Thursday, April 09, 2009
Serving and loving
In the liturgical calendar, today is known as Maundy Thursday. I am not a huge fan of those liturgical calendars, but there is a lot going on in the Bible on the day before Christ was crucified (I know these are arbitrary dates, go with it). First a little trivia. I wondered what in the world “Maundy” meant, so I looked it up on wikipedia:
The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.
So that explains that mystery.
I think that when we look at the day before Jesus went to the cross, we need to examine one major question: How did Jesus spend His last day with His disciples before the cross? Lets look at some of the major events of the day before the crucifixion…
The Last Supper
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” (Matt 26: 26-29)
When we observe the Lord’s Supper today, it tends to be a formalized, ritualistic event. From those simple words spoken by our Lord and reiterated in 1 Corinthians 11 a whole system of ritual has been created. In many Protestant churches it has been turned into a choreographed event, something separate from the “worship” service. In Roman churches it is that and much more. The notion of transubstantiation makes the ritual into something far beyond what we read in the Gospels. When Jesus says ““Take, eat; this is my body.””, clearly He doesn’t intend those words to mean that the bread was His actual body. His body was present and reclining at the table. Nor is the wine literally His blood. In both cases the Supper has become a formalized, rote ritual.
That is not how it was instituted, and I don’t believe that it was intended to be that way. The Supper was an intimate, personal affair. Christ with his disciples, breaking bread and eating with one another. Christ ministering to His disciples by washing their feet. The simplicity of it stands in jarring contrast to the pageantry of modern church life.
The Washing of the Apostles feet
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He 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. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13: 3-17)
This raises an interesting question. Why is this not done now? I always hesitate to discount commandments like this. Do we fulfill this command by serving one another? Is this merely an example of service or is it something we ought to do today? I am quite certain that we are not fulfilling the spirit of this commandment by an annual ritualistic foot washing. Granted, we don’t wear sandals today so is the command even applicable? How does this question mesh with headcovering? If we don’t wash feet, how do the leaders of the church serve the church in such a self-denying, humble way? Again, I don’t see that we are being faithful to this by making it into an “ordinance” where we ritualistically wash people’s feet in a ceremony so that we can tick off another box on our checklist.
It troubles me because I feel like I am missing something and I need to ponder and study it a LOT more.
The New Commandment
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13: 31-35)
It is interesting the timing here. Jesus waits until the betrayer Judas leaves to say this to the other eleven disciples. Of all the teachings that He gave the disciples in the presence of the one He knew would betray Him, this one He holds off on until Judas leaves. I just found that interesting.
I find this passage fascinating. What is the mark of the Christian? How does someone know that a person is a Christian? Well by their fruit, but what does that mean? It strikes me that the mark of a Christian, how someone knows that a person is a follower of Christ, is that we love one another. Not that we can recite the Heidelberg Catechism from memory, or that we are “members” of a good church or that we follow this rule or that. It is that we love one another. That is not to negate the need for solid doctrine, for the great truths of the Gospel. Jesus told the woman at the well that God is seeking worshippers who worship Him in spirit and truth. We read in the Gospel of John that Jesus in His High Priestly prayer prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Jesus also said that abiding in the truth is a mark of a disciple: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) So truth is important. We cannot love one another without the truth, and we cannot truly have the truth if we do not love one another. But I think that what Jesus is conveying here is that when unbelievers look at us, they will not be impressed with the breadth of our doctrinal knowledge but what will stand out for them is our love for one another.
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22: 39-46)
In the period of time covering the Thursday and Friday before the substitutionary death of Christ, we see Jesus at His most human and His most divine all in one. One the one hand, we see Christ in the garden asking for the cup to be taken away and we see an angel strengthening Him (which I hadn’t noticed before). We see Christ crying out to the Father: “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” But we also see Christ in His greatest glory, more so than in the miracles, carrying a cross through the streets and the Creator of the Universe deigning to allow sinners to drive nails in His hands and feet to purchase with His blood the redemption of His sheep. Jesus, who created all things, allowed His creatures to kill Him.
What was in that cup? Victory? Glory? I don’t think so, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t be asking for the cup to be taken from Him. The cup Jesus was to drink was the cup of the Father’s wrath, His righteous punishment of sins, imminently to be poured out on Christ on the cross. In that hour in the Garden, Christ knew that as onerous as that cup would be, there was no other way. It was love that caused Him to allow the events in motion to take place.
At the end of this day we see two betrayals. Judas betrays the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Peter denies the Lord three times out of self-preservation. What a perfect way to end the day, with the Son of Man betrayed into the hands of sinners and denied by Simon Peter. As He was being betrayed and tried, we see His disciples fleeing, denying Him, sleeping through His ordeal, cutting a guys ear off, betraying Him for money. Not their finest hour. In their time of greatest failure, Christ shows Himself to be God in His fullest manifestation, the Creator dying for His creatures, redeeming the unredeemable and meeting the demands of the very Laws He revealed.
So what then do we see on this Thursday, just hours away from the cross? We see the Christ with His disciples, serving and loving them and calling on them (and on us) to serve and love one another as well. Not to create institutions and programs and rituals and organizations. To love one another and serve one another, abiding in His truth, proclaiming His Gospel, calling sinners to repentance. How have we lost the simplicity of these truths!?