“Love Covers a Multitude of Sins”
St. John 13.1-18, 34-35; Exodus 12.1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
18 April 2019
Seminarian Simeon Cornwell, Vicar
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”
If you’ve ever invited someone to your house or been invited to someone’s house you’ve probably observed the custom of taking your shoes off upon entering.
This is done not only out of respect, but also to prevent dirt and mud from being tracked throughout the house. We don’t want to bring in the dirt from outside.
This practice is similar to what we heard in our Gospel text this evening.
It was customary in the ancient world, for the host or owner of the house to provide water for the guests to wash their feet. In contrast to our day where we wear shoes and socks, in Jesus’ time most wore only sandals. Not only this, but their roads weren’t pavement like ours. Instead, they were typically dirt.
Add to this the fact that they did quite a bit of walking, much more than we do today, and you can start to understand the need for this washing.
After a long day’s work, much of the dirt from their world clung to their feet. Before entering back into their house to rest, they needed to wash up.
But Jesus isn’t giving this example to get us to bring back this practice of foot washing. After all, it was a logical practice for those at that time and in that context. For us, on the other hand, the current practice of removing one’s shoes is sufficient.
So what, then, is Jesus’ point in doing this?
The disciples and even Peter don’t understand this. For when Jesus approaches Peter he asks, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” It’s as if Peter is saying, “Lord, You’ve got it all wrong. This needs to be reversed!”
But Jesus confirms quite the opposite: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” The Greek is a little clearer. When translated literally it reads, “but after all these things, you will understand.”
The “these things” which Jesus refers to here are His impending arrest, crucifixion, and Resurrection. After these things, Peter will understand the true meaning of why Jesus is washing the disciple’s feet.
But in typical enthusiastic fashion, Peter proclaims, “Lord, You will never wash my feet!” And then comes the scathing response from Jesus, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”
Again, though, Peter wishes to show his great piety over and above his fellow disciples: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Yet Peter still does not understand. For, as Jesus says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.”
The bathing Jesus is referring to here is not physical per se. He’s not commenting on the fact that they had showered that day. Rather, He is referring to a spiritual cleansing. The cleansing they had received from Jesus. The cleansing by which Jesus’ love had made them new. Regenerated them.
Nevertheless, they still needed Jesus to clean their feet. For they had been traveling through a sinful world all day and no doubt had collected quite a bit of dust.
They needed to be cleansed by Christ from the dirt which clung to them from that day’s journey. This is why Jesus tells Peter that he will not understand Jesus’ cleansing until after “these things” or after His arrest, death, and Resurrection.
For despite Peter’s excitement and determination to follow Christ in whatever trials awaited Him, he would indeed, fail. As would all the disciples. For this very night, two thousand or so years ago, all fled when Jesus’ was arrested. All abandoned Him.
All would become filthy through the difficult journey which was in the distant future. And so, out of His great love for them, Jesus needed to make clear to them beforehand, that though they would fail, if they would return to Him, He would wash them again.
That the dirt which stuck to their feet, those sins which they accumulated that night and the next day, would by His love be covered. They would by His love be washed away. After all, this is why He allowed His arrest and death; to pay for the sins of the whole world.
This is why Jesus proclaims, you (referring to all the disciples, not just Peter) are clean. But not everyone, meaning Judas. It was not because Judas hadn’t been cleansed. Rather it was because after having betrayed Jesus, unlike the other disciples, Judas would not return in repentance.
But this isn’t the only reason Jesus leaves this example. For He goes on to say, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Speaking to the Apostles who were to preach His Gospel to all people, He means that they too, when others repent for their evil deeds and come to them to receive Christ’s forgiveness, they are to freely give it to them. That they too, despite their position in the church, are to be servants to all.
So too we, having received this love which covers not just a multitude of sins, but all sins, are to forgive others when they sin against us. Just as we all ask the Lord in His Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We are to love as He has loved us. This is why this day is called Maundy Thursday. Coming from the Latin word Mandatum, meaning command, it is the night in which our Lord gives us the command to love one another as He has loved us.
Because our life in this world is such that we cannot walk through it without sinning or being sinned against, our Lord has left us this example of His love. To encourage us when we fail to return to Him in repentance. To humble ourselves by confessing our sins and thereby to receive His love which covers all sins.
And having received once again that love which covers not only a multitude, but all our sins, we can now go out and love as He has loved us.
So let us come with repentant hearts this evening and receive the love that covers the multitude of our sins. The love that always stands ready to accept back a wayward child, no matter how long he or she has been gone.
The Love which as St. John records, loved the disciples and will love us until the end. The Love that on that same night in which He was betrayed took bread and having given thanks broke it, gave it to His disciples and said take; eat. This is My body, given for you.
And likewise took the cup in which is contained the blood which covers not just a multitude of sins, but the sins of all the world.
Receive Him tonight. And being strengthened in His love go out in humble service to this sin-filled world and do likewise.
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.