Pastor Sean Willman
Good Shepherd Pleasant Prairie
29 March 2018
John 13:1-15, 34-35
Holy Thursday is the day that the church remembers Our Lord’s institution of the Sacrament of the Altar. It was on this very night in which Jesus was betrayed nearly 2000 years ago in Jerusalem that He took bread and wine and spoke His holy words over them, declaring them to be His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We have come to call this holy night Maundy Thursday. The Maundy refers to the mandate or commandment that Jesus gave to His disciples, “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
How has Jesus loved us? By serving us. That night He took a towel, tied it around His waist and washed His disciples’ feet. Their teacher and Lord became their humble servant. But this is only an example, and illustration of the greatest service and love He would give to those men and all who follow Him. The true selfless love and sacrifice of Christ is His cross. He shed His innocent blood for sinful men, giving up His life in exchange for theirs. This is His love. This is the Love that our Savior Jesus Christ calls us to have for one another: giving ourselves up in service to our neighbor. Not because they deserve it, have earned it, or are worthy of it in any way, but because they need it.
How well have you done in keeping this command? How well have you followed the example of your Savior in loving your neighbor? You’ve failed miserably. You confessed this tonight. It’s how we began our worship. You haven’t loved your neighbor, and you certainly haven’t loved God. Rather, you’ve loved yourself. Why? Because it’s safe! It’s safest to love only yourself. To love someone else is dangerous business. It could result in a painful situation where someone asks you to give more than you’re prepared to give. That is, living your life only for your sake has somewhat predictable results. Taking into account only your desires and needs without considering either the needs of your neighbor or the commands of God results in a life curved in on yourself. It leaves you obsessed with how you’re feeling now, and seeking to ensure that you’ll feel happy and satisfied for as long as possible. So work hard, make money, buy things that make you happy, believe things that make you feel good, reject any work, teaching, or thought that might bring you pain, suffering, unhappiness, or uneasiness. Rinse and repeat. This is love of self. And we are all guilty of it. It might feel safe. But it’s deadly. Repent.
“Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Not only does Jesus teach this command, He fulfills it. He came to earth, seeking nothing for Himself, but instead was concerned with only the Word of God. And the word of God commands that we love God and neighbor. Indeed this is dangerous business. The fulfillment of God’s command of love is found, finally in the cross. The ultimate, selfless sacrifice of love. For you. The cross is the love of God for you! It is God’s gracious love on display for all the world to see. The gracious love of God that secured eternal life for you by forgiving you of your sins.
It’s no accident that our Lord commands us to love one another as He loves us, and then institutes His holy Sacrament of the Altar. St. Paul puts it this way: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Whenever we we partake of the Sacrament of the Altar we are declaring that the love of God is found in cross of Jesus Christ. And in this we proclaim the Lord’s death. Why should we proclaim the Lord’s death? Why should we fix our eyes upon something so gruesome and sad and shameful as a naked, beaten, and bloodied man hanging from a cross? Because this is the love of God for us. This is the payment of Christ for our sins. This man is our Savior, who took our place and bore the wrath of God the Father and died so that we would be forgiven. This is the fulfillment of the commands of God for us in the love of Christ Jesus our Lord. And it comes to us in very body and blood of our Savior.
No, you haven’t loved God or neighbor perfectly, as the Word of God commands you to do. No, you haven’t done anything that would earn for you eternal life. And yet, Jesus says to you, “Take and eat my body. Take and drink my blood. These are given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Why? Because even though you haven’t fulfilled the law of God, Jesus has. For you. Christ has blotted out your sin, appeased the Father, brought you into the community of His riches not by the merit of your works but by God’s sheer grace and mercy on account of Christ, who gave His body into death for you, and shed His blood for your sins, that you might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
And every time you confess your sins and come to this Holy Altar you receive all of this through His body and blood. Jesus gives this blessed gift to you, that you would have assurance that God the Father is still gracious to you for the sake of His beloved Son Christ. Amen.