+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 13:8
Theme: “Unless I Wash You…”
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
After sundown Jesus and His disciples began to celebrate the Passover. Laden with history, saturated with memory, they commemorated the faithfulness of Yahweh to His people. It was exemplified by their deliverance from bondage and inheritance of the Promised Land. A people always living on the precipice of death He never failed to revive His remnant.
Yet this Passover was more than a repetition of the past. Christ’s hour had come. The Messiah would be glorified. But His glory would be achieved through sacrifice. There would be death. These events were imminent and it was time to initiate the new covenant with His followers. Pilate washed his hands. But Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. Humans look to justify themselves, while God’s Son stoops to the task. Forgiveness is not obtained by wielding force, but by receiving His divine endowment. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me,”1 He said.
The Last Supper might be aptly named in the context of Jesus’ immanent departure but it is a misnomer as it applies to the on-going life of the church. For in this regard it is not the last but the first. This initial dispensation of the sacrament from the hands of Jesus to the lips of the disciples was the inauguration of a feast that continues to be administered across the span of time and space in the church until His return in glory.
We participate in the life of God sacramentally. That is, we have fellowship with God through those tangible, audible, visible means that He has ordained as avenues for us. You cannot dictate the way in which God will relate to you. You cannot construct your own personalized manner of having access to God. Any efforts to do so result in a false sense of security. They will end in the hollow realization that God does not promise to be present except in the manner of His choosing. The repentant sinner does not presume upon God but learns to receive what He offers.
We have the word. His word accomplishes all things. It is the sword of the Spirit. We cannot journey back to the cross. We don’t need too. The benefits are brought forward to us.
Holy Communion is the staple diet of the baptized. It is filled with God’s promises. It lacks none of His blessings. The blood of Christ communicates to us the life of God. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”2
He is the Giver; you are a receiver. He is the Provider; you are the benefactor. He is the Lover; you are the beloved. In Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit the direction of grace is always one way. Mercy flows from Him to us. There is no equilibrium, no mutual benefit; no reciprocity. The lost sheep do not find the Shepherd. Condemned sinners do not clear their own charges. The dead are not revived under their own power. Christ’s is a one-sided intervention. His is a unilateral mediation; the Holy One on behalf of the transgressor. Never is our own contribution critical or even helpful.
But His initiative does invoke a response. And it never fails to do so lest faith be shown to be nominal only. Faith is active in love. And what form does the response of faith take? The possibilities are infinite, but they are all necessarily directed to God through our neighbour. Your generosity, your compassion, your giving of your time and money, your willingness to sacrifice your ambitions- none of which the Almighty stands in need of directly- are all expressions of faith that benefit fellow sinners. The Christian cannot exist in isolated devotion or self-absorption. Like divine love our passion is always extending away from ourselves towards others. Faith returns to God via the detour through our neighbour.
As it does so it embodies the characteristics of Him who conceived it. At the top of the list tonight is humility. Jesus modeled it for His disciples. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”3 What does it mean to wash the feet of others? Humility reframes our perspective. The Scriptures paint an image of ourselves we could never identify on our own.
Winston Churchill was once asked if it thrilled him to know that every time he made a speech, the room was packed to overflowing. "It's quite flattering," replied Sir Winston. "But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big." Did you hear about the pastor who claimed he had written a wonderful sermon about humility? He was waiting for a large attendance before he preached it. Servanthood cannot be motivated by the desire for recognition. To head out in the wrong direction is to end at the wrong destination.
Love turned back towards itself is eventually revealed as idolatry. “Love one another,”4 He said on the eve of His crucifixion. Faith active in love knows no direct path to God. It detours constantly to where the neighbour dwells; a thousand ghettos in a dark and desperate land. The neighbour dwells in bitterness, resentment, and anger; in temptation, frailty, and pain; in grief, separation, and despair; in aggression, selfishness, and apathy. Here love enters, stoops to wash the soiled foot, and points to the Saviour. Hope enters the world of death with the message of life. The task that lay before the apostles is the privilege we still participate in. And our “labour in the Lord in not in vain.”5 because the crucified One lives and He is Lord of the Church.
Participation in the very same sacred meal Jesus shared with His disciples connects us with the communion of the faithful and the mystery of His death-destroying sacrifice. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”6 It is only in confessing His death in the very manner of how we live life that world can find life that does not end. “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”7 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
28 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 13:8
2 1 Corinthians 10:16
3 John 13:14-15
4 John 13:34
5 1 Corinthians 15:58
6 1 Corinthians 11:26
7 Luther’s Small Catechism