Christianity 201

March 31, 2021

Maundy Thursday and the Act of Foot-Washing

Over the past decade we’ve seen a major shift in Evangelical observance of what the Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches call Holy Week. There is much more consciousness of Lent and even debates — because of the rapid shift in some denominations — as to its incorporation in Evangelicalism. While we’ve always been observant of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is also an increasing awareness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday.

The particular centerpiece of this observance is Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. In a sense