Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This is how St. John describes Jesus’ last hours before His Crucifixion. Everything Jesus does, He does in love. He does it to show what love truly is, what it does, what it looks like.
In the Gradual we heard a portion of St. Paul’s instruction: “Christ became obedient for us unto death, even the death of the cross.” Jesus’ Love isn’t given because He was given something first. Jesus did not come into this week because we were obedient, because we loved Him. No, as Scripture instructs us, Christ became obedient for us because we were not. St. Paul goes on to explain just how Christ was obedient: He took the form of a bondservant, and came in our flesh. The God who is eternal and almighty took on weak flesh and put Himself into the servant’s role. Though He could have used His divine powers at any point to destroy His enemies or help Himself, He refrained. That is because love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rather bears all things and endures all things.
As another sign of His obedience, His love, His willingness to serve, Jesus takes the lowest position in the Upper Room. He sets aside His clothing and dresses as the servant with the least respect, clothed in only a towel. And His only garment He uses to wash feet. He takes the filth of the disciples’ feet onto Himself, the Holy One serving unholy men.
But this foot washing is a picture of something greater. Jesus did not wash the disciples’ feet just out of ritual or because He thought they needed clean feet. Rather, He knelt on the dirty ground, took their dirt onto Himself, and served them to show them what His love was about to accomplish. He showed them that their real dirt—their sins, their imperfection, the dust they deserved to be—was to be taken onto Himself so that His cleanness was given to them.
By this action He wonderfully foreshadowed Holy Baptism, where your sins are washed away by water and the Word. At the Font, as all your sin rolled off into the water, it travelled back in time to the Jordan River where it was placed on Christ and carried to Golgotha outside Jerusalem where it was put to death. Christ’s cleanness, His righteousness, is placed on you and your filth of sin onto Him. What wondrous love that took on all your iniquity!
But just like feet get dirty when they set out again onto the dusty roads, so do we fall continually into sin because we live in a sinful world and we have sinful flesh and the devil is always prowling around us, seeking our demise. So Jesus, after cleansing the disciples, sits back down at the table. He takes bread and wine, blesses them, and gives it to them. He tells the disciples that the bread is no ordinary bread, but it is His Body, broken for them. He tells them that the wine is no ordinary fruit of the vine, but it is His Blood shed to make atonement for sin, to give forgiveness. As He gives them in this Feast the fruit and benefit of His sacrificial death on the cross they learn what He meant when He told them that His flesh is meat indeed and His blood is drink indeed (Jn. 6:55). In love He gave them the true Feast for their forgiveness.
And because Jesus loves you, His children who are in the world, He left this Feast as a remembrance of His death for your life, as a means whereby He gives His full forgiveness. He told His disciples, the first Pastors, to participate in this often. And this is exactly what they did, St. Luke recording that the first Christians “continued steadfastly…in the breaking of bread,” devoting themselves fully to all Christ’s gifts (Acts 2:42). The Lord’s Supper is received so frequently because, not only does it proclaim the Lord’s death where forgiveness was won, but it gives that same forgiveness, without which you could not live.
In love, Christ has left you with this Feast of His Body and Blood to be the source and summit of your life. Without this meal, without Christ being present in your life to give you His gifts of life and salvation you have no life in you (Jn. 6:53). This means that the Divine Service, where Christ gives Himself in His Word and Sacraments, is what your Christian life is all about, everything revolving around what Christ here gives you.
Here He answers your every prayer. You pray, “give us this day our daily bread; forgive my sins; lead me not into temptation; deliver me from evil; protect, strengthen, guide, and comfort me,” and this is where He does it, fully and completely. This is where the Lord loads you with His benefits, where He makes His dwelling in you so that you live in Him for eternity.
Because of the great love which Christ lavishes on you here, everything else pales in comparison! Nothing has meaning without Jesus and His great love for you. Without the Lord’s mercy delivered in the Words of the Gospel and the Gospel Sacraments, life is not worth living.
So, come, receive the gift of Christ’s love. Receive the Body and Blood that became obedient for you unto death, even the death of the cross. Receive Christ as He comes to be your Servant, to wash away all your sin, to bring you His salvation, life, and resurrection.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.