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Lindemann on Maundy Thursday

by revalkorn ~ April 14th, 2011

THURSDAY IN HOLY WEEK

The commonest name for this day, Maundy Thursday, is derived from dies mandati, the Day of the Commandment, referring not only to the words of the Holy Gospel, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet,” but also to verse 34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,” as well as to the command of the Epistle, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

The Introit. “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him is salvation, life, and resurrection from the dead. By Him we are redeemed and set at liberty. God be merciful unto us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us.”

This is the Introit also for Tuesday.

The Collect. “O Lord God, who hast left unto us in a wonderful Sacrament a memorial of Thy Passion, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may so use this Sacrament of Thy body and blood that the fruits of Thy redemption may continually be manifest in us; Thou, who livest,” etc.

A very beautiful prayer for the proper use of the Holy Sacrament by Thomas Aquinas.

The Epistle (1 Cor. 11:23-32) is St. Paul’s account of the institution of the Holy Supper. It is here, naturally, as a historic narrative, because the Holy Gospel is employed for another purpose.

The Gradual. “Christ hath humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name.”

An alternate text, offered by The Lutheran Hymnal, is: “He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear Him; He will ever be mindful of His covenant. My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me and I in him.”

The first two sentences of the second Gradual (Ps. 111:4,5) seem to refer to the Collect. In a wonderful Sacrament the Lord Jesus has left us a memorial of His Passion and in this way made His wonderful works to be remembered. The statement that He provides food for those who fear Him, made on the anniversary of the institution, surely is intended to refer to the Lord’s Supper as the food of the pilgrims, who by faith eat the bread from heaven. The Lord is ever mindful of the covenant of forgiveness into which the believer enters anew by drinking of the cup of the covenant in the Holy Sacrament. For those who are convinced that in John 6 our Lord does not refer to the Lord’s Supper, the last two verses of the Gradual may present a difficulty. After feeding the five thousand our Lord declares that He is the Bread of Life. He speaks of eating manna and the bread that came down from heaven. When the unbelieving Jews dispute, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” our Lord abruptly introduces the subject of drinking His blood also. If eating His flesh and drinking His blood do not relate to the sacramental eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper, why are these two verses included in the Gradual for the anniversary of the institution?

The Proper Sentence. “Christ hath humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The Gospel (John 13:1-15) or the Passion History. The Holy Gospel from St. John inspired the name dies pedilavii, “the Day of the Foot Washing.”

The Proper Preface. “Who on the tree of the cross didst give salvation unto mankind that, whence death arose, thence life also might rise again; and that he who by a tree once overcame likewise by a tree be overcome, through Christ, our Lord; through whom with angels,” etc.

SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

We are observing an anniversary. The event we commemorate is the institution of the Lord’s Supper, one of the highest, if not the highest, of the mysteries of our faith. St. Paul tells us that at some time during the last Passover meal our Lord took bread, gave thanks, bade the disciples to eat the bread and assured them that together with this bread they received His body, the very body that was given for them, that is, given into death for them as the sacrifice for their sins. After the Passover supper He took a cup, gave thanks, and bade all of them to drink of the wine in the cup. He stated that together with the wine they received His blood, the very blood shed for their forgiveness as part of His sacrifice on the Cross. He declared that this cu is the new covenant in His blood. Matthew reports that He said: “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The meaning is that He gave His body and shed His blood as a sacrifice. By this sacrifice a new contract was made be-tween them and God. By eating and drinking of the sacrifice they became par-ties to the covenant.

The idea of God being in covenant relation with men was not new to the disciples. Centuries ago God had made a covenant with Israel. He would be their God, they were to be His people. As their God, He gave them His Law. As His people, they contracted to obey His Law. The agreement was that as long as Israel obeyed, God would bless. When they disobeyed and broke the agreement, God would punish. The prophet Jeremiah announced that this old covenant was no longer in force because Israel broke the agreement. But God would in the future make a new contract. The new covenant would be: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.” In the night before His death, our Lord declared that this new covenant of forgiveness was now in force. By sacrificing His body and blood He would clear away the iniquity and sin that had disrupted the relationship between God and man. By eating and drinking of the sacrifice, they became parties to the contract of forgiveness.

