Sermon for Holy Thursday based on John 13:1-17
Dear people served by Jesus: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Simon Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” The very thought of having his Teacher and Lord humiliate Himself by washing his dirty feet was just too much for Peter. It would just be too embarrassing. Maybe the lowest of the low slaves could wash the feet of guests, but certainly not the host. Certainly the greatest Teacher to walk the earth, the Lord of creation, should not be washing the feet of His disciples. Really, it would have been embarrassing for the disciples if other people found out they followed a leader who humiliated Himself in such a way. It was a completely foreign thought that their Lord and Teacher would not seek prestige and honour from others, but would instead humble Himself and serve them in such meekness.
Really, what Peter needed was not just for Jesus to humble Himself like a lowly slave by kneeling before him and washing his feet. He needed Jesus to humble Himself even more than that. Peter needed Jesus to humble Himself by allowing Himself to be betrayed, mocked, whipped, beaten, and numbered with criminals. Peter needed Jesus to humble Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. All the world had that same need.
The washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus took place in the upper room the same day Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is another way in which Jesus humbly serves His people. Jesus gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. This gives us much more than clean feet as Jesus humbles Himself and serves us in meekness.
Jesus humbled Himself to be like a lamb led to the slaughter (Is. 53:7). Passover lambs without blemish or spot were chosen from the flock and slaughtered at twilight. Their flesh was roasted on fire and they were eaten rather humbly with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Their blood was put on the doorposts and the lintel to turn away the angel of death.
In similar fashion, the only man without blemish or spot, the sinless Son of God was chosen by God the Father to be slaughtered. His flesh was roasted in the fires of hell and is eaten rather humbly with bread and wine. Wherever we eat His body and drink His blood death’s dread angel sheaths his sword (cf. LSB 633 st. 3).
So do we respond like Peter and say, “Lord, do you give me Your body and blood to eat and drink?” Is the very thought that our Lord and Teacher would humiliate Himself by giving us His body and blood to drink too embarrassing? Certainly the Lord of creation should not humble Himself to the point of dying for us and giving us His body and blood to eat and drink. Is it such a foreign thought that our Lord and Teacher would not seek the prestige and honour of the world but would instead by humbling Himself serve us in such meekness?
Jesus responded to Peter by saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This wasn’t just about Peter refusing to have his feet washed. It was about Peter refusing to let Jesus serve him. It was about Peter thinking he knew better than Jesus how Jesus should serve him.
For us it is not just about refusing to eat a wafer of bread and take a sip of wine. It is about refusing to let Jesus serve us. It is about thinking that we know better than Jesus how He should serve us.
Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Peter is still thinking that he knows better than Jesus. “If you need to wash me so that I can have a share in You, then wash all of me, not just my feet – that’s not enough.”
Jesus answers Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except his feet, but is completely clean.” If you’ve bathed and then walk in your sandals on dusty streets to another house, you are still clean, except for your feet. You don’t need another bath; you just need your feet cleaned in order to be completely clean.
So it is for us. We should never say the Lord’s Supper is not enough. We should never say that we need more than the Lord’s Supper from Jesus. We’ve already been cleansed by the waters of Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism has washed us clean from all of our sin. We’ve been given faith through the Word of God. When we fall into sin, God does not take away the promises He made to us in Baptism. When we go out and walk in the streets of sin our feet get dirty, but God does not take His Word away from us. We need the forgiveness that Jesus gives in His Holy Supper to cleanse our sin.
Sometimes it may feel like it’s not enough. God’s Law convicts us of our sin. Our sins of thought, word, and deed haunt our consciences. Our feelings of guilt make us feel dirty and unclean.
But when we hear the words of Absolution that forgive us our sins and receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins, we are no longer dirty. We are completely clean. We don’t need to feel like we’re too wretched and sinful to have a share in Jesus. When you’ve been baptized and absolved, you’re not completely dirty even though you’ve again fallen into sin. You just need your feet washed, so to speak. You need to once again hear that your sins are forgiven. You need to once again receive the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.
It may seem too little or too simple. We may ask, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’” (SC VI)
It’s so simple, because Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross for your sins. He’s already paid the price of your sins. You’re already baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, so regular forgiveness is as easy as coming to the Lord’s Altar. It’s simpler even than a foot washing. And the forgiveness given to you in the Lord’s Supper is complete. God doesn’t give partial forgiveness. Every time you receive Holy Communion you receive complete forgiveness of all your sins.
We daily sin much, so we daily need forgiveness. Jesus humbly serves us in His Holy Supper. Our Lord and Teacher desires to humbly serve you and give you the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (SC VI). Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.