Love one another. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus loved his own who were in the world, and loved them to the end.
What does this mean? Jesus fulfilled the law. He showed us what perfect love is. Not only in washing of the feet of the disciples, but in his sacrifice on the cross. The washing only points to what is to come. Jesus took the form of a servant. He cleansed them. He washed their feet: the task of a servant. The forgiveness, the righteousness before God, the true cleansing will be earned on the cross.
Was Judas as offended at this as he was at the anointing of Jesus feet? Of course, there it was because of the money he thought he could steal. Perhaps he no longer cared. Jesus washes his feet as well. Jesus died for all the sins. Judas rejected that forgiveness by his unbelief.
Peter is at first unwilling to let Jesus wash him. But when he finds out that it is necessary, he goes overboard. Not only my feet, but also my hands and head as well. You have been cleansed, says Jesus. Except for the one who will not allow himself to be. Not Peter, but Judas.
Jesus cleanses, feeds, and teaches. He has only a short time left, and so whatever happens here in the upper room is meant to make an impression. It is time for the last valuable words and actions.
Jesus as servant.
Jesus gives his last will and testament.
Jesus shows us what love is, and prays that we would love each other.
There’s the Gospel, reduced to its essence. Forgiveness of sins. Jesus serving, Jesus doing the cleansing, the forgiving. And if you won’t let Jesus do it, it will not be done for you, and you have no part in him. The forgiving has to come from Jesus. Without it, there is no hope. There is no other step you can take. He is the Savior, so He must save. As part of his final instructions, Jesus says the famous line, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” This is usually taken to mean that we can show great love if we sacrifice for others. True. It is often used of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. Words well applied. But Jesus means much more than that. It’s not just a direction saying, “Go do this and you can be like me. Look at how far you can go if you try” When Peter tries he says, “Lord I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus breaks the bad news: “No, instead you will deny me three times.” That’s the final result of our attempts to be like Jesus. Denial and disappointment. We try so hard, we fail so miserably.
When Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than that a man lay down his life for a friend” he follows it with, “I have called you friends.”
When we are told, he loved them to the end, it does not mean “Look how much he loved them, he even washed their feet.” It means, “Look and in this see how he came to serve.” The servant sacrifices his own desires, his own ambitions, his own thoughts and needs, for the one he serves. The true servant recognizes that he serves one more important than himself. That’s why Secret Service agents are willing to take a bullet for the President. Because there life is not as important at his. Jesus is not the master, he is the servant. He came to serve, because he knows that there is a life more important than his own. Yours. When he takes that towel, and washes the first grimy foot, he is saying, I am giving my life for yours, because I am expendable, you are not. My father insists that you be saved. That’s the love he has for you.” And when he says, “I have called you friends” He means, I will soon be laying down my life for you.
That’s the love Jesus has. That’s the love of His Father, shown through him to you.
The world thinks of love as a gooey emotion. Love and commitment today, tomorrow, feelings fade, and we uncouple ourselves. That’s not love. That’s self gratification. Jesus, as he washes feet, as he shows himself to be servant of all, as he goes to his death for you, shows what true love is.
There is, of course, more that happened on this Holy Thursday than Jesus washing feet and teaching. He also fed them. But he fed them with food that does not spoil, but remains to eternal life. This was his last will and testament. These are his final directives. “Take, Eat, this is my body, given for you. Drink of it all you, this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These are his final instructions to the disciples before he goes to the cross. A few more minutes. Just enough time for the most important things to be said. Service, forgiveness, love. Body and blood, given for you.
And that’s why we pray that the sacrament would help us increase in “Faith toward God and fervent love toward one another.” By virtue of the love of Jesus, we now know what it means to love others. Because of his sacrifice, his death, we now have the forgiveness of sins. And so we can show love, forgiveness, to those around us. Not because it earns us anything, but because Jesus has made it possible for us to do it. We become foot washers, not for some churchly rite. But by humble service to those around us. When we, by faith, live in the forgiveness of Jesus, forgiving others, showing them the mercy of Christ by our own small acts of mercy we show the love to others that Christ has shown to us.
Our lives are now lives of forgiveness. Lives of love. Received from, and given in Jesus Christ.
That’s what he means when he washes the feet of the disciples, when he speaks to them of love. He is not giving a new law. “Oh, you had the law of Moses with its many intricate regulations, but now just go and love.” That is not what he means. He is speaking of the sacrifice he makes for you.
Love is not a feeling. Love is Jesus Christ, going to his death so that you would have forgiveness. Jesus, serving you on that cross, by his death. Jesus serving you in the Supper with his body and blood. So that you would be saved.
Tonight we begin the most holy days of the year. We’ve been journeying for nearly forty days with Jesus. Tonight is the beginning of the end. Tomorrow, it is finished. Tonight, Jesus shows us what love is. So that when we see him tomorrow, bruised and bleeding, we understand: This is not Jesus, in over his head. This is Jesus showing us that “no greater than” kind of love. Saving you. Giving you the gift of the supper, so that you would remember and proclaim, and hold fast to the promise of the body broken and the blood shed, and the love shown, and the forgiveness, life and salvation, given to you.