The Lord's Table
Passover is a Jewish equivalent of Fourth of July. It is the celebration of Pharaoh's releasing them from slavery in Egypt to be free to serve the God of creation. It was celebrated on and off from the time of Moses till today. The way, food, and ceremony has changed significantly but the message remains clear—God sets His people free. Can you imagine the power this meal has for the Jews in Russia during Stalin's rule or the Tsar's persecution? Can you imagine Nazi Germany and those families left attempting to celebrate the meal and wait for God's safety? Now imagine those who celebrated this under the watchful eye of Rome. Jesus and his friends were doing that the night he was arrested. In fact, for decades and generations that had been going on with Jews always wondering when they would be free from these latest captors.
Gathered with Jesus is an odd group of men. Jewish insurgents, or zealots were sitting there with tax collectors; those with Greek names like Philip are sitting beside others proud of their Hebraic purity. Then there was Peter, the one who had a habit of speaking his thoughts out loud and Judas Iscariot who sold Jesus out to the High Priest.
Some around that table were probably glad for the apparent break and rest after the last week of coming and going to Jerusalem. Their trips back and forth from Bethany had been tiring. Jesus drove a bunch of traders from the Court of the Gentiles, which just solidified most of the Rabbis against him. Then in the course of the next couple of days questions and arguments; stories that pointed at the evil nature of the Sanhedrin and the power Jesus had shown in cursing a fig tree. These guys around the table didn't question Jesus' authority, just the wisdom of being in Jerusalem.
And in the midst of all of this business, there were cryptic moments when Jesus told them about things that would come. The temple being destroyed and his followers being beaten. In fact, Jesus said that he would be handed over to sinful people and be put to death, but most of them chalked that up to just talk.
They didn't get the rest they sought because Jesus once more does the unthinkable; he gets up, takes off his outer garment and wraps a towel around him and with a bowl of water he start to go from friend to friend and washes their feet, even Judas'. I wonder if he did that as the conversation was going on around so that he wasn't missed for a moment or if it was done during a momentary silence when everyone was watching and wondering.
Why would Jesus literally stoop to do the lowest, dirtiest, humiliating job around? It was so his friends would learn a little bit more about God's love. Jesus uses his example as a living parable of how his followers were suppose to love each other. That would mean James the revolutionary would have to love Matthew the sellout and traitor. Peter the impetuous would have to find a way to love Thomas the doubter. No easy task to do but it is commanded of them nonetheless. And then once Judas leaves, Jesus again reminds them of His command but now there is an ominous edge to the message as he says, "I will be with you only a little longer."
What do we need to take away from worship tonight? First, love is practical, dirty and humbling. There is nothing glorious in washing people's feet. USA Today ran an op-ed piece last December on Bridgetown Ministries here in Portland. Each Friday night a group of Christ followers, head out under the Burnside Bridge to meet up with homeless people. There, they wash and cut their hair; hand out food and clothes; and wash their feet, giving out clean socks. The author of the piece writes, "Washing someone's feet is an act best performed while kneeling. Given the washer's position, and the unpleasant appearance and odor of a homeless person's feet, it's hard to imagine an act more humbling." Yet week after week, they return. Why? Quite simply, because they are doing what Jesus would have them do—take care of the least of these.
To love others takes us away from the usual way of doing things and into the places where God is at work. Working with AIDS in Africa, orphanages in Romania, seminaries in India, and food relief in North Portland are just examples of places where God currently is busy doing things through His Body.
Second, understand that there is room at the table for each of us. I don't believe Judas had to leave. I believe that had there been any hope within his soul the Holy Spirit could have used it to keep him at the table. But he didn't. There are always those who think they are too bad for Jesus to love. There are those who think they've done things too horrible for God to forgive; but that's the wonder and glory of the cross. That's why a dark and horrendous death on Friday transforms the day into GOOD Friday. And that is why Easter becomes the vindication of all the promises Jesus spoke to us about the Father.
Like the story of the prodigal son who spent his inheritance, the Father invites us back into the household. It is the same with us. We're restored, we're renewed, we're forgiven and we're overwhelmed because we deserve death but we are given life. And it's a life so great that it overflows with mercy, grace and God's love.
Do you believe that? Can you at least begin to get your mind around the depth and sheer amount of God's love for each of us? Have you ever come to grips with the fact that you, that I should die because of our sins? And because Jesus DID die we don't have too. Just think about that these next couple of days. Better yet go put in the movie The Passion of the Christ and reflect on what our sins did to Jesus.
Third, connect with God's transforming power when we put others first. The main point of salvation is NOT so we can go to heaven and have a wonderful reunion with our loved ones. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find that sort of thing at all in the Bible. Salvation is an act that brands us as belonging to God so that we can do good works. Many of us have heard Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast". But verse 10 tells us why we've been saved, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Paul tells the Corinthians who were having a lot of troubles with selfishness that God had made them Ambassadors and given the ministry or service of reconciliation. This means God uses us in the world in such a way that those who know us can't believe it. So that they might exclaim, "If God can save them He can certainly save me."
Let me suggest that as you come up here and take bread, dip it in the cup and eat it that you do some soul searching. What does it mean to you that this bread and juice represent Jesus' flesh and blood broken and poured? How do you feel when you realize His death was in OUR place?
Let us come to Christ's table.