Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2015
GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE are YOURS this day from GOD our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
The text for us to consider comes from our Gospel lesson where Jesus says, “ just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.
As the refrain to the old song goes, “All you need is love.” And it is true, All you need is love – so long as such love comes from a pure heart and is carried out through righteous and holy hands.
Our Lord, Jesus had such a heart and such hands. And so, as He stoops down to wash the feet of the disciples in the upper room, it was an act of pure and true love. He needed nothing from them and He desired to give them everything. Even as He serves them this night, He does so knowing that the Father had already given everything into His hands. And yet, the Lord of the universe and the teacher of the Apostles, stoops down to wash their feet giving them an example to follow. They are to love one another in this same way.
On this same night, we read in the other Gospels, how Jesus does not merely give the Apostles an example to follow, but He gives them His very self. “Take, eat, This is my body, given for you.” “Take, drink, This is my blood, shed for you.” “DO THIS!”
On this holy eve, we remember these commands – We recall His instruction that as His followers, we are to love one another, as He has loved us. And we are reminded of His command to “Do This in remembrance of Him.” And as we contemplate these, we see that Jesus’ example is shows what our life as Christians should look like. And we have revealed to us where it is that we receive the strength to live the new life that we have been given in Christ.
This is accomplished in two ways. FIRST, Christ’s command instills in the Christian a desire to love as Christ loves. SECOND, in the gift of His body and blood in the Holy Supper, Jesus gives us the means by which to receive the strength and ability to begin to fulfill Christ’s command.
It’s important to see, this evening, that Jesus’ command to love is not something new. The command to love one another goes back all the way to the beginning. Jesus, Himself, summarizes the Law of Moses saying that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like unto it, Love your neighbor as yourself. [Lev. 19:18, Mk 12:31]
But sin has corrupted our knowledge of this love. The worldly view of love teaches, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [MT 5]
But even for Christians, this is hard. That is what makes this command so necessary! We need no command for those things we do naturally and come easily. But Jesus gives us Christians this command so that, as His followers, we would have a desire to fulfill it. We would desire to actually accomplish it because our Lord has commanded it.
Through this command to love, He teaches how we are to live as those have been given new birth by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Because the Christian has been born from above by water and the Spirit – He is a true child of God – and as a child desires to please his Father, we desire to please God by living in obedience to Christ and His commands.
So here, Jesus teaches us Christians not seek to use the worldly possessions for ourselves and our own pleasure. He teaches us not seek to build a permanent dwelling here on earth. Rather, Jesus teaches us to be like Him – to stoop down and wash one another’s feet.
Like Christ, who before He stooped down to wash the disciples’ feet, the Christian already possesses an eternal inheritance – in a new kingdom – which far exceeds the things of this world. As Christians, ALL THINGS ARE OURS, through Christ and we are free to live in loving service – forgiving all who wrong us and serving all whom Christ has put in our path.
And the Christian inwardly desires to do this, because through rebirth by water and the word, the Christian has a heart made new by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. And so, the Christian seeks to pour himself out in loving service to his neighbor out of a pure heart of love set aglow by God’s love for him.
But unlike Jesus’ righteous and pure hands, our hands remain tainted by sin. Our new, clean and pure heart can only work through corrupted hands, manipulated emotions, and a savagely debased mind. This is why the Apostle Paul cries out, “Who will save me from this body of death!”
We deeply seek and desire to do better, to love better, to serve better according to the example of our Lord and Teacher, but we see the results of our attempts and know they do not measure up to Christ’s perfect example.
As Jesus says to His disciples later that evening, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Yet we remain both spirit and flesh. And despite the purity of a heart recreated by Christ and a spirit renewed and restored in baptism, the wickedness of our flesh and our inability to carry out Christ’s command is still sin. It is sin that would damn us if not for the ever-abundant mercy and forgiveness offered by Jesus through His death for sinners on the cross.
Our good intentions to love and serve our neighbor matter nothing if they are not backed up with the deeds of our body that actually do the good works that carry out our intentions. But – the hurtful words that come out of our mouths, the selfish deeds done by our hands, the pain and suffering we cause to our friends, our family, and our neighbors is just mounting evidence that the mere command of Jesus and the purity of our heart and intentions are not enough to urge and impel us to fulfill them.
That is why we find ourselves week after week standing before Him confessing ourselves to be, “poor, miserable sinners,” and receiving from Him the forgiveness He offers as we hear our Lord speak the life-giving words, “I forgive you.”
But our Lord Jesus does far more than forgive our sin, pat us on the head, and tell us to go our way and sin no more. Through His gift of the Holy Supper, which He instituted on this Holy night, He provides the means by which He is at work in us so that we may love as He has loved.
On this night when He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body.” In the same way also, He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant.”
With these words, our Lord Jesus gives us himself. Not merely the forgiveness He won on the cross, but He gives us His very body and blood into our mouths and in this way He fills us with Himself. In this way, Christ brings to pass within us what is spoken by St. John the Baptist when he says, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
About our own flesh and blood, the scriptures clearly teach, “if you live according to the flesh you will die.” But In this Holy Meal, He fills us with Himself and by His Spirit, He wages war against the sin in our members and puts to death the deeds of the flesh so that we more and more begin and continue to live as He intends.
It is by means of His body and his blood that He makes true within us what is spoken by the Apostle Paul, “It is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me,” and “the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.”
Here, through His body and His blood, as we do this in remembrance of Him, our Lord not only provides comfort and consolation through the forgiveness of our sins, but He provides the needed medicine to battle against the cancerous effects of sin in our own flesh.
Therefore, see and know what a precious and holy gift our Lord gives this night. For here on the night of His betrayal, our Lord gives us the means and strength to be His people and show forth HIS Love which He has graciously poured into our hearts and delivered into our lips. In the meal which He established on this night, He gives to us the very holiness and righteousness of His own flesh and blood so that we may become what He is and He causes and leads us to live as His disciples in true love toward one another, just as He promised when He said, “ as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the precious Name of Jesus. AMEN.