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 Jesus Christ. 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. For the Apostles have been following Jesus for some three years, and they have experienced the hand of God at work in Him. 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 frightful prophesies and impending doom. Perhaps if the Apostles were anything like you and me, they might have forgotten or chosen to ignore the negative in Jesus, focusing only on his powerful and loving presence. Surely what was coming would not be all that bad. It couldn’t be as grim as He implied. Perhaps this is what they thought. At any rate, surely Jesus the Son of the Most High God would be able to work some miracle or wonder in order to lessen the severity of possible unpleasantness. For this, they hoped and prayed.
But what we observe tonight cannot be disconnected or severed from the complete and total fabric which we call the life of Jesus Christ. The signs and the wonders had been performed in order to lead to a deeper reality that is about to unfold before our very eyes. The power of God is with and in Jesus. He has come to redeem human nature through rejection, suffering and death. Jesus and the Father are one. He has been tempted to reject his Father’s will and way, but He has successfully resisted this to the end. The outcome has been the revelation of God’s Grace in every aspect of His earthly life. For what we find in the life of Jesus, prior to the end, tonight, and then tomorrow is the real desire of God for His people. God has been at work in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. V. 19) Through Jesus, God has spoken the words of promise. Through Jesus, God has communicated the way to salvation. Through Jesus, God has revealed that He is never far away and distant, but rather always present and powerful. His power in Jesus has opened the eyes of the blind, unloosed the tongues of the dumb, and moved lame legs. His love has been manifested in the constant desire of God for His people. God has been at work in the life of Jesus. The today of God has never been denied by Jesus, and that reality persists in the drama of tonight.
Tonight’s celebration marks the Last Supper that Jesus will share with the Apostles. Tonight, Christ shares the Passover supper with his friends. He has broken bread and poured out wine, offered it to His friends, and said that this bread and wine will become His Body and his Blood. What it means is surely obscure and hidden from the Apostles at that time. But what is crucial to our meditation upon it is that Christ still offers the today of God to his friends. The today of God will become something of greater meaning and substance after His Resurrection and Ascension and at the Pentecost. But on this night, He continues to piece together the elements of His life as they begin to form the future of God’s today. He offers His friends a meal that is packed full of promise, as the today of God’s desire and love continues to call and summon those who believe and those who will follow. Bread is broken; wine is poured out. Tomorrow a body will be broken and blood will be poured out. The two will not be, in the end, divided, but one will become the other as God’s love in Christ moves beyond the confines of history. Tonight the body –soon to be broken on the Cross, stoops down to wash and to cleanse the dirty feet of its disciples. In the today of God’s nearness, Jesus reveals to us that He is the servant of His Father’s Love and ministers it to others as He has always done. In the today of tonight’s Gospel, Jesus waits upon his friends. In the today of tomorrow’s meaning, He will do the same in another form. 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, is but one revelation coming from the loving heart of God and shown forth in the actions and gestures of Jesus. Tonight seems warm and reassuring. Tomorrow will be ghastly and horrific. Both combine to give to us the one Today of God’s purpose and intention, behold I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5)
But there is more to the today of God’s nearness that we should see and grasp as we move through the drama of the Last Supper and Good Friday. What Jesus does is who He is, as the desire of God’s today. What Jesus does and who He is are what He intends for us to become. 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 must do this, that we might be strengthened and nourished by His presence in the inner man. The today of God desire and service approaches us, first on the outside and then within.
Tonight, Jesus comes to wash our feet, and, with Peter, we react with horrified surprise and proud resistance. Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet. (St. John xiii. 8) Our instinct is to refuse God’s desire to wait upon us and to cleanse us. This is our arrogance and pride. Our sense is that the holy one of God should never stoop down to the level of our sinfulness. God is high, we are low; the Master should never condescend to the 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) In the today of God’s nearness, again, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to wash our dirty feet, the dirty feet of our souls. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to offer us imself completely, not just to wash and cleanse us with water and blood, but to feed us also with His flesh and His blood. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God is ever present to heal and save us, to give himself to us and for us, to nourish and strengthen us with nothing less than Himself, at work in our souls. God will bring us into death and new life.
Tonight, we learn that the God of today is a loving God, one who knocks at the doors of our souls in order to make all things new. The God of today is in Jesus Christ and we need Him. If He does not wash us, if He does not die for us, if He does not rise for us, then we can have no part with [Him], and the salvation He brings. We do need Him. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today for us is seen in Jesus who washes the disciples’ feet. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today is seen in Jesus who will feed us forever in the future with broken bread and poured out wine. The outward and visible sign of God’s service tomorrow will be seen in a broken body and poured out blood. Will we allow the today of God to touch us, to wash us, to cleanse us? Will we realize that God’s stooping down in Jesus Christ is nothing short of bearing our burden, taking on our sinful predicament and condition? Will we begin to understand that God alone in Jesus Christ can endure and overcome our sinful pride, envy, wrath, murder, sloth, indifference, greed, lust, and so forth? Will our eyes be opened to the fact that our sin has willed his death?
And 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. I die and you will die. I will rise and so shall you. Come follow me. My Body will be your body. My Spirit will be your spirit. My life and my love I offer to you, always and everywhere, ever broadening, ever expanding. God’s love for you in me. Your love for God in me. Come follow me, and you shall find your true life. Come follow me, and you shall find your true love. 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. Amen.