The Meal of Reconciliation
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Corinthians 11:23–11:32, John 13:1–13:17, John 13:31–13:35
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 Corinthians 11:23-32; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
“Go and Be Reconciled: The Meal of Reconciliation”
You kind of stink a little bit. And I do, too.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you need a breath freshener, a new deodorant, or a new pair of socks. This stink isn’t something that you or I can smell. This stink comes from that film of dust that builds up as we fail to act and use what we’ve been given to help our neighbor. It comes from the dirt and grime we pick up as we go our own way through the world each day, chasing after self-interest. It comes from the blood that covers our hands as we smash and grab in our relationships with one another, that stains our faces as we lash out with our tongues in careless talk. This stink rises up before God – and He knows from whence it comes. We need to be washed.
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet on that Thursday evening in preparation for the last supper they would share together before his betrayal and arrest. He assumed the role of the servant, taking on one of the least dignified jobs around. The disciples would have been extremely embarrassed at the sight of their beloved Teacher washing anybody’s feet, let alone their own. But Jesus wants them to understand that they are called to serve, even as he has served them. None of them are better than their Teacher, and he’s the one who’s taken the lowliest role at the table.
And Jesus didn’t just wash his disciples’ stinky feet on that night before his death. Though Simon Peter wouldn’t understand it at the time, he got his wish when he asked Jesus, “Lord, [wash] not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He washed all of them in his blood of the covenant. As Jesus set before them the gift he was instituting in the Lord’s Supper, he provided them with that which they needed to be clean. His blood would be poured out for them over the day ahead to take away the stink of the sin that separated them and all of us from God.
You and I need to be washed by Jesus, just the same. Every day. We need to have the stink of our sin cleaned away by the blood of the covenant. The stink separates us from each other. We need to be washed if we’re going to be reconciled: reconciled with God and reconciled with our fellow human beings. Tonight, Jesus invites you to his table to be washed, to be reconciled. You’re family.
Holy Communion is a family meal: Jesus makes us to be a family, bringing us together into the unity that we receive as people he has reconciled to God. The Lord’s Supper is about fellowship. When you come to Communion tonight, you’re joining him at the table he’s prepared for you. He’s the host, you and I are his guests. You have fellowship with the Jesus, the Son of God. And you’re not alone at the table. You’re joining angels and all the company of heaven, all those who have gone before us in the faith, including the disciples with whom Jesus first celebrated this holy meal. At the Lord’s table, we get a glimpse of the celebration that awaits us when Jesus returns in glory. You’ve also – and significantly – got fellowship with the people here, your family in Christ, people who have also been washed in his blood of the covenant.
Along with Christians across history, in our congregation we often practice the sharing of the peace with one another before we celebrate Holy Communion. In ancient days (and some modern-day Christian communities), believers would greet one another with a holy kiss of peace, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” If anyone would not be able to share the peace due to outstanding and unresolved conflict, they were urged to reconcile before coming to the Lord’s Supper. This meal of fellowship – with Jesus, the company of heaven, and each other – bears witness to how Christ brings us together. As his disciples, we’re called to “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) That includes seeking out reconciliation where it’s needed in our lives. If you need to be reconciled with your fellow Christian, do so before coming to Holy Communion, then join to celebrate it together.
Jesus gives his disciples a new command that first Maundy Thursday, following on the example he set in washing their feet: love one another. “Loving one another” had always been a defining characteristic of what it meant to be God’s people in the world. The Ten Commandments could be summed up as, “Love God, love your neighbor.” But Jesus adds a new dimension to the command: “just as I have loved you.” Care for one another, just as Jesus has cared you: unselfishly. Serve one another, just as Jesus has served you: fully. Christ-like service means pouring oneself out in service to another, even to the point of death. Love one another, just as Christ has loved you. Christ has given us this new command, and he gives us the Holy Spirit to make the living of such love possible for us. Through the work of the Spirit in us, God strengthens our faith as we serve, as we love one another.
In this meal of reconciliation, you get to experience Jesus’ love for you, his love for those around the table with you, and his love for the world. The benefits that he won on the cross which followed the Last Supper are delivered to you today: a reconciled and restored relationship with your Creator, and new life where you no longer carry the stink of sin. In this meal, God is here for you: you get to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) as he feeds you with holy medicine. God the Son is giving you himself, his actual body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine, the blood of the covenant that each one of us needs.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper according to his command, we are indeed proclaiming our Savior’s death until he comes again. Jesus took the Passover meal, that powerful, annual reminder of God’s grace in delivering His people from slavery in Egypt, and transformed into a reminder of the new and greater “exodus” that Jesus accomplished for us and all people: his sacrifice on the cross to free us from our slavery to sin and death. Gathering around the table that Jesus prepared for us, we remember and celebrate with thanksgiving that he made reconciliation a reality in our lives. And as he brings us together in this family meal, we give witness to our looking ahead for his return. This is the good stuff, but the best is yet to come.
Welcome to the Lord’s table. Come, and be washed. Come, and be reconciled.