St. John 13:1-15; 34-35
April 14, 2022
NO SERMON AUDIO
(edited from April 18, 2019)
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord washed the disciples’ feet as an object lesson. This is explicit. He both asks them if they understand what He has done and says that what He has done is an example for them.
This is markedly different from what He says about the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He does not call the Sacrament an example. Ever. He does not ask them if they have understood what He has done. It is unlikely that any mother has ever given her hungry toddler a piece of bread and then asked if the toddler understood what she had done. The Sacrament of the Altar is not an object lesson. It is food. It is not a ceremony about the death of Jesus or a vivid reminder that we should feed the poor or even that we should love one another or that God Himself loves us. Rather, the Sacrament of the Altar is the wholesome food that all men need, given for the body and soul. It is the medicine of immortality. It both bestows and joins us to the life of the risen Christ. For life is in the Blood.
The eating and drinking of Jesus’ risen Body and Blood is a proclamation of His death. It is done in remembrance of Him. That is not a ceremony but a Word. We do not do this to keep His memory alive. He died, but He is not dead. He lives. Our eating and drinking proclaim the kind of death He died, that is, substitutionary, for the forgiveness of sins, and we remember what He has given us to join us to that death and resurrection: the eating of His Body and drinking of His Blood.
When the Small Catechism asks, “What does this mean?” it is not asking what the Sacrament of the Altar means. It is asking what the words of Jesus which instituted the Sacrament mean. Those words mean that in the Sacrament Christ gives His true Body and Blood through bread and wine into the mouths of His children for the forgiveness of their sins.
Foot washing means something. The Sacrament doesn’t mean anything because the Sacrament is something. Christ gives it as His last will and testament. If a last will and testament of your grandfather said “I bequeath my favorite garden gnome to Steven.” I might ask what does He mean by this? Which garden gnome was his favorite? Which Steven was he talking about. But I am not asking what the gnome means. The gnome simply is and has been given out of the grandfather’s love.
The Sacrament of the Altar is the lifeblood of the Church. It is what we have been given to do. In it, Christ He comes to us in grace for the forgiveness of sins. By this gift, Christ fuels His church. He enables us to continue the war even as He delivers the victory of that war and He prepares us for the transition to the Church Triumphant.
The foot washing was a real service to the apostles. It did something. It removed dirt and grime and it refreshed the apostles. But it was meant as more than simply something useful to them in the moment. The lesson probably could have been accomplished in other ways. He might have washed their hair or given them a glass of water. The ceremony was meant to teach something about the Kingdom and about the role of the apostle. It was also meant to show us something of our place and relationship both to one another and to Christ. The point wasn’t foot washing. It was love and service. In the Sacrament of the Altar, the point is not something that the Sacrament illustrates, but is actually what Christ gives in the eating and drinking: real heavenly food for body and soul with eternal benefit. This is the way that Christ joins Himself to us flesh and blood humans. He does so with His flesh and blood and makes us one with Him.
In the face of the war we fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature a ceremony and object lesson aren’t enough. We need more. We need food fit for warriors, strength for the day, forgiveness. We need grace lest we faint. We need this physically because we are physical creatures. God gets to our souls through our ears and our mouths.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.