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Jesus Serves Us (St. John 13.1-15, 34-35)

Maundy Thursday

“Jesus Serves Us”
Paul Norris, Seminarian       

St. John 13.1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11.23-32; Exodus 12.1-14

03 April 2022


Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus’ actions and words recorded teach us much about the sacraments that He has so graciously given to us. We cannot understand Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper unless we understand how Jesus humbles himself before us so he can serve us. It is only by faith given to us as a gift from God that we rightly understand the Sacraments as our Lord’s service to us.

Throughout the history of the Church, many have sought to understand the Sacraments by using their minds to find explanations and understanding. Many of these intellectual exercises have led to false doctrines in the Church about the efficacy and nature of the Sacraments. How are we joined with Christ in his burial and resurrection in the Water and Word of Holy Baptism? How can plain bread and wine be Christ’s true body and blood and yet remain bread and wine? How can Christ’s true body and blood be present on our altar? How can the elements of water, bread, and wine be the means with which God distributes his forgiveness of sins, the presence of the Holy Spirit, peace, life, and salvation to his people on earth?

If we try to use our intellectual reason to grasp the “how” of the Holy Sacraments then we will end up with doubt instead of the peace which comes from the promises of Christ’s Word. We can understand the “what” of the Sacraments because God has plainly told us what they are, and what they accomplish. The “how” of the Sacraments is not important as the “what”. We do not know the “how” of the Sacraments, nor has God explained the “how” in Scripture. They can be what they are, and by faith, we accept God at his Word and His promise of what they are. When we understand that Christ is serving us through the sacraments, then we have all that we need, the understanding of faith. God does not always tell us everything we want to know in Scripture, but he does tell us everything we need to know. And what do we know about the Sacraments from God’s Word? The Sacraments are rites, which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added, delivering us God’s grace in a tangible way that we can physically perceive.

In the Gospel reading tonight, we hear of Jesus’ act of humility towards his disciples. Jesus humbled himself as a servant to the disciples and washed their feet. In typical fashion, Peter is offended that his Lord and Teacher has stooped so low to become a common servant and wash his feet. Jesus was doing a lowly servant’s job, and this was not acceptable to Peter who viewed Jesus as being much higher than a mere servant. As we can imagine, washing someone else’s dirty and stinky feet is not a prestigious job. Peter cannot bear to see Jesus act in such a humble way.

But We must see Jesus humble himself as a servant. Despite Peter’s objections to Jesus washing his feet, Jesus says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (Jn 13:8) Peter replies, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (Jn 13:9) to which Jesus replies, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean, but not every one of you.” (Jn 13:10) Jesus must wash us, and he insists that He wash the dirt away. A full-body washing is not required, Peter has missed the point. The amount of water is not the important detail. The point is that Jesus must do it. Jesus insists on humbly serving us, and faith receives Jesus in his humble service. Judas, who was a faithless unbeliever and betrayer of Jesus was not made clean by Jesus’ washing. The Sacraments do not cleanse, save, or offer God’s grace to anyone apart from their reception in faith.

The action of Jesus washing the feet was not a sacrament as it was not commanded by our Lord Jesus, nor did He ascribe it any means of grace. Instead, Jesus is washing the feet of the disciples to demonstrate how we should act toward one another within the body of Christ. Jesus’ act of washing the disciple’s feet is not just a simple rebuke of their pride, but it is an example of true love.  True love, God’s love, is love that is ready to give the lowliest kind of service to others.

The washing of the disciple’s feet also highlights our Lord’s service to mankind. St. John wrote, “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (Jn 18:1) Jesus was demonstrating humility and love. Jesus knows he is on the way to the cross where he will perform the ultimate act of love and humility. Jesus offered His body and His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus served us by going to the cross in our place.

And Jesus’ service to us does not stop. The German word Got-tes-dienst usually translated in our hymnal as “Divine Service” is directly translated as “God’s Service”. It is a service where Jesus continues to serve us in his Church. In Holy Baptism it is Jesus who washes and cleanses you and claims you as his own. You cannot see Jesus with your own eyes at your baptism, but it is Jesus who acts through the pastor in the name of Jesus and by his authority. Jesus serves us by feeding us his true body and his true blood in the Lord’s Supper. You cannot see Jesus’ body and blood, but you can see, smell, touch, and taste the bread and the wine. And yet, in the sacrament of the altar, despite what our human eyes cannot see, or our minds comprehend, we hear the words of our Savior. “Take, eat, this IS my body…” and “… This cup IS the new covenant in my blood.” The very Word of Christ that makes the bread and wine exactly what he says it IS. If Jesus says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood, then it IS. Faith does not ponder the “how” but it faithfully receives what Jesus by his Word has proclaimed, his true body and blood.

We do not need to interpret or extensively analyze the words of institution that Our Lord Jesus gives to us in the Epistle reading. Anyone who teaches that the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are not what our Lord has said, do not teach this because Jesus’ words were unclear. You do not have to be a master grammarian or a doctor of theology to properly understand what Jesus said of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus speaks plainly, and His words mean exactly what they say. This is.

The bread is Christ’s crucified and risen body. The same body of Jesus that bore all our guilt, shame, and sin on the cross. It is the same body that defeated Satan, went to hell to proclaim victory, and rose again from the grave on the third day. Never to die again. The wine is Christ’s blood. The same blood which flowed from the hands, feet, and side of our precious Savior on the cross takes away the sin of the world. It is the blood of the New Covenant, that, when the Angel of Death (Ex 12) sees it, he must pass over us. When we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, we are taking into our bodies Jesus Christ who is our only source of forgiveness, salvation, and life.

When we eat and drink of Jesus’ body and blood at the altar, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. As we eat and drink, we preach a Gospel sermon without even saying a word. When we commune together, we proclaim as a congregation that this is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus. This is why St. Paul gives us the instruction, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (I Cor 11:27-29)

By washing the disciple’s feet, Jesus is teaching them humility and the way of love. If the Lord Jesus, fully God and fully man, should stoop so low to humble himself to wash the feet of his unworthy disciples, then we the children of our Heavenly Father should likewise be humble ourselves before one another and serve with gladness.

This is what we commemorate on Maundy Thursday. We remember that Our Lord Jesus instituted His Holy Supper for His Church and that Christ is our servant. We look to Jesus’ example and we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ with humility, and with a servant’s disposition. As Christ bore the sin of all of us, Christian service bears with the sins, faults, errors, and weaknesses of others. We remember Christ’s service to us on the cross which has washed away our sins. We partake of Christ’s continuing service to us as he gives us true body and blood in His Holy Supper. In Christ’s humble service we find true humility, and in the Word and Sacraments, we find peace with God.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

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