meal

If clean feet were all Jesus gave out that night in the upper room, He would not have given anything new. Examples are excellent, and examples from the Lord are even better. Who can argue with a Jesus example? But apart from His death and resurrection, we can do nothing.  And so Jesus gives to His Twelve in yet another way. Not just an example, but a meal. He takes the bread that opens the Passover meal, the hard, unleavened bread of affliction, gives thanks, and breaks it into pieces, handing a piece to each of His disciples. He takes the cup of wine after supper, the blessing cup. He lifts His cup, gives thanks, and gives each of His disciples to drink from it. What does it all mean? “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” Why? Because “in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given to us.”

But in John’s account of this night, theirs is not a hint of Lord’s Supper. Instead, we find the Lord Jesus on his hands and knees, humbly doing a task that none of his disciples were humble enough to do. He’s washing their feet and serving them.  He was all about service. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is all about. Not only did Jesus serve us once, but He also continues to serve you here today. It’s all about Jesus continuing to serve you, touching you, washing you clean.  The dirt is washed off of you and placed onto Him.  The grime of your sin is what’s sullying the clean water and rags in which he is draped. He gives us this bread and this wine, his body and blood, to strengthen our faith in him and our love for one another. The Supper is about Him loving you that much.  And notice that He does this washing for Judas, just as for Peter and John and all the others. There’s none whose sins Jesus wouldn’t wash away by the sacrifice He was preparing to offer.  He would be on the Cross for all.

The same Meal He gave to His Twelve, He now gives to you. The same self-sacrificial love that led Jesus to wash their feet that led him to the Cross is what motivates him to serve you today. He is still the one serving his disciples today. Receive the bread He prepared for you and eat it. His body, your manna, sustains you in your wilderness journey until you rise to walk in the promised land. Receive the cup He prepared for you and drink from it. His blood is poured out for the many, even for you. It’s a covenant, a promise, that assures you that your sins are forgiven and that you have peace with God. No more extraordinary gift can Jesus give than to give you the benefits of His suffering, His own Body and Blood.

He gives His all to you so that He might save all of you. Nothing stands outside His forgiveness. Nothing can separate you from His self-sacrificing love. No greater love exists than this self-giving love that lays down its life for another. In His Supper, at His altar, He gives you all the benefits won by His Cross and says, “These are for you.”

Come then to His table on this night when  Jesus your Savior was betrayed into death for you. And from this holy Meal arise forgiven, renewed, restored. Let Jesus’ Body and Blood strengthen your faith in God and your fervent love toward one another.

May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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