The idea of sacrifice was not new to the disciples. A sacrifice was the slaying of an animal by shedding its blood. The blood was considered its life. “The blood is the life thereof.” They understood that our Lord was speaking of His sacrifice when He spoke of His body being given for them and His blood being shed for their forgiveness. They also knew that two things were necessary if a sacrifice was not to be in vain. One requisite was that God should accept and receive what man brought. So part of the sacrifice was burned with fire. This was the means of God’s acceptance. The other was that man should participate in the sacrifice. This was done by eating a part of it. The eating by man was as real a part of the sacred act as the burning. When then our Lord told His disciples that His body and blood was the sacrifice, given and shed for them, and that they were to participate in the sacrifice by partaking of it, the idea was not strange to them.

To establish a covenant by a sacrifice was also a familiar thought. The disciples knew, for instance, that God covenanted with Abraham to bring his descendants out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan. To make this agreement valid, it was sealed with a sacrifice, established by a sacrifice. In Genesis 31, Laban pursues the fleeing Jacob. Having caught up with him, he proposes a covenant to prevent trouble in the future. He distrusts his nephew so thoroughly that he says: “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other.” That is, may God keep an eye on you when my back is turned. So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice and called his kinsmen to eat bread. Jacob, Laban, and their households ate of the sacrifice and thereby became parties to the covenant. The disciples understood that a covenant was being made by a sacrifice and that they became parties to the covenant by eating of the sacrifice. The new covenant of forgiveness was being established between God and man. Christ, the Lamb of God, was the Sacrifice. He gave His body and shed His blood. God received and accepted the sacrifice and was well pleased with it. Man was now to become a party to the contract of forgiveness by partaking of the sacrifice. “This is My body, this is My blood.” Man partakes of the sacrifice and thereby becomes a party to the covenant that is established by the sacrifice. God and man are in covenant. Man is in communion, in partnership with the sacrifice, and eats and drinks as a token of participation in the sacrifice.

Some new things, however, have entered. One is that under the old covenant man gave to God, man brought the sacrifice and offered it to God. Under the new covenant God brings the sacrifice Himself and gives it to man. Under the old covenant God received a part of the sacrifice and man ate a part. Under the new covenant God received the whole sacrifice and gave the whole to man. He gives all of it to man. This is no longer sacrifice but Sacrament. Man no longer acts. God acts toward man, and man is passive. However, this is common to both old and new, that all who receive the sacrifice, all who partake of the oblation, are in covenant, if they believe. God and man receive, and both are in covenant. Eating and drinking believingly of the sacrificed body and blood makes us parties to the contract that God forgives sin and imparts eternal life.

Another new thing has entered. It is that the participants in the sacrifice drink the blood. In Genesis 9 God makes a covenant with Noah and all future generations. Never again will He curse the ground because of man and destroy every living creature by water. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease. Noah builds an altar and offers burnt offerings to bind the contract. At this time God says: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. Only you shall not cat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” This prohibition of blood was repeated again and again in the Law of Moses. The blood is the life of the flesh. The blood is not to be drunk, nor the flesh eaten with its blood in it. Therefore the people offering sacrifice under the old covenant ate of the body of the sacrifice but did not drink of its blood. They partook of only a part of the sacrifice. This indicates that the sacrifices were in-complete. The blood was reserved to indicate that something was still to be accomplished. It hinted that the perfect communion with the whole sacrifice was still to come.

Christ’s sacrifice was the complete offering, perfect, full, once for all, never to be repeated. Therefore under the new covenant established by His sacrifice the people participating are to cat and drink, are also to drink of the sacrifice. Our Lord said not only that we cat His body together with the bread, but that we also drink His blood together with the wine. How startled the disciples must have been when they heard that. For the first time in the history of the chosen race they heard the command to drink what our Lord said is His blood. But He solved the mystery by assuring them immediately that this is the blood of a new covenant. This was something new. Henceforth men were to partake also of the blood of the sacrifice. The imperfect sacrifices of the Old Testament were abolished when the Lamb of God became the eternal, perfect sacrifice. Men were no longer to partake only of a portion of the sacrifice, but of the whole, body and blood.

Another element of the new covenant was not entirely new to the disciples. They were to eat bread in a natural way, but our Lord’s body in a supernatural way. They were to drink wine in a natural way, but our Lord’s blood in a supernatural way. By eating and drinking in a natural way they were to receive sustenance for their soul, spiritual food and drink. For lack of a better term, this is called sacramental eating and drinking. This sacramental eating and drinking was not entirely new. Something similar they found away back in the Garden of Eden. In the second chapter of the Bible we are told that God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. But there were two extraordinary trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God said: “You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall die.” In the face of God’s prohibition and warning, man ate of the forbidden fruit. Then God said: “Now, lest man put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden. He drove out the man; and placed cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life.

