Maundy Thursday Sermon
March 29, 2018
“The Mandate of Maundy Thursday”
St. John 13:12-15
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” John 13:12-15
It was on the night Jesus was betrayed. He became a servant and washed his disciples’ feet. Peter voiced his objections. The master shouldn’t assume the role of a servant. The Lord should be more, well, lordly. Peter knew that! Jesus should have understood. But Jesus did understand. It was Peter who didn’t. The washing of his disciples’ feet was necessary instruction, not only for them, but for the whole Church.
The “maundy” in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word, mandatum, which means command. It’s where we get the English word, mandate. What is the mandate or command of Maundy Thursday? It is that we wash one another’s feet.
It was not Jesus’ intent to establish a sacrament of foot-washing that would be repeated over and over again throughout the life of the Church. Sacraments provide what they signify. Baptism signifies and provides spiritual rebirth and the washing away of sin. The Lord’s Supper signifies and provides the body and the blood of Jesus, given and shed for the remission of sins.
Foot-washing, on the other hand, is purely symbolic. It does not provide anything more than clean feet. The benefits of Christ washing his disciples’ feet are in what that washing teaches us. The mandate of Maundy Thursday – that we wash one another’s feet – teaches us four things: First, that brotherly love covers a multitude of sins. Second, that the life of humble service is the only life worth living. Third, that being washed by Jesus makes us clean and pure. Fourth, the mandate of Maundy Thursday teaches us how to receive the Lord’s Supper.
Brotherly love covers a multitude of sins. Solomon wrote, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” (Proverbs 10:12) St. Peter writes, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” (1 Peter 4:8) Brotherly love covers a multitude of sins. Walking on dusty roads wearing sandals makes the feet dirty. It’s inevitable. You don’t set out to get your feet dirty. You just do. So it is with the Christian’s life in this world. We don’t set out to sin. But we do. We dirty ourselves by what we do, by where we walk, by how we walk, and we’re not the only ones who can see the dirt in our lives.
The mandate of Maundy Thursday is to wash the dirt off of our brothers and sisters. Don’t look at the sin. Cover it up. Sinful human nature covers up its own sin and exposes the sins of others. Jesus teaches us to do the very opposite. Cover up your brother’s sin. Wash his feet.
Second, Jesus’ command that we wash one another’s feet teaches us that the life of humble service is the good life. When his disciples were quarreling among themselves about who would receive the highest honor in his kingdom, St. Matthew records, that:
Jesus gave his life a ransom for many. He offered his life up to God in holy obedience. He sacrificed his life to the demands of God’s justice. As a servant, he set us free from the curse of the law. Jesus gave his life as a ransom to God. God’s law required obedience. Jesus offered it. This is how we are set free from our slavery to the law and our fear of death and the control of sin.
What kind of a life did he give in obedience to the divine law? He gave a life of humility. What kind of a life did he give to set us free? He gave a life of service. What kind of a life is superior to any other kind of life? What kind of a life is more valuable, more beneficial, of greater importance, and more worthy of imitation than any other life? Is it the life of gaining great wealth? Popularity? Power? No, it is the life of humble service. This is what Jesus teaches us by the mandate of Maundy Thursday.
Third, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he was illustrating the washing away of our sins by his blood. Jesus said to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” St. John writes, “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) St. John witnessed water and blood flowing from Jesus’ side after he died. The washing of the disciples’ feet was a sign of Holy Baptism by which we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Water and blood go together. In baptism, the washing with water is the washing away of sin by Christ’s blood. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb. We are made clean and pure.
Fourth, the Mandate of Maundy Thursday teaches us how to receive the Lord’s Supper. We receive it in humility.
St. John does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted this Sacrament after he washed his disciples’ feet. He was preparing them to receive it. He was showing us how to receive this holy meal. We receive the Lord’s Supper in humble confession, in humble faith, and in humble proclamation.
We receive the Lord’s Supper in humble confession. We humble ourselves before God and confess our sins. We confess our sins against one another. We confess our sins against God. We admit what we have done that is wrong. We ask for forgiveness. We ask forgiveness from our brothers and sisters that we have wronged. We ask forgiveness from God against whom all sins are committed.
The Lord’s Supper is for the forgiveness of sins. The body of Christ that we eat was given for us. The blood of Christ that we drink was shed for us. Why? For the remission of sins. Those who will not confess their sins should not go to the Sacrament. Those who want to hold on to their sins should stay away. The Lord’s Supper is for sinners who are sorry for their sins, want forgiveness, and, by the power of God’s grace, intend to avoid those sins in the future.
We receive the Lord’s Supper in humble faith. As we confess in the Catechism:
Faith is not our work. It is not our achievement. Faith doesn’t do. Faith takes God at his word and receives what he says. Jesus says, “Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.” Faith says, “Given and shed for me, for the remission of sins.” Faith receives.
Everyone who eats the bread and drinks the wine eats and drinks Christ’s body and blood. The sacramental bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. Jesus said so. If someone doesn’t believe that he is eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood that won’t change the fact that that’s what he’s doing. Faith doesn’t make God’s word true. God’s word is true whether we believe it or not.
But only those who believe the words of Jesus receive the benefit of the body and the blood. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Christ’s body and blood give to us can be received only through faith. Those who eat and drink without faith receive the body and blood, but they do not benefit from Christ’s body and blood. They are judged, not forgiven, in their eating and drinking.
We receive the Lord’s Supper in humble proclamation. Whoever eats and drinks, St. Paul reminds us, proclaims Christ’s death until he comes. We confess with the Church the teaching of the Church. We attend Communion as individual Christians, each one of us receiving from the Lord Jesus his body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. We commune individually. But we also commune as Christ’s body. When we commune together we proclaim the gospel together. We speak with one voice, proclaiming Christ’s death until he comes.
We don’t say a word, but we preach a wonderful sermon. By eating and drinking we preach the crucifixion of Jesus for us. We confess our faith that everything Christ won by his bitter suffering and death is given to us in this Sacrament.
The mandate of Maundy Thursday is humility. Jesus, in his humility, instills humility in us. We all have our pride. Our Lord Jesus kills it within us because he loves us. Our Lord and teacher humbles himself to do the work of a servant. He insists on serving us – every single one of us. He insists on humbling himself before us. On the cross he humbled himself as he bore the full burden of our sin. In the Supper he comes to us to serve us.
He kills our pride to raise us up on his terms. Not by our grasping what we want at the expense of others, but by receiving in humble faith the treasures he won for us all by his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Jesus fulfilled the mandate of Maundy Thursday on the cross. He who gave his life up for us then and there gives his life to us here and now. What a wonderful life it is!
Rolf D. Preus