John 13:1-17, 31-35b and Exodus 12:1-14 “Confusion and Mystery” [Or A Sermon for Maundy Thursday]
Caitlin Trussell on April 17, 2014 for Augustana Lutheran Church
John 13:1-17, 31-35b 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
[Read Exodus text at end of sermon]
Here we are beginning what’s been come to be called the Three Days. Lent is drawing to close and inasmuch as Lent is a deepening, the Three Days begins with this evening of Maundy Thursday and takes us deeper yet. There are many people who don’t take the Lenten elevator down to these levels. They become darker and more confusing.
We start with the Exodus story of Passover. The Hebrews are gearing up to leave Egypt, their home and their enslavement going back hundreds of years. They have to pack fast and be ready to move fast. Pharaoh will not be happy. It’s probably safe to say that he and many other Egyptians will grieve deeply well beyond the Hebrews departure. After all, the slaves will be gone and their first born boys will be dead. The Hebrew people take the unleavened bread, the fast-food of their time, and get out of Egypt with nothing but turmoil behind them; turmoil that will close in fast on their heels as they head out into exile.
This time of disorientation, this time of freedom, is then to be remembered for all time. The last verse of the reading today says, “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.” In the ensuing centuries, Jewish people all over the world remember God’s act of freeing their ancestors from slavery in the celebration of Passover. The time of confusion organized into a ritual of remembrance. Remembering what God has done, leaving the door open for what God will do next.
From the Exodus we fast-forward to the first century. Jesus is in a room with some friends…and an enemy. And Jesus does something startling. He takes off his robe and puts a towel around his waist. These actions of disrobing and girding are the not-so-subtle movements of a warrior preparing for battle. But then Jesus takes a knee in a position of surrender. He begins to wash feet in a way that no ordinary host, and certainly no warrior, ever would. This is, after all, a dirty task ordinarily taken on by the slaves of the household. Interesting, isn’t it? That we just talked about freedom from slavery and here Jesus is willingly taking on the work of a slave. Note that everyone gets their feet washed. Everyone gets clean feet including Judas. Judas who will end up betraying Jesus not too much later in the story and Peter who will deny that he ever knew Jesus.
The same Peter who does not want Jesus doing the work of a slave by washing his feet suddenly becomes the Peter who wants Jesus to wash his whole body. Peter is insistent in two different directions. Peter seems to be trying to figure out this latest twist in the action and how to respond. His effort to keep up with Jesus’ meaning leaves his head spinning and, once again, has him saying things that make no sense. Although we can’t blame him really – Jesus takes first prize for saying confusing things.
Just before the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, he makes a speech to his disciples that includes him saying, “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” Jesus washing the feet of his disciples gives us a hint of what this light in the darkness looks like, what God in the world looks like. Like a warrior, girded for battle, who takes a knee in surrender and empties himself for those around him.
From there, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” And with this, the disciples’ confusion hits a new level. Jesus’ command, his mandatum from which we get the term Maundy Thursday, precedes his death on the cross but includes his death on the cross. The mystery of what Jesus is doing during the foot-washing and what Jesus will do on the cross is utterly confusing to everyone involved. This may partly explain why many people don’t take the Lenten elevator down to these levels. After all, how are we to engage in the mystery of these Three Days that begin with a foot-washing and end in a tomb?
The short answer is that we don’t. We don’t engage the mystery. The mystery engages us.
At Christ’s command, he organizes our confusion into a ritual of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he says. But it is not only ritual and it is not only memory.
Christ is untamed by the tidiness of the table and the reverence with which we approach him. This is Jesus after all – in bread and wine given and shed for you. In this meal, the self-sacrificing love of God is poured out and through us with the fierceness of a warrior poured out in surrender – drawing us deeper into the mystery of the cross and claiming us in God’s name.
Exodus 12:1-14 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14This 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.
 Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, lecture content from the course: Gospel and Epistles of John in Fall Semester 2010.
 John 12:44-46
 John 13:34
 Living Lutheran (online), “The Three Days: Traditions of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.” http://www.elca.org/en/Living-Lutheran/Ask-a-Pastor/2013/10/~/link.aspx?_id=8A91118FE3E341839E13E7444A33CBF6&_z=z