April 8, 2004
ďFollowing Christís ExampleĒ
The account of Christ washing
His disciplesí feet has been read on Maundy Thursday for many
centuries. The three
synoptic Gospels Ė Matthew, Mark, and Luke Ė all contain an account
of Christís institution of the Lordís Supper.
So does 1 Corinthians, from which this eveningís Epistle Lesson
is taken. But St. Johnís Gospel does not include an account of the
institution of the Lordís Supper.
In John chapter six the Evangelist records Jesus saying that
unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood you have no life in you. With these words, Jesus was not referring to the sacramental
eating of His body and blood with the bread and the wine, but to a
spiritual eating of His flesh and blood by faith.
Jesus doesnít directly address the Lordís Supper anywhere in
St. Johnís Gospel.
This does not mean that St.
Johnís Gospel teaches us nothing about the Lordís Supper.
Christís actions and words recorded for us in our text for this
evening teach us much about the sacraments He has so graciously given to
us. We learn of the
sacraments by learning of Jesus. We
cannot understand a sign except in light of what it signifies.
We cannot understand Holy Baptism and the Lordís Supper unless
we understand how Jesus humbles Himself before us to serve us.
As a matter of fact, it is only in our being served by our Lord
Jesus that we understand His holy sacraments.
Itís for sure we wonít
understand the sacraments by means of exercising our intellectual
powers. How can the
baptismal water be joined to Christís blood and thereby wash away our
sins? How can common bread
and wine be Christís body and blood while remaining common bread and
wine? How can Christís
body and blood be present on altars all over the world at one and the
same time? How can the
earthly elements of water, bread, and wine, be the means by which God
brings us the heavenly treasures of forgiveness of sins, the presence of
the Holy Spirit, peace with God, true life, deliverance from all evil,
and the eternal joys of heaven?
If we try to grasp the
sacraments by our intellectual powers, I am afraid that doubt will take
the place of faith. We can
understand the ďwhatĒ of the sacraments.
They are what Jesus says they are.
But we cannot understand the ďhowĒ of the sacraments.
How they can be what they are we do not have to understand.
When we know how Christ is serving us through His sacraments then
we have the understanding of faith.
When Christ humbled Himself
before Peter, Peter took offense. Jesus
was his Teacher and Lord. What
business did He have to humble Himself before Peter as a common servant?
It was a servantís job to wash the feet of guests who dirtied
them by walking on dusty roads. Washing dirt off of peopleís bodies is not a prestigious
job. Peter could not bear
to see His Lord and Teacher abase Himself.
But we must see Jesus humble
Himself. He washes His
disciplesí feet. Peter
objects. Jesus insists. He says, ďIf I do not wash you, you have no part with
Me.Ē Peter, who canít
stand the thought of losing Jesus replies, ďLord, not my feet only,
but also my hands and my head!Ē To
which Jesus replies, ďHe who is bathed needs only to wash his feet,
but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.Ē
Jesus must wash us. He
insists on washing the dirt away. He
must do it. It does not
require a full bath for the whole body.
The amount of water that Jesus applies to our bodies is not the
point. The point is that
Jesus must do it. For this
is how Jesus insists on serving us. Faith receives Jesus in His humble service.
Judas, who was an unbeliever, was not made clean by Jesusí
washing. Jesus serves.
Faith receives His service.
The sacraments do not cleanse or save anyone apart from faith.
Jesus must wash us because in
washing us He humbles Himself and we are cleansed by means of His humble
service. His humility led
Him to the cross. On the
cross He offered up to His Father His body and blood for the forgiveness
of our sins. This is the
same body and blood and the same forgiveness that He gives to us His
Jesus served us. He served us by going to the cross. As St. John records, ďWhen Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.Ē This love sent Him to the cross where He served us by bearing the entire load of our sin. Jesus served us then and there. And Jesus serves us here and now. He serves us by washing away our sin in the waters of Holy Baptism and by feeding us with His holy body and blood.
Jesus washes us in Holy Baptism,
though you cannot see Him. You
see only a minister acting in His name and by His authority.
Jesus feeds us with His body and blood in the Lordís Supper,
though you cannot see His body and blood.
