“Washed and Clean, We Have Life Together with Christ” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Holy Thursday
April 9, 2020

“Washed and Clean, We Have Life Together with Christ” (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)

Right now, everybody is concerned about washing their hands, washing their face, and keeping clean. Yesterday I went to the grocery store, and at the entrance they had some Purell wipes. So I wiped my hands and the grocery cart handle, and afterwards, when I had loaded the groceries in my car, I wiped my hands again. Then when I got home, I made sure to wash my hands and my face and so on. Earlier today I saw this comment on the internet: “I just Clorox-wiped a bottle of Purell and Purelled my hands cuz I touched the Clorox canister.” Everybody, it seems, wants to have their hands washed, their face washed—all their body parts washed–so they can be clean.

Everybody, that is, except Peter. Yeah, Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. He objected to having his feet washed. Jesus wanted to wash his feet, but Peter objected. “Lord, do you wash my feet?” he asked Jesus. You see, Peter thought it was beneath Jesus’ dignity to stoop down and do such a menial task, a task normally reserved for a servant. But Jesus was his master, so Peter objected.

Remember, this is the same Peter who had earlier objected when Jesus said that they were going up to Jerusalem where he, Jesus, would be rejected and handed over and put to death. “No, no, Master, nothing like that should happen to you! You are the Messiah, after all, and a proper Messiah should not have to go through suffering and die!” But Jesus had to rebuke Peter and say, “Get behind me, Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”

And now here, on this Thursday evening, it’s the same kind of story. Peter doesn’t want to see Jesus humiliated in such a way. And you can understand Peter’s point. After all, Jesus deserves all kinds of glory. Think of all the wonderful works he has done: healing the sick, casting out demons, relieving the afflicted, even raising the dead. Jesus had healed Peter’s own mother-in-law. Jesus had given Peter a miraculous catch of fish. Peter had seen Jesus transfigured in glory. And yet, now this? Jesus humbling himself, literally lowering himself, to wash and wipe Peter’s feet? Peter knew he didn’t deserve this kind of attention. And he knew that Jesus, by rights, ought not to have to do this.

So Peter makes his objection even more emphatic. “You shall never wash my feet,” he says. But Jesus answers him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” See, that’s the way it is with you and Jesus. You need to be served by him. If you do not receive the humble service that only Jesus can give, you will have no share with him. If you don’t let Jesus wash you and make you clean, you will be shut out of the kingdom of heaven, you will have no share in it.

Why? Because we are sinners and cannot clean ourselves. “Clean up your act!” Well, OK, I suppose if we try real hard, we may be able to clean up certain aspects of our behavior. We can stop smoking. We can stop overeating and start exercising. We can get sober and go through rehab. We can do that sort of cleaning up by dint of willpower and trying real hard. But we will never get down to the underlying layer of our sin-stained soul. We cannot clean that up of our own doing. Oh, we can look clean on the outside, but on the inside we’re still a tomb full of dead men’s bones. You know it. You can sense this in yourself. You may be a respectable citizen, but you know your inner sinful thoughts. You know the hurtful words you say to others. You know you don’t love God with your whole heart. And you often put yourself ahead of your neighbor. That is sin. You are not clean. You need somebody else to wash you and make you clean.

And that somebody is Jesus. Only he can wash you and make you clean, really clean, deep-down clean. And the reason he can do that thorough cleansing job is because he is the Savior sent from heaven to do just that, and to do it precisely as a servant. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “He took the form of a servant . . . and humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” This night, Holy Thursday, is when the wheels get put into motion. The hour has come. In a little while the Savior will be betrayed into the hands of wicked men, and they will deliver him over to be crucified. This is the ultimate servanthood, the master laying down his life for his disciples. Jesus “loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

And so the foot-washing. The point being, you need Jesus to serve you in order to save you. Peter is starting to catch on. He’s beginning to get it. So he says, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Yes, Peter, you need your whole self washed and cleansed by Jesus in order to be clean. You need the deluxe wash, and only Jesus can provide that. And it’s free. You get the big upgrade wash, and the whole thing is free. It’s on Jesus. He paid the price for you.

You dear Christian, you have been washed, you have been made clean, with his special deluxe wash. The water and the Word were applied to you in Holy Baptism. In that baptismal bath, you were cleansed, all of your sins were washed away. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” So now you are clean, completely clean.

Jesus shows his love for his disciples by serving them, by serving us. And he shows us that this is the way it is to be among us also, this way of love by serving. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” And again: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: 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.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are Jesus’ disciples. We are his family, the church. We are called to love one another by serving. Maybe not by literally washing feet, but in other practical ways, yes. Right now, that may mean checking in on the lonely or the elderly with a phone call rather than a visit. It may mean a Zoom party instead of the big Easter dinner. It may mean keeping your eye out for someone who has just gotten laid off and lost their job, and helping them out. But the point is, love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. Love is put into action, from thought to word and deed. Love, by its nature, happens in community. Love happens in our life together.

Right now, unfortunately, we are kept from being in that face-to-face community of the church. Tonight we are unable to break bread together on our knees, in Holy Communion. The body of Christ, the church, cannot meet together right now to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Supper. Tonight we are the church scattered. And as a pastor, that grieves me. I miss being with my brothers and sisters in the church. I’m sure you feel the same way. “By the waters of Babylon we weep when we remember the songs of Zion.” May God hasten the day when this isolation is over and we can get back together.

But still, tonight, though scattered, we are the church. And Jesus has promised to be with us all the days to the close of the age. And that includes these days when the church is in exile. But God will restore our fortunes and bring us back to Zion. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Again, love happens in our life together. And when we are cut off from our life together, we are grieved. A man who was horribly cut off from his life together with the church was a 20th-century German Lutheran pastor and theologian by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer had resisted the savage reign of Hitler and the Nazis. And for that, he was thrown into prison and cut off from his church–although, even in prison, Pastor Bonhoeffer ministered to his fellow prisoners. And in the dying days of the Third Reich–literally, in the dying days–on April 9, 1945, 75 years ago today, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged.

Bonhoeffer was cut off from his life together in the church, which he had so treasured. Ironically, he had written a book with that title, “Life Together.” In that book, he writes about life together in the community of the church and how we often take that great blessing for granted. After recalling God’s promise to his scattered people, “I will gather them, for I have redeemed them, and they will return,” then Bonhoeffer writes: “When will that happen? It has happened in Jesus Christ, who died ‘that he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad’ (John 11), and it will finally occur visibly at the end of time when the angels of God ‘shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’ (Matt. 24:31). Until then, God’s people remain scattered, held together solely in Jesus Christ. . . . So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians. It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and Sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing.”

Friends, that is where we are tonight. Scattered. Apart. For a little while, we are not able to gather together. I hope and pray that one thing good that will come out of all of this is that it will make us all the more eager to come together as church, to treasure our time together when we can get back. What a joy and blessing it is to be together in God’s house, to gather as family and to receive in person the gifts of Word and Sacrament, to share in the life that our Savior Jesus gives us!

The writer to the Hebrews says: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Well, tonight we’re not neglecting to meet together; we’re unable to do so. But the day is drawing near when we will be able to get back together. And when that happens, let us run to church and thank God with renewed gratitude for that great blessing! And let us look forward to the day–the Day–when Christ will return and gather his whole church, from all times and all places, into one, when we will celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which will have no end.

Brothers and sisters, tonight we are together apart. We may be apart, but we are together in Christ. Fellow baptized, Jesus has served you, Jesus has washed you, and you are clean. Jesus has loved us, and will love us, to the end. Out of his great love, we have life together with him, forever, without end.

Published in: on April 9, 2020 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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