There were trees for natural eating with natural food to be eaten in a natural way to sustain the life of the body. Then there was one tree with natural food to be eaten in the natural way, but there was something supernatural connected with the eating of this food, for together with its fruit death was imparted. There was also the tree of life, with fruit to be eaten in a natural way. Yet when this fruit was eaten with the mouth of the body, endless life would be given even to fallen man. There was natural food, eaten naturally, whose benefits were simply natural, bodily sustenance. But there were two trees, in the same soil and air, whose fruit could be eaten in a natural way, yet had supernatural qualities. The natural eating from the one gave life, the natural eating from the other gave death.

In the course of this day we have eaten natural food in a natural way to sustain the life of our body. In the Lord’s Supper we shall now eat natural bread and drink natural wine in a natural way. Yet something supernatural takes place. Together with the natural bread we receive Christ’s body for the sustenance of our soul, our spiritual life. The natural bread is the bearer, the means, the vehicle of heavenly food, the medium by which Christ’s body is imparted. Together with the natural wine we receive Christ’s blood for the refreshing of our spiritual life. The wine is the medium by which Christ’s blood is imparted.

We have here something like the counterpart of the two trees in Eden. All who eat and drink, believers and unbelievers, receive the body and blood together with the bread and wine. For the power of Christ’s word, “This is My body, this is My blood,” is not limited by, or dependent on, our faith or unbelief. Yet the effect of eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood is determined by our faith or unbelief. The believer eats and drinks of the sacrifice and becomes a party to the covenant of forgiveness. He eats and drinks unto himself eternal life and eternal salvation from sin, its power and guilt and consequences. God vows and seals the contract: “I have forgiven your iniquity and will remember your sins no more.” Eternal life with God is here and now. The unbelieving man eats and drinks of the same sacrifice, yet he derives no benefit. Since he does not eat and drink believingly, he eats and drinks in an unworthy manner and is guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. He eats and drinks judgment upon himself, the judgment and condemnation of God. He abides in spiritual death. All that is required of us is that we believe. We have only to accept humbly our Savior’s promise and word. Then, by eating and drinking in a natural way, we shall by His power become parties to the new covenant and in a supernatural way receive eternal life.

SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

The Holy Gospel tells how the Lord Jesus prepared His disciples for the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. It was the day when the Passover lamb must be killed. The plan for the night’s observance and celebration devolved upon Him as the head of the strange family that would gather. The day was spent in Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Fearful that every available place be taken if our Lord delayed too long, the disciples finally broached the subject: “Where will You have us prepare for You to eat the passover?” Our Lord made no reply to the group but took Peter and John aside and gave them quiet instruction. He seemed almost secretive. Perhaps He was determined that no one should know the place in advance, so that no interruption might mar those last precious hours with His friends. Perhaps He feared that one or the other thoughtlessly would reveal His plans to some eavesdropping enemy. Perhaps He wished to conceal His plans from Judas, so that He could not be taken pris-oner before the proper time. But even if the other disciples heard His simple instructions to Peter and John, they could not know where they were to spend the evening. “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder: The Teacher says, Where is My guest room where I am to eat the Passover with My disciples?” The two must have made the necessary preparations without undue delay, for toward evening we find them in our Lord’s company as He led the Twelve from Bethany into the city.

This group of thirteen young men made their way unnoticed through the crowded streets. They entered the house, shut the door, and were alone. They had shut out all their foes. Yet not quite! The yellow monster, pride, went in with them. That it should raise its ugly head at this time shocks us. The occasion was as follows. The owner knew that our Lord wished to be alone with His disciples. So he did not instruct a household servant to wash the dust off their feet, as custom required. Instead, he thoughtfully placed a jar of water, a basin, and a towel near the entrance. As the disciples entered, they saw these suggestive articles. In the absence of a servant, the lowest in rank was expected to wash the feet of all the others. But who was the lowest and least important? At once a contention flared up which had been smoldering for days. On the way to Jerusalem the mother of James and John had requested the two high places in Christ’s kingdom for her two sons. The ten had resented this, and when now the question of rank was to be determined, they remembered with sullen distaste the unhappy attempt to obtain superior ranking. one rebuke challenged another, and soon they were all contending who should be the greatest. What they really were trying to determine was who was the least and who was to wash the feet.

How this must have outraged our Lord’s sensibilities! How disappointed and saddened He must have been! Longingly He had looked forward to this quiet evening to be spent in sweet fellowship and a loving farewell, and it began with a heated dispute. But He dealt with the situation in His usual masterful way. He did not condemn the ambition to be the greatest in the Kingdom. But their conception of greatness was wrong. Greatness could be achieved only through the humble service of others. The greatest is the servant of all. It is an aristocracy of menial service.

As He spoke, He probably glanced meaningfully at the basin and towel. The disciples yielded the point to the extent that they stopped arguing about position. But in vain He waited for one of them to take the towel and pour the water. With feet still dusty from the street, they shuffled out of their sandals and took their places at the Passover table. Still our Lord waited. What an opportunity for one of them to have his name inscribed indelibly and honorably on the pages of sacred history. The first course was served, and still no one was willing. So our Lord arose from supper, took the towel, poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel.

This is the amazing scene of the text. God of God, Very God of Very God, stooping down from heaven’s throne to perform the lowest service of a slave! The Son of God removes His outer garment, girds Himself with the apron of service, pours water into a basin, gets down on His knees, removes the dust from human feet, and dries the feet with the towel about His waist. It is a most arresting picture. The sect of the Brethren has embodied this act as a part of their ceremony when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Every Maundy Thursday the pope washes the feet of a number of poor old men. We shall not stop to in-quire at length whether this literal imitation is what was intended. We shall endeavor to see the act itself in its true light. So we direct our attention to the question:

“Do You Know What I Have Done to You?”

What I have done to you. He is speaking of something He has done to His friends. There lies the charm of the Upper Room. Tomorrow we shall stand on Golgotha and see the God and Creator of the universe yield up His life for His sinful creatures. It is the awful moment that brings the climax of all human history. It is a blessed scene that determines our own eternal destiny. Life would mean nothing without Good Friday. We would and could not be without it. Yet we would not give up that scene in the Upper Room. It has its own peculiar charm, an atmosphere of quiet assurance and peace. We would almost prefer to remain here and not go out into the hate-filled atmosphere of Golgotha, with its hooting and scoffing, its torture and blood. Is it because in the Upper Room we are in the company of our Lord’s friends and on Golgotha we are surrounded by enemies? Is it because in the Upper Room our Lord already entered into the contract of forgiveness with His friends, the contract He then established on Golgotha the next day? He gave His friends His body, which He gave into death the next day for all the world. The blood He shed on Good Friday He gave to His friends the night before. It is necessary for our soul’s salvation that we stand sorrowfully under the Cross tomorrow. But if we had our choice, we should stay forever in the Upper Room, among our Lord’s friends, where He did something for His friends that He did not do for all the world.

Do you know what He did to you? The text gives us a glimpse into the mysterious depths of sublime thought from which sprang the action. “Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going to God.” Our Lord knew that the Father had given all things necessary for men’s salvation into His hands, for Him to carry out. He knew that He would die tomorrow as a step toward His return to the Father in glory. All this was the Father’s will, and He had come into the world to accomplish that will. He knew all that His perfect obedience to the Father required of Him today and tomorrow. He took it all upon Himself and was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

What prompted this obedience? “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The phrase “to the end” does not refer only to time, so that He loved His own to the end of His life, to His last breath. It refers also to the extent of His love. He loved on to the extreme end of what was possible, not only to death, but to every limit of everything that can be done, to the final possibility of seeking, winning, saving, salvaging. He knew all and every-thing possible, and obediently He loved through all and everything into the last depth that could be reached.

To have His friends see this love, to tell them of it, to demonstrate it, He did something to them that He did not do on Good Friday. He rose from supper, got down on His knees before each of His friends, and humbled Himself before them to the ground. He did nothing like that in the palace of the high priest, or to Herod, or to Pilate, or to the centurion and the soldiers. But to His friends He demonstrated love to the uttermost possibility, so that they might have some conception of its enormous, limitless capacity.

