Thank you to Pastor John Bortulin, a frequent guest and friend of the show, for letting us share this Maundy Thursday sermon. This was adapted from a preaching outline, so please forgive anything we missed in converting it.
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +
John 13:1-17; 34-35
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
A pastor once offered this pastoral advice: “Tell God where you are lacking.” Tell God where you are lacking. On this night of his betrayal, this night where Jesus does what his disciples surely wouldn’t do, this menial task of a Gentile servant, washing feet, on this night of all nights, tell God where you are lacking.
It’s love on display tonight. And St. John focuses on a different part of this evening. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all focus on the meal that our Savior instituted—John takes up this extraordinary act of love. Jesus’ life is a life that loves to the end. His is a life that serves to the end. He wanted his disciples to understand this, so He showed His almighty power with a bowl of water and a towel. He showed them that this is who God is: the One who came not to be served, but to serve, the One who serves with a bowl of water, the One who gives a share with Him in His life.
On this Holy Thursday we see how Jesus loves you—He gives you His Body; He gives you His blood. “This do in remembrance of me.” In remembrance of His great love. A remembrance that would be for all our days. A remembrance that would have us recall again not some absent, far-off Savior, but a Savior who is really present, One we get to receive this evening and every time we gather as the family at His table. Just think—what love—Sunday after Sunday, week after week, over the years and centuries and millenniums, God’s children have gathered and one of the high points of their time together is when Jesus is given to them, in bread and wine His very body and blood, and He tells them what for, each and every one individually: “For you. For the forgiveness of your sins.” What love!
It is that God who says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And have you not loved God and your neighbor as yourself? Tell God where you are lacking. Tell it like it is. Tell God the people you ought to love that you haven’t. Tell God why it’s hard. Tell God the sinful desires that get in the way. Tell him what really goes through your mind, things you haven’t told another living soul about. Confess your sin. What do you think this loving God will have for you tonight? You know what He is, what He does. Love dies in the place of all, bears the sins of all in His body, pours out His blood from the cross, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Love forever answers the accusations that the grave and the devil would hurl at you.
He showed them that this is who God is: the One who came not to be served, but to serve, the One who serves with a bowl of water the One who gives a share with Him in His life. On this Holy Thursday, we see how Jesus loves you—He gives you His body; He gives you His blood. Such sweet Love. We understand why God commands us to love (it is the summary of the law, after all), but who would ever have dreamed such love as He showed us? Who would have guessed that Love could be so strong as to die in utter weakness, so mighty as to give up life itself so that we be pardoned, forgiven, restored and healed?
Tonight you get to dine with Him who loved you to the end. Such a blessed meal—the wonder of it all in the Christian church is not that so many would come, but that so many would stay away. Luther once quipped: “If we were offering gold from this altar the balcony would come crashing down because of the weight of the people who would cram the church to get it.” What we have here is far more precious.
And you know the thing that amazes is that this Love of Jesus, proclaimed from this pulpit and given from this table, it’s how He changes us. It’s how He sets us free from the chains of our sinful fears and our worries, our rage and our anger. It’s how He lifts hearts that our downcast; by giving us Himself, real lasting joy.
Tell God where you are lacking. And whenever we would say, “But I can’t.” I can’t love that person, not after what’s been done to me. I can’t forgive. I can’t break with this sin. I can’t stop this worry. I can’t… In all of this, it’s your Lord Jesus who comes and with gentle care says, “I know you can’t. That’s why you need Me.”
Tell God where you are lacking. And know what Jesus says is true—that if a man remains in Him he will bear much fruit. Know what Jesus commands of you this evening: “Love” is precisely what He does for you from this altar. And are you weak? I am your strength. And are you sick? I am your medicine. And are you struggling with sin? I am your forgiveness.
You have been loved in such a way. He does more than wash feet; He dies to call you His. And others would know you belong to Him…as you love them?!?
Love one another. And what God has commanded of you, He equips you do to. Who except one who has been loved in the way you have been loved would ever be able to do this awesome task? In the Common Service, after the Supper, we pray, “Strengthen our faith in you, and increase our love for one another.” And after the Holy Communion tonight we pray: “Don’t forsake us but still rule our hearts and minds by your Holy Spirit so that we willingly serve you day after day.”
And how He feeds you tonight—you will love; you will serve. Your God has been so good to you. What joy is mine after the supper: “Depart in peace, your sins are forgiven.” And He takes them all away; every last one. But don’t just take my word for it. Oh, no, take His Word. “Take and eat, my body; take and drink, my blood. For you. For the forgiveness of your sins.” These are the words of Jesus.
Tomorrow we will stand in awe before that love as it shines on a cross, and come Sunday we will shout for joy in that love as it breaks forth from the tomb. All that is left tonight is the eating. Come now prepared to meet Him. Come to his Table, at His invitation. Come meet the Lord of love, who’s forgiveness is freely given to you. Amen.