Exodus chapter 12 describes, well, the exodus, the mass departure of the Israelites from Egypt. On the night they were to leave God instructed them to roast a lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to eat in haste with their loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”
And so it is that the Passover is celebrated faithfully, year after year.
In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John we learn that the Last Supper took place before the festival of the Passover. It was Passover Eve. Not Christmas dinner, but Christmas Eve dinner. The rehearsal dinner, not the actual wedding banquet. The Last Supper was not the actual Passover Seder, it was the night before.
John’s gospel tells us a few more things about that evening:
- Jesus was aware that He would soon be returning to His Father.
- He was aware that each and every one of His dinner companions had been given into His hands. That’s what the phrase, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” means. “All things” is better translated as “each and every one.” Each and every one of them was gifted to Him, even Judas.
- He loved His charges with an agape love. One aspect of agape is “to be full of good-will toward.”
And so it was with love and good will that Jesus sat down to His last human supper.
In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.
A Chinese boy set out to learn all about it. He went to study with a talented old teacher. The old gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home. This procedure was repeated for weeks. Finally the boy became frustrated – when would he be told about the heavenly properties of jade?! – but he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher. So he held the stone and listened. Again and again. Then one day, when the old man began their lesson by pressing a stone in the boy’s hand, the boy cried out instantly, “Hey wait! That’s not jade!”
“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (italics added)
It seems out of place, that third sentence, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him,” since John doesn’t speak again of Judas until later in the chapter, but it isn’t out of place, it’s the reason Jesus got up from the table.
He knew He was about to be betrayed, He knew human nature full well. Perhaps at that moment He remembered back to the disciples’ argument about which of them was the greatest, perhaps He remembered all the way back to when Adam and Eve disobeyed so they could be like God, perhaps He remembered even further back to when Satan wanted to be greater than God. He may have also looked ahead to all the ways evil men would infiltrate the church and exploit Him for selfish gain.
It was His awareness of our propensity to competition, our desire to be “better than” that got Him up from that table. It’s what caused Him to take off his outer robe, tie a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin and press a precious stone into His disciples’ hands one more time.
So they would remember what He feels like.
You know the foot washing story and you know Peter. When Jesus got to his ten piggies, Peter said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
In other words, “You’re too good to wash my feet!”
Jesus answered, “You don’t get it yet, but you will.”
Peter insisted, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
And so Peter, being Peter, said, “In that case, wash all of me!”
So Jesus laid it out for him. Again.
“One who has bathed does not need to wash.”
Wash and bathe in this passage are separate greek words.
“Wash” is nipto – to cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face); ceremonially.
It was customary back then – as it is now – to wash their hands before a meal.
“Bathe” is “louo,” it is a word used in the context of washing a dead person or cleaning blood from a wound.
Peter was already bathed as a dead person when he was baptized, when he was crucified with Christ and raised to new life. He never needed to be bathed in that way again. Just as a person doesn’t need to keep going forward at every altar call. Once is enough.
All of the disciples had been bathed in the waters of baptism, except one. Scripture doesn’t tell us how and when Judas was called to follow Jesus, but it is telling us right here that he was never baptized, never raised to new life. Even so, Jesus loved each and every one of the 12 His Father had given Him.
“So Peter,” Jesus was saying, “zealous, enthusiastic Peter, you don’t need to be bathed, you only need to be washed. Bathing is for souls, washing is for feet. Feet that get dusty trodding through this sin-filled world.”
If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Our souls need to be bathed only once – through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit – it’s our bodies and minds that need daily cleansing from the stink of sin.
After Jesus washed their feet, put back on his robe and returned to the table, He asked:
“Do you get it?
I just pressed something important into the palms of your hands.
I’m not too good to wash feet and neither are you.
Peter had it backwards. It’s not a matter of being too good, too high and mighty; it’s a matter of being good enough, of being low and mighty.
Servants are not greater than their master, so if I’m good enough to wash feet, then you be good enough, too.
Once you understand this concept, and do it, you will go through life blessed.
Isaiah said so, too: ‘take care of one another and then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;…
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,’
Take care of one another and you will flourish.”
As someone who is chronically dehydrated and has osteoporosis, I like Isaiah’s wording – strong bones, well-watered….
Be low and mighty enough to serve others and you’ll like your life.
The lectionary for Maundy Thursday (you’re reading the homily I gave last night) skipped over the details of Judas’s departure, but you know how it went down. It picked up again at verse 31:
“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.'”
Judas’s departure set Jesus’ finest hour in motion.
His finest hour as a man – enduring physical and emotional abuse, bearing false accusations silently, as a sheep before its shearer.
I watched a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber Wednesday night. At the end of it, John Legend, who will play Jesus in Sunday night’s live presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, asked Andrew for advice on playing the role.
“It’s all about redemption after all,” Andrew replied.
John mentioned the angst and fear and doubt Jesus experienced as He faced the cross.
“And yet He went through with it,” Andrew replied.
“Yes,” John smiled slightly, “He went through with it.”
He was glorified as the Son of Man by going through with it. By laying down his life for his friends – there’s no love greater than that.
His finest hour as God was defeating sin and death, which no man can do.
His Father’s finest hour? Showing a restraint in the face of His Son’s suffering the strength of which no human father could match.
John didn’t mention the bread and the cup in his account of the Last Supper, but our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 did.
“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
The Passover feast was a perpetual ordinance for God’s people to remember their deliverance from the physical bondage of slavery.
And now a new perpetual ordinance has been instituted, to remember our spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin and death.
My body broken for you. My blood shed for you, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Jesus, Our Passover Lamb.
Our gospel reading ends with a precious plea:
Little children, I am with you only a little longer.
At my church the children come forward and crowd in the aisle between the rows of pews for “The Lamb’s Liturgy.” The pastor gives a brief lesson and then touches each of their heads and blesses them before they head off to Sunday school. It’s my favorite part of the service. I love to see them walk back down the aisle, their little heads blessed, their faces Hopeful, expectant that the future has good things for them.
The tenderness with which the pastor blesses our children is the tenderness with which Jesus beheld those at the table, on the eve of His great suffering: “Little children, dear ones, my charges, my responsibility, my baby chicks, my friends…
I’m leaving and you can’t come with me.
So just love one another.
By this everyone will know that I taught you well, if you love one another.
By this my Father and I will be glorified.
By this our strength will be shown.
Because no one can live low and mighty apart from us.”