John 13:34-35; Words of Institution
April 2, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “to hand over.” It comes from the two verses that follow tonight’s Gospel, from John 13:34-35: I am giving you a new commandment, that you love each other; since I loved you in order that you also would love each other. By this, everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love among each other (Jn 13:34-35).
The new commandment is not the only new thing that Jesus gives on the night in which He was betrayed, and the new commandment does not exist without it. There is also a new testament. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of Me” (Words of Institution).
The new commandment leads to the new testament and flows from it. The love of Christ compels Him to give Himself over to death, and by that death, the testament He leaves in the Sacrament goes into effect.
The New Commandment of Love Is Fulfilled in Christ’s New Testament of Grace
This new commandment is more than just a commandment. It’s interesting that when Jesus gives this new commandment, He doesn’t actually use an imperative, or a verb of command. He describes what the new commandment is, and it’s much more than a command. It’s a whole new way of thinking, a new way of life. I am giving you a new commandment, that you love each other. And the cause of this new commandment of love is the love with which Christ first loved us: since I loved you in order that you also would love each other. What is the nature of this love of this new way of life? The new commandment of love is exemplified by Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.
The new commandment is not really new at all. Before the Levitical code existed, before even the 10 Commandments existed, the law of love was carved into creation. The entire Law is summarized in the word love. Moses said, Love the LORD your God with all your mind, all your heart, and all your strength (Dt 6:5). And he said again, Love your neighbor as yourself (Lv 19:18). These are not just the commands of a man, but the Lord’s commands.
Jesus restates the law of love in His Sermon on the Mount, taking the 10 Commandments back to their roots of love for God and neighbor. The golden rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is derived from the law of love. When Jesus is asked what the greatest law is, He responds: “Love God; love your neighbor.” Love is the summary of the law.
So it’s not really anything new when Jesus gives His disciples a new commandment. Except for how that love is defined. It’s not defined by requirements and expectations. Love one another, says Jesus. As I have loved you. The love of Christ is the example and the cause of this new commandment of love.
The law of love is not new, but it’s renewed and shown clearly in Christ’s self-sacrificial service. That’s the purpose of the foot washing. It’s not a how-to demonstration for ceremonial reenactment. In Jesus’ own words, it’s an example, a pattern. It’s how things work in His kingdom. The Lord becomes the servant. The greater becomes a slave to the least. The new law of love is defined by self-sacrifice.
The law of love is given purpose and shape by Christ. And so the ones who bear His name, we Christians, are commanded to suffer all for the sake of our neighbor. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Jesus says that everyone will know you are My disciples if you have love among each other, but if you were to randomly ask a secularist who Jesus’ disciples are, you’d probably hear, “They’re the ones who won’t bake cakes for gay couples.” It’s a mischaracterization, to be sure, but there’s a kernel of truth there—and both are the work of the devil. Christians are defined more by what they hate than by what they love.
It’s easy to show false humility—the pope washes the feet of the poor every year—likewise, it’s easy to love and serve someone you like, someone you’ve got something in common with. On the other hand it takes a divine miracle to love your enemies, to become a slave to your persecutors, to suffer all for people who hate you and your God, to actually do what this new commandment requires. And a divine miracle is precisely what Jesus also gives on the night in which He is betrayed.
In addition to the new commandment to love one another, Jesus also gives a new testament. By the words that He speaks over bread and wine, He leaves behind a pledge and token of His sacrificial love. The meal He institutes becomes the means by which He distributes the treasures of heaven, and the means by which His new commandment is kept in full. The new testament in Christ’s blood is that your love for others in an extension of His love for you.
This new testament isn’t really new at all. It’s been around since the beginning of time, since before time, in fact. From the foundation of the world. It was God’s will to unite Himself with His creation by becoming flesh and blood. He did this, with full foreknowledge that it would result in His creation turning against Him, mocking Him, beating Him, and putting Him to death. He did this, because there is no depth, no breadth, no height that exceeds the love that drives our God to give Himself up for the sake of His beloved. From the beginning, the shadows were there—the promises, the deliverances, the sacrifices, the types, the pictures, the prophecies. Jesus gives a new testament on the night in which He is betrayed, but it’s not entirely new.
St. Paul writes, The Law, which came 430 year after, does not revoke the testament previously ratified by God, for the abolition of the Promise. For if the inheritance is from the Law, it’s no longer from the Promise; but God has freely given it to Abraham by a promise (Gal 3:17-18). The testament had always existed—the Law came later on account of sin. But now it has come to us with absolute clarity and is in full effect.
A testament does not go into effect until someone has died, and so this new testament goes into effect on account of His sacrificial death and is shown clearly in this sacramental meal. Jesus did many things in flesh and blood, but the sacrament is given to remember a very specific thing that His flesh and blood did. This is My body, given for you. This is My blood, shed for you. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death, until He comes again (1 Cor 11:24-25, 26). Every Sunday your preacher gets to give a sermon, but the Lord’s Supper is your sermon. It’s the congregation’s sermon. Even when this preacher falls flat.
Christ’s perfect love and obedience has earned Him God’s favor. He has won life and salvation. And His testament leaves those treasures to you. This is the new testament in Christ’s blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there also are life and salvation. If you believed this, you would be beating down the doors of the church asking for this meal as often as you can get it, because as often as you eat and drink, this proclamation rings in your ears: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins! For these words require all hearts to believe.
Taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8). This Sacrament, given for you to eat and to drink, is refreshing nourishment. Like a vine to its branches, Christ Jesus supplies you not only with His true body and blood, but also with His divine love. The same blood that flows through His veins now flows through you. His love is the cause of your love, like the blossoms budding on the trees outside.
And thus the new commandment is also kept in you. In Christ, attached to Him, fed by Him, nourished by Him, your love for each other is simply an extension of His love for you. His love is the cause, your love is the result. A new commandment and a new testament. Love each other. Since Christ has loved you, love each other. Take and eat. Take and drink. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard