17 April 2014
Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The Christian faith has always been misunderstood.
Even on the night before He was betrayed, even the day before His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus Christ is clearing up misunderstandings about Christianity – not with the Pharisees and the chief priests and the scribes, not with the Romans and the Pagans, not even with his rank and file followers – but with the very ones who will be sent out to preach as ordained ministers of the Word within a few weeks.
The soon-to-be apostles still do not understand the essence of what their Master is teaching them.
For all religions – Christianity included – make a common observation that the world is messed up. There is injustice, pain, ugliness, and death. All religions teach that such things are off-script, unintended consequences of something gone haywire in creation. And so the natural inclination of man is to fix the problem using brainpower, reason, and maybe a little duct tape.
We think we can fix the world’s brokenness by following a few simple rules. And even Christians sometimes fall into the trap of believing that Christianity teaches that we can restore this paradise (usually described incompletely as “going to heaven when we die”) by simply obeying the Ten Commandments. We apply worldly reason to the problem of the corruption of sin, and this is what all of the religions of the world come up with: “Follow the rules.”
Except for the religion of Jesus Christ. Except for the only religion that is actually true.
For if we could fix the problem using reason and rules, we would not need a Savior. And so the Savior saves us by correcting us. Our corruption is so great that we cannot save ourselves by willpower, by resolving to follow rules. We need to be cleansed. We need a bath. And it is a kind of bath that doesn’t merely remove dirt from the surface of the body. We need washed from embedded sin and corruption in a way that transcends nature and reason and human limitation.
And in order to teach this radical truth called “Christianity”, Jesus “laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”
Our Lord is not interpreting the Ten Commandments with clever loopholes to make them accessible as the Pharisees did. Our Lord is not interpreting the scriptures as mythology the way the Sadducees did. He doesn’t say that everything is meaningless the way some of the Greek philosophers did. He doesn’t teach that the body is bad and the spirit is good the way the Greeks and Romans did and the way Eastern religions continue to do. He doesn’t condemn the drinking of alcohol and dancing and other joyful acts that can and are done innocently and responsibly, the way some Christian groups do. Instead, He gives a lesson on the need to be cleansed from our sins, and He points us to Holy Baptism – which in a few weeks after His resurrection, He will send the eleven out to do as the means of making disciples. He is about to give them the Lord’s Supper, which He will ordain the eleven to celebrate and consecrate. And He teaches us about the very thing that overcomes our sinful nature, and that is love.
Peter’s rational and worldly side initially rejects this new religion in which the Savior serves and the saved are served. But Jesus converts Peter to the true faith by means of His Word, saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Peter’s conversion is complete, as He confesses: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.”
Cleanliness, indeed, is next to godliness, but Jesus is pointing to a genuine and complete cleansing, not merely of grease and dirt and paint and sweat under the fingernails, but rather of the total corruption of sin that soils us in body and spirit. That cannot be removed by water alone, but rather by water administered by Jesus according to His Word and promise.
Our Lord commands the eleven to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” “For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.” He does not command them to love and to follow His example because it will save them, as the false religions teach. But rather for the advance of the kingdom: “By this,” He says, “all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Dear friends, this is not an eleventh commandment, it is the essence of all the commandments – which we fail so miserably at keeping. But it is also the essence of Jesus as Savior, as the incarnate love of God, as the mercy of the Father in the flesh, as the head, heart, and hands through which the Holy Spirit calls us and cleanses us. The love of Jesus is manifested in the washing of Holy Baptism, in which the promise of salvation is given. Our Lord asks all of us, “Do you understand what I have done to you?”
He has cleansed us, forgiven us, redeemed us, saved us, restored us, and given us the free gift of eternal life – by means of the promise of God, the covenant, the New Testament in His body and blood.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for His friends. And even when we were yet His enemies, Christ loved us by shedding His blood for us, by cleansing us through water and the Word, and by offering, that is sacrificing, Himself for us men and for our salvation in sharing with us the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves of His body and of the miracle of changing mere wine into a wine that is also His blood: blood that cleanses the spirit by being taken bodily, blood that cleanses the body for everlasting life by renewing the spirit.
For this cleansing is our Passover. The Lord shares it with the church of every time and place, and calls men to administer these Holy Sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. The Lord calls all men and women to partake of this cleansing, to become disciples, to be baptized and eat and drink of this sacrifice, and to participate in the one thing that bears the promise to fix us and recreate the world. And what fixes us, dear friends, is not reason, know-how, will power, or duct tape. It is the love of God made manifest in the flesh, offered at the cross, shared by means of the Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and all of the promises given thereunder.
The only solution is love. What fixes us is love. What recreates the world is love. And that, dear brothers and sisters, is the Christian faith. It is Christ’s love. Amen.
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