Exodus 12:1-14; Ps. 116:12-19; 1 Cor.: 11:23-32; John 13:1-17, 31b-35.
Clean, Jesus said to [Peter], “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean...” (v. 10)
This evening the church begins her three-day unitive Service, the Easter Triduum culminating with the of the Resurrection of our Lord, by which God imparts Light, sight, and understanding by the HS to the church; that Jesus took up his Life for our life on a new Passover exodus to the Father.
If on Palm Sunday OT saints rejoiced with shouts of “Hosanna [save us]” (Ps. 118:25) at the Lord’s triumphal entry into their midst; the Baptized into Jesus’ death and Resurrection acclaim God’s completion of our salvation with songs of “Alleluia”.
Samuel Coleridge penned, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” From Lent’s beginning ‘til now, our journey with Jesus to the cross is much as the Mariner’s Rhyme. The Jordan’s water at the place of Jesus’ Baptism was not potable; rather it was water for repentant drowning to sin, washing, and laying-onto Christ the sins of men. Driven into the desert, Jesus, without complaint, thirsted, trusting solely in God’s provision.
Jesus taught Nicodemus the necessity of God’s new begetting in the water of the Spirit, a Baptism for opening ears at the voice of Jesus. At Jacob’s well Jesus sought a drink from a Samaritan woman, but she ran off leaving him to thirst. At his voice Jesus raised Lazarus, delivering the Spirit’s breath to dry bones portending his new Life delivered in the Resurrection (Jn. 20:22).
Last Sunday we beheld Jesus’ Passion that culminated in a bodily dissection on the cross, reminiscent of Ps. 22’s “pouring out” (v.14). A final time Jesus said, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28) to conclude his Baptism in a lake of fire, freely and fully giving himself as our source of living water (Jn. 7:37, 38).
Today’s Supper anticipates the cross and Jesus’ handing-over the HS. The re-creation, entailing salvation, is dry and dusty work (Gen. 2:7). At the Supper in the upper room Jesus washed his Apostles’ feet.
Men hardly know what to make of this; there is a modicum of “foot washing” sermons, some more or less on point; and some on Holy Thursday, as Rome and the ELCA, gratuitously import a similar ritual into the church’s historic mass.
St. John is the only Evangelist to record the event assuming our knowledge of the Jewish Passover Seder. Jesus’ Supper would reinterpret the traditional OT Passover meal.
Salvation, God taking to himself a bride out of sin’s mire is dusty work. Periodically through this world, our feet, that flesh meeting the road, require washing, Absolution before attending the Lord’s Table.
In crossing out of Pharaoh’s house and servitude, Israel ate her Pascha in haste (Ex. 12:39) then passed through the Red Sea. Led through the Red Sea Israel was baptismally cleansed; her devilish pursuers destroyed. The journey continued to Sinai; before invited to heaven’s table (cf. 24:9-11), Israel participated in further ablutions that anticipated their wedding and its celebration (19:10, 14).
Thus Moses was prophetic of Jesus’ foot washing explanation, “You are clean but not (Judas Iscariot)” (Jn. 13:10) who would leave Jesus meal summoning Jesus’ pursers to the garden of his Passion.
In the OT Exodus Moses was God’s best-man, ushering a cleansed bride for covenantal marriage. On behalf of Israel Moses received God’s proposal and contract of marriage; the terms of which we call the Law. He delivered the Ten Commandments, laws concerning brotherly relations, and Sabbath/festival regulations, the fundamentals of the bride’s obedience and pledge of her troth.
The Contract informed what was expected of God’s espoused woman, whose vocation was to reflect her Lord’s holiness in the world. God would provide Israel a place, an abode for their communion.
Toward Satan and Pharaoh, the Lord was the “Stronger Man” (Lk. 11:21, 22) so also binding, dispossessing, and despoiling the occupant Canaanites in the Land promised his people.
At Cana’s wedding St. John identified Jesus’ chief of signs (Jn. 2:11), the changing of water to wine, as manifesting “his glory” that his recent Baptism signified his destiny, being the church’s “bridegroom of blood” (Ex. 4:25).
The nominal bridegroom of Mary’s acquaintance had run out of wedding-wine. Mary sought a personal privilege from Jesus. At first, he rebuked her; but then having a change of heart he stepped into the bridegroom’s shoes to provide the necessity for a proper wedding celebration. Six stone jars for OT water washings were changed into fine wine for consumption, integral to Christian festivities Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day in the Resurrection.
Jesus, by his chief sign at Cana, began to transform JB’s “simple” water baptism oriented to OT law and portending new gospel wine of a Baptism in water, blood, and Spirit issuing from his crucified body (Jn. 19:34). Christian Baptism is our gracious washing in Jesus’ shed blood and living water of the HS on a new Exodus cleansing in these last days in passing-over to God.
In this way our holiness is exclusively the work of God, not by an exchange of mutual promises; but solely by our reception of Christ alone, who first loved us (1 Jn. 4:10).
Jesus’ Supper, like other Jewish Seders, consisted of three cups of wine interspersed with a preliminary and a main food course. Peter and John failed to arrange for the required pre-meal foot washing (cf. Lk. 7:44-48). Jesus spoke a blessing over the first cup; the Apostles ceremonially washed their right hands for taking food; at which point Jesus interrupted the meal. He stripped his outer garments as a slave, and to their dismay and likely Judas’s disgust, washed the Apostles’ feet.
Jesus’ meal was different from previous Seders. Jesus’ “hour” for God’s new Passover had been signaled (Jn. 12:23) by the Greeks desire to “see” Jesus, the king. He would be exalted on the cross to deliver from his heart “living water” of the HS welling up in him (Jn. 7:38) for the life of all by his blood.
Jesus’ foot washing was the final sign requiring fidelity in the apostolic Office of sacramental delivery, always anticipating the Eucharistic celebration. The two-mile walk from Bethany into Jerusalem’s upper room dusted up the feet. Through the preaching and teaching of these Apostles Jesus would institute a new proposal of marriage to the church by gospel grace alone.
Jesus’ bride must match the holiness of her Lord, “without blemish” (Ex. 12:5). Allegorical washings and sprinkling of animal blood would no longer suffice in the new Passover to the Father.
Jesus’ foot washing was preparatory to his institution of the bride’s Supper, an apostolic Absolution; even as the washing of their nets was the sign that their preaching would make them “fishers of men” without fear (Lk. 5:8-11).
Again, it was to Peter, on behalf of all, that Jesus announced their Absolution, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10), and “You are clean” (Jn. 13:10) for faithful delivery of word and Sacrament in the church’s new exodus Seder. Pray therefore, for pastoral fidelity to preaching everywhere and always that leads to the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.