You can see, taste, smell, and touch only bread and wine.
But we hear Christís words, ďTake eat, this is my body, drink
of it all of you, this is the New Testament in my blood.Ē
These words make the bread and the wine what the words say they
are. If Jesus says of the
bread that it is His body and of the wine that it is His blood this
means that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood.
What Jesus says is so because Jesus says it.
When people teach that the bread
and the wine of the Lordís Supper are not Christís body and blood
they do not teach this because Jesusí words are unclear and it is
difficult to interpret them. On
the contrary, we donít need to interpret these words as if only an
expert grammarian or theologian can understand them.
Jesus speaks plainly. The
words mean what they say. The
sacramental bread is Christís body.
It is the crucified and risen body of Jesus.
It is the body that bore our sins, that suffered all our pain and
sorrow and guilt, that rose from the dead and that can never die again.
The sacramental wine is Christís blood.
It is the blood that was poured out on the cross to take away all
sin of sinful humanity. It
is the blood of the New Testament that, when the Angel of Death sees it,
he must pass over us without punishing us.
When we eat and drink the body and the blood of Jesus, we are
taking into our bodies the body and the blood of Him who is the only
source of true spiritual life. This
is why the Church calls this sacrament the medicine of immortality.
When we eat and drink Christís
body and blood we proclaim the Lordís death until He comes.
We preach a gospel sermon without saying a word.
We preach at the altar the same gospel that the pastor preaches
from the pulpit. This is one reason why we should not commune at altars of
churches from whose pulpits false teaching is preached.
To commune with false teaching is to deny the truth.
The practice of closed Communion Ė where only those who belong
to churches that are committed to the whole truth of Godís word are
welcome to commune Ė is not based on a judgmental spirit.
It is based on the truth and a humble confession of the truth.
have no truth to teach or confess that anyone wants to hear unless we
imitate our Lord in His humility. Our
lives are gained for us by Christís service in suffering for our sins.
Our lives are given to us by Christís service in preaching to
us His gospel, washing us at the font, and feeding us at the altar. Our lives are lived in service to one another.
This is how we serve Jesus.
After washing His disciplesí feet, Jesus said:
was not thereby instituting a sacrament of foot washing.
He was teaching them humility.
It was a lesson they needed to learn.
If the Lord God of heaven and earth should stoop to wash His
disciplesí feet, we who call Him our Lord and Teacher should likewise
humble ourselves before one another.
that the meal had already ended when Jesus washed their feet.
Had their been a servant there, he would have washed the feet
before dinner began. But
there was no servant and it didnít cross the mind of a single one of
the disciples to do the task of a servant.
It was too base. It was too menial. But
this is precisely the nature of Christian service. It stoops down to serve.
As Christ bore the sin of us all, Christian service bears with
the sins, faults, errors, and weaknesses of others.
When Christ turned the other cheek to those who tormented Him He
was not thereby teaching us that it is good to torment an innocent man.
Who could possibly gain such a lesson from His humble suffering?
And yet we will make ourselves and our cause and our pride a
matter of high principle as if we must defend our integrity and honor. No, we must put up with sins against our pride.
We must forgive those who insult us, defame us, and mistreat us.
Christ by His service has washed away our sins so that God Himself can
no longer see them, so we must cover up the sins of others.
No, not by defending sin as if it isnít sin.
Christ never did that. But
we cover up our neighborís sin by humbling ourselves to see him as
charitably as the truth permits. We
explain his actions in as kind a way as we can.
And we forgive him. This
is how we wash his feet. We
forgive him. We donít hold on to grudges and we donít give way to
hatred. The greatest
service we can offer to anyone in this world is to imitate the humble
service of Jesus by forgiving those who sin against us.
Jesus taught us only one prayer to pray.
In that one prayer we make only one promise.
We promise to forgive those who have sinned against us.
That we may learn so to forgive, our Lord Jesus must forgive us.
So He has instituted the holy sacrament of His body and blood in
which there is pure forgiveness guaranteed by His body and blood.
Here we find our peace with God.
Here in Christís humble service we find our lives and true
humility. And we glory now
and forever in the eternal love of God in Christ.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus