A sermon preached on John 13:1-20
Easter is just around the corner and we all know the importance of that day; but it is not Easter yet. It is Maundy Thursday. We are with our Lord, gathered for the Last Supper we will have with him prior to his arrest and crucifixion. We would do well to remember that those closest disciples, so glad to be with him that night, were absent from the next day. The question we must face is: How different are we from them.
I don’t know about you, but I always find it comforting and encouraging to gather around the Lord’s Table. In fact, one of my favorite images of heaven includes being at the banquet table with Jesus and all the saints.
I suppose my pleasure of being at the Table and my image of heaven comes in part from memories of all the joyful gatherings with friends and family around a variety of tables. In particular, I recall those Thanksgiving gatherings at my grandparents’ home with uncles and aunts and cousins present. Then there were those most pleasant times when it was just me and my grandparents. In addition, Donna and I have fond memories of sharing at table with our friends. Such good times those were, and are!
What could be grander than being at the Table with Jesus! He is our All in All, our Lord and Savior, and our Ever-Present Comforter. How grand it is . . . except when it isn’t.
On that night long ago, those gathered with Jesus were anxious. They all had a sense that things were going wrong. Earlier, they had tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem. They had seen enough to know what he knew—that there were those who wanted him gone and were willing to go to extreme lengths to make it happen.
Perhaps there was some sense of peace and safety in the room in which they had gathered. Surely there was safety behind the closed doors. Perhaps things were not as bad as they seemed. After all, Jesus’ entry into the city had been greeted with shouts of “Hosanna.” Crowds had welcomed him. Perhaps their anxiety was misplaced.
If the response of the crowd could be believed, maybe it was only a matter of time before all would see who Jesus was—the One who came “in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” The first sign of trouble came from Jesus himself.
They had finished their meal. Jesus arose from the table, took a towel, filled a basin with water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet. There was nothing unusual about guests having their tired, dirty feet washed; but the host didn’t do it. The host saw that it was done. Certainly, Jesus, the soon-to-be-seen King of Israel, should not being doing it.
Peter voiced what all of them must have thought. “You shall never wash my feet.” Do you recall Jesus’ response? “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter said what perhaps we feel, Ah, Lord wash all of me. Jesus must have smiled as he replied to Peter and to us, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you’re clean.”
Peter, perhaps as do we, missed what Jesus meant. In that one statement, Jesus declared his mission—the mission of once and for all washing away the power and the penalty of sin. You are clean, Jesus was saying. You are with me. You just need a little freshening up.
There was one present who was not clean, who had apparently never been clean though he had traveled with Jesus and the others. He had been in Jesus’ presence but was not in relationship with Jesus, was not of Jesus. Were the story to end here, it would be a nicer, cleaner story. But it doesn’t end here.
Jesus has more to say. What the disciples see him doing—serving them—they are to do for one another. In Jesus’ fold, there are no super disciples, only servant disciples. At his Table we are served by him, but from his Table, we are to serve others. It’s always been hard for us to grasp this ministry of service.
Then there was the most damning statement of all. “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” This is bad enough—that one of the twelve is a traitor. Yet, if the story could end here, it would be a nicer, cleaner story.
On that night, what was to happen had not yet happened. Those gathered there that night could not know what would follow and that they all would exit the stage, leaving Jesus to face the passion of the cross alone. They couldn’t have known, but we do.
Knowing what we know, we dare not come to the Table too full of Jesus’ words “. . . you are clean.” Those who had left everything to follow him left him that night. Are we all that different from them? When following Jesus becomes difficult, dangerous, controversial, and threatening, will we stay the course?
Come and eat. This is the Body of the Lord. Come and drink. This is the blood of the Lord. Body broken and blood poured out results in sin’s power and penalty being removed.
We come to the table; but before we do, let us take stock of our relationship with Jesus. Let us confess our sins, and let us invite Jesus to wash our feet, to freshen us up.
We dare not do otherwise. On that night long ago there was an enemy at the table. There was, in fact, more than one. There may still be more than one.
Well . . .