The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The Gospel. St. Luke 23:1-49
Foot Washing Gospel. John 13:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Having taken advantage of the Lenten Season, we have entered in a small way, during Lent, into the sacrificial and sorrowful life of Jesus.
We should, at the same time, be aware of and try to see a great contrast here. We have lamented our sins, while contemplating the sinlessness of Jesus.
We have undergone only 40 days of minor inconvenience while contemplating the lonely birth and life of Jesus as well as the extreme agony of Jesus’ later life of betrayal, arrest and death by Roman crucifixion.
And tonight we arrive at a pivotal point in this season. We are at the night in which He was betrayed.
The serene setting of a Last Supper…a Passover Meal that Jesus at the same time both joyously and sorrowfully celebrates with His closest friends.
After a long discourse giving them last minute instructions and last minute assurance, Jesus leaves the table, proceeds to wash the feet of the Disciples.
Here is where last week’s passage from Philippians is demonstrated in part. “but [He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:7, ESV)
Christian writer Ray Stedman says of this passage, “There can be little doubt that here Jesus was deliberately working out a parable for the instruction of his disciples. He was dramatizing for them the character of his ministry. He was showing them by this means what he had come into the world to do, and what he would send them out to do.”
Here are some things we can learn about Christ in His washing of the Disciples feet.
He looks to that Philippians passage from last week and says, “First, John tells us that Jesus rose from supper. This had already been done in a far greater way when he rose from his throne of glory prior to his coming into this world.
Second, he laid aside his garments. Paul in Philippians says that when he came into the world he laid aside that glory which was his so that he could appear as a true man and not blind with his celestial glory those who looked upon him.
Next, he took a towel and girded himself. This was the garb of a servant, a role that, Paul says, he took upon himself.
Finally, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, just as in a few short hours he was to pour out his blood for the washing away of human sin by the atonement.
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. …” In the same way, Christ is even now highly exalted. Or again, as the author of Hebrews writes, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (1:3).
By this action then, Jesus showed the Disciples something about Himself, which they would only understand later, after His Resurrection and Ascension.
He then resumes His place at the table and continues with the Passover Meal. As He does so, He makes some significant comments to them in the meantime.
He takes some of the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and passes it to His Disciples to partake of.
He says to them, “This is my body. Take it and eat of it. Do this in remembrance of me.” Likewise, He later takes the cup of wine and says “Drink of this. This is by Blood. This cup (meaning what is in it) is the New Covenant in my Blood.”
In this mystical meal we have then, a Covenant with Christ…and we have a confirming pledge of that Covenant.
There is a union with Him and the Bread and Wine are the visible pledges of this Covenant…showing us the reality of the Covenant.
Great Anglican theologian Richard Hooker says it this way.
The sacraments are not merely teaching devices, “to teach the mind, by other senses, that which the world doth teach by hearing” but “means effectual whereby God, when we take the sacraments delivers into our hands that grace available unto eternal life, which grace the sacraments represent and signify.”
In other words, they are not just something to teach us a lesson.
They are truly active to us in that when we receive them into our hands by faith, God gives us at the same time, His grace, by which He makes us partakers of eternal life.
Paul tells us tonight in the last line of the Epistle lesson that, “…as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26, ESV)
This practice. This institution. This ritual…instituted, instructed and set forth by Christ Himself on the night of His arrest, is what becomes central to us tonight because of its enduring and lasting effect.
Doing this in remembrance of Him is not just a recalling of His blessed Passion and His precious death, but it is, as Hooker says,
a real and effective meal that conveys the grace of God to us and is really and truly working in us.
So to Paul. When he says that when we eat of this Bread and drink of this Cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes, what are we doing exactly?
Here in this Communion Meal, we are participating in a memorial. We are engaged in something that must remain in the Church for all ages and never cease until Christ returns.
We are calling to mind not only His death, but the benefits of His death that are applied to us.
And this must be known and acknowledged before anyone partakes of it.
This is not just a time to eat. It is a designated meal for designated people.
Outside of Christ, Paul says, there is actually a danger of eating and drinking it in an unworthy manner.
Augustine says, it can be eaten and drunk wrongly in such a manner that…if done wrongly, it is done even to our condemnation and damnation.
It is a meal set aside for those only who are in Christ.
To those not yet taking it. Children…unconfirmed adults…it should be seen being done by us with reverence and humility….so that they may also yearn to be partakers of such a gift of life.
But to this gift of life, which is Christ Jesus, has come betrayal and death. Tonight in our final act, we leave Christ alone.
As His Disciples could not stay awake even one hour and watch and pray, so we too see that which signifies our Lord carried to the Altar of Repose and left in the dark.
This final scene tonight reminds us of Christ’s Passion. He sweats great drops of blood. He agonizes over what is to come in mere hours.
Though He has prepared Himself for this very thing and has warned His Disciples of it time and time again, the full weight of the sins of the whole world being laid on Him.
And that comes down on Him this evening as He spends His final hours in deep prayerful preparation for His death.
Let these scenes of Christ’s Passion be in our minds tonight as we dwell on this mystery of perfect sacrifice, perfect love and perfect submission.
Let us remember that these things were done for us men and for our salvation….and that His entire Passion, signified in the Holy Eucharist is a pledge to us of the eternal life to come.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.