We have here the original portrait of divine Love. Today all other pictures seem weak reflections of this. Here divine Love bows deeper to sinful men than human thought can conceive. It is impossible to realize even remotely what the Son of God gave up Out Of the ultimate depths of His rich heart when He knelt before His friends and looked into the face and eyes of each, not with a lordly look from above down to them, when He bared His very soul and invited them to read what was there for them. “Do you not see how I humble Myself before you? that I came not to be ministered to but to minister and. serve? Can you not sense in this moment that My sacrifice goes to the very limit of every possibility, that there is nothing I would not do to you, that there is nothing beyond? Do you know what I have done to you?”

Do we know what He has done to us? The history of the Passion reveals how the Lord of Glory humbled Himself. We see and hear what He suffered for us. The Lord of the angels in the dust of Gethsemane. The Son of God condemned for blasphemy because He revealed His identity. The Almighty helpless on the cross. We see the impossible being done to us. In this hour the supremely Holy One kneels before us to wash us of every stain in the Supper of His forgiveness, so that we are clean all over. But before we have Him getting down on His knees before us, before He looks up into our face and says, “I gave My body for you, I shed My blood for you, to cleanse your every spot,” He asks us the confessional question, “Do you know what I have done to you?” Before we answer, we note that of the Twelve in the Upper Room only two are mentioned by name in the text, Judas and Peter. We sense the extreme contrast at once. It will prove profitable to determine the fundamental difference between them.

Loving to the end, the Savior is on His knees before the man who at the very moment waited for the opportunity to slip out and betray Him for thirty pieces of silver. “When the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Him.” Judas too had gone to the end, but of hate. He was finished with his Lord. He had done with himself. He was through with everything and everybody. Yet the Lord was not through with him even now. With a love that stretches an eagerly seeking hand, He washes the feet to the soles of which clings the mud from the way that led to our Lord’s bloodthirsty enemies. He loves to the end. Could there be something beyond? A love that seeks a soul filthier than the unwashed feet directed by that soul. In abject humility it woos its own murderer and asks: “Do you know what I have done to you?” But coldly, silently Judas suffers the service of love. If he had only held off the Lord with both hands! Something might have come of it. A conflict could have saved him even now. But sullenly he keeps on pretending. He is immune to the love to the end.

When our Lord came to Peter with the basin and towel and knelt before him, there was vehement protest. “Lord, do You wash my feet?” You — my? I — Yours would be proper. He struggled against the love that humbled itself so. Also in him self-will was still supreme. But he was not through with himself. He was still open to correction. Peter, the Rock, and we love him because he always permitted himself to be led and directed. He had not reached the end. Therefore our Lord was not through with him either. “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Because he did not understand what was going on, Peter protested: “You shall never wash my feet! “If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.” It was a question of communion with his beloved Savior. That made the rock-like man pliable as clay. If that was involved, he wanted more than he needed. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He did not fully understand even now. Surely, the Lord’s answer was beyond him: “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” Tomorrow morning, however, Peter will understand the power of a love that can follow and save to the uttermost. He was not very far from the end when the cock crowed twice. He had reached the end of himself when he went out and wept bitterly. But he was not through with Christ, and Christ was not through with him. In the Upper Room he had looked into the very heart of the love to the end. Another look in the palace of the high priest, and Peter gave up struggling against this love. The sinner Peter was clean all over.

Shall we today be like Judas or like Peter? In the story of the Passion the glorious Savior gets down on His knees before us and looks into our eyes as He loves us to the extremity of the Cross. It is possible to view the story coldly and indifferently, as Judas sat through the foot washing. It is possible not to be moved in the least and to remain cold and to know nothing of what Christ did to us. How blessed if we could feel something like Peter, so that we would protest: “I am not worthy! Not worthy that my Lord should be on His knees before me; not worthy that my Lord should humble Himself before me; not worthy that He should think of me when He cried: ‘It is finished!”‘ Then He would speak to us as He spoke to Peter: “If you will not acknowledge the need of all this, I cannot be your Savior.” Then we would be overcome by this incomprehensible love and suffer the miracle of forgiveness to be done to us.

Peter understood afterward. From the denial that night he went out into the day of the crucifixion. Now he understood what his Lord had said. The final and extreme trouble is the trouble of guilt. Into this black night of guilt only one light can penetrate, the love unto the end. Peter’s tears were the fruit of this love. Will our Lord not find something also in our eyes as He stoops to cleanse us? Not tears. There is no need for them. But the light of gratitude for what He did to us. May we know this day and ever that this love did something to us that is the end of all that is best in life.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thy ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

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