He riseth up from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself.
Tonight you and I are invited to the Last Supper of Christ. With the Apostles we move into a realm that is fraught with the fear and trembling of Jesus’ friends, who do not understand the meaning of it all and what will come next on the tomorrow of God’s today. The Apostles have been following Jesus for some three years, and they have experienced the hand of God extended to them and others through the life of their Master. In a sense there was so much to be thankful for, so many wonders and miracles, so many beautiful teachings and sayings, so much that seemed so very positive. But there were also the ominous words of impending doom –of suffering, and death. Perhaps if the Apostles were anything like you and me they might have been too afraid to confront what was not yet known. On this night they live in darkness, darkness proceeds against Jesus, and only hints and intimations of Light brush their collective conscience.
But what we observe tonight can never be severed from the seamless robe of Jesus Christ’s life and mission. His signs and the wonders had been performed in order to lead to a deeper truth that is about to unfold before our very eyes. The power of God is with and in Jesus. It has generated all manner of goodness that will continue to overcome all evil. Its fullest manifestation will be revealed from the the Cross of tomorrow. Jesus has been tempted to reject His Father’s will and way, He has refused it resolutely and will do so to the end. God’s Grace defines every moment of His mission. God’s desire will unfold in every act of His choosing. The Father desires the Son, and the Son the Father. Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. (St. John xvii. 1) The two move as One for man’s redemption. Through Jesus, God has declared His Word of promise. Through Jesus He has expressed His work of salvation. Through Jesus God will faithfully fulfill His will. His power in Jesus has opened blind eyes to see, unloosed tied tongues to talk, and freed the lame legs to walk. His wisdom has lain in parables awaiting elicitation from the minds of earnest seekers. Jesus has never denied the today of God’s light and love, and tonight He carries it into the darkness.
So tonight we remember the Last Supper that Jesus shares with His friends before He marches on into suffering and death. Christ has eaten a Passover supper with His friends. He has broken bread and poured out wine, offered it to his friends, and promised that they would become His Body and his Blood. For now what it means remains hidden and obscure to His disciples. The Word is heard; understanding of it must wait. What Jesus did and said, He offered as a friend. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (St. John xv. 14, 15) Bread is broken and wine is outpoured. Tomorrow a Body will be broken and Blood will flow. The two acts will not be divided in the end. The one shall become the other as God’s love in Jesus Christ expands and enlarges.
Tonight the Body –soon to be broken into and pierced, stoops down to wash and to cleanse the dirty feet of His disciples. In the today of God’s nearness Christ Jesus reveals to us that a true friend elevates His soul mate, waits upon him, ensures His wellbeing. Jesus always serves His friends. He is the One who leaps down from the high Heaven of His Father’s eternal today in order to wash, purify, and cleanse those whom He loves. Tonight Jesus waits upon his friends. Tomorrow He will do the same in another way. He is the servant who comes to wash and to cleanse, today with water, and tomorrow with blood. Both will be one. We are washed through water and blood. We are purified through Baptism and Eucharist. The today and tomorrow of God with us and for us, God near to us in Jesus Christ, is but one revelation coming from the loving heart of the Father and shown forth in the compassion and kindness of His Son. Tonight is tender and tame. Tomorrow will callous and cruel.
But there is more to the today of God’s nearness that we should see and grasp before we move from the Last Supper to Good Friday. What Jesus does is who He is, as the desire of God’s today. Who Jesus is, is what He intends we should become. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet…These things I command you, that ye love one another. (St. John xiii. 14, xv. 17) He will give us bread and wine, and will wash men’s dirty feet. He will give us His Body and Blood and will wash the dirty feet of our souls. He does both, that first the body and then the soul are washed in the purifying power of His Word. Then we must do the same to all others.
On this night we share either in the Apostles’ ignorance, confusion, and wonder, or in one man’s betrayal. Jesus does what he does and we have no part of him if He does it not. Jesus comes to wash our feet, and, with Peter, we might react with horrified astonishment that yields to proud resistance. Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet. (St. John xiii. 8) Our instinct is to refuse to see what God must so that we might be saved. We prefer a distant and unapproachable God; such a God is easier to endure. We prefer a God who does not muddy His garments with the filth and corruption of earthly existence. Our sense is that the Holy Word of God should never stoop down to the level of our sinfulness. God is high, we are low; the Master should never condescend to become a slave. Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. (St. Luke v. 8) Jesus answers, If I do not wash thee, thou hast no part with me. (Ibid)
If we do not allow Him to wash us, we are certainly not going to let Him die for us. This is how St. Peter is thinking, and will pay the price for both tomorrow. But we do need Jesus to do these things for us. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today will move into Christ’s dying heart tomorrow. The question is whether we will open ourselves up to this washing and cleansing, which we, as fallen men, so desperately need. Will we realize that God’s stooping down in Jesus Christ is nothing short of bearing our burden, taking on our condition, and working within it to make us well and right with God? Will we begin to understand that God in Jesus Christ alone can endure and withstand our sinful pride, envy, wrath, murder, sloth, indifference, greed, and lust and change forever their power and meaning in our lives? Will our eyes be opened to the fact that our sin has willed His death? For sin is nothing other than the will to silence and kill God in time and space, to deny His presence, to resist His power, to banish His love, and to ignore His wisdom. Sin, in other words, refuses to accept the truth. The truth is that we need Jesus. Pretending that we or our loved ones don’t, gives way to the lie that we are already perfect or at least good enough. With Judas, we shall sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and betray Him. He is not what we expected Him to be, which is as much as saying that He does not wait upon us to fulfill our desires and promote our earthly happiness. For Judas, Jesus is not invited to wash and cleanse but only to fulfill human expectations. For the others, Jesus as suffering servant is the Lord and Ruler of the universe whose service to man alone brings about salvation.
Will we start to realize that God in Christ must die to our sin, die at the hands of our sin, die for our sin, and that then, and only then, can He begin to shape and mold us into the new human beings that He has always meant for us to become? Will we begin to see that His death is offered at our service because He wants to love us into that life that leads back to the Father’s everlasting embrace? Will we start to realize with Jean Mouroux that, out of a means of destruction He made the very means of life; of a punishment the means of healing; of an annihilation the means to a resurrection? (The Meaning of Man, p. 88) Will we see at last that Christ chose His destiny as suffering and dying servant for you and for me, and that at the source of this choice, there lay a measureless love, a love that never hesitated, never drew back, never murmured; a love on the contrary that accepted, desired, and bore with everything? (Ibid, 89)
Tonight I pray that we begin to realize that it is God in Jesus who hungers and thirsts, longs and desires for our salvation. Over and against those who refuse Him is the Lord who loves, who stoops down, who tends to and cares for, who forgives and hopes for every man’s deliverance and salvation. As we shall see, this same Lord, in His own body hanging upon a tree, will say this: I love you and forgive you. Come follow me. Let me die for you, and you too shall die. Let me rise for you, and you too shall rise. My Body will be your body. My Spirit will be your spirit. My flesh and blood will forever expand and enlarge to desire and delight you have never imagined. I am God’s light and love for you; come and live in me. Come follow me, and you shall find your true home and destiny, prepared for you by my Father from before the dawn of the ages. Come follow me, and through you, others will follow too, as they discover how ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ (Rev. xxi. 5) Amen.