Text: John 13
Date: Lent Midweek I + 2/28/07
We learn about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. St. John, in his Gospel, does not have an account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper primarily because he knows that you’ve already read Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul! Though John does not have a narrative of the institution of the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, what he does have is no less than five chapters of everything else Jesus did and said that Maundy Thursday, that night in which he was betrayed. Furthermore, because we never hear but only a few snippets from John chapters 13-17 in the lectionary, we are taking the time to hear all of it during our Lenten midweek services this year.
It was a long night, that Passover night. Jesus gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room for the annual Passover Seder meal. John relates what happened and what was said before, during and after that meal with its prayers and scripture readings, its symbolic use of unleavened bread and cups of wine, and the meal itself.
At every Eucharist we hear the Words of Institution beginning with the phrase, “On the night in which he was betrayed.” Why that designation? So many other things were done and said that night. It was the night he washed his disciples’ feet; the night he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit; the night he prayed his high priestly prayer; the night of the new commandment and of the institution of the sacrament of the altar. Yet that night is always referred to as “the night in which he was betrayed.” Why? It was the betrayal by Judas that set everything else in motion. Like the firing of a starting gun, once the betrayal took place nothing could stop what was to follow.
After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus asked, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” Of course they didn’t understand. So he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, 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 also should do just as I have done to you.” Get it? “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Get it?
I don’t think they got it. At least not right then. But what a great question for us! “Do you understand what I have done to you?” We might be tempted to say, “Don’t you mean what you have done FOR us?” We always talk about what Jesus has done FOR us and for our salvation. But here he talks about doing something TO us!
Faith hangs on not only to a story, to a concept, to a “theology” or philosophy. Faith actually grabs on to a Person, the Person of Jesus, the Son of God. But faith grabs on to Jesus only because he has first grabbed on to us. “We love because he first loved us” [1 John 4:19 (ESV)].
That night he washed his disciples’ feet. In our Holy Baptism Jesus washed us. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” [Titus 3:5-7 (ESV)]. Now tonight again he asks us, “Do you understand what I have done to you?”
This baptismal washing saves us because it connects us to his death and resurrection by his own word of promise. As his baptized people he has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” [Revelation 1:6 (ESV)]. He has made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” [Ephesians 2:19-20 (ESV)]. He has made us a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17); members of his body, the Church, “by the washing of water with the word…without spot or wrinkle or any such thing…holy and without blemish” [Ephesians 5:26-27 (ESV)].
“Do you understand what I have done to you?” It was the night in which he was betrayed. “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” They didn’t understand. They didn’t even understand when he dipped the bread and gave it to Judas. “What you are going to do, do quickly.” They thought he sent Judas out for groceries. “Do you understand?” They didn’t understand.
With the thoughts of the events that were about to unfold that night in which he was betrayed—the betrayal, the arrest, the trials, the false charges, the denials, the floggings and finally death by crucifixion—Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” “Where I am going you cannot come.” “Love one another.” So much to say, so little time to say it.
When Simon Peter hesitated to allow Jesus to wash his feet, Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter did understand later, as when he wrote in his first epistle, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” [1 Peter 4:8-10 (ESV)]. Love one another, show hospitality to one another, serve one another. Peter finally understood. As we listen to our Lord the night in which he was betrayed, and follow him to the judgment hall and to the hill called Calvary, may we grow to understand that what he did to us is called love. May we grow to understand that in our baptism, we were crucified with Christ so that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us; the life we live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:19-20). Let this be the beginning of our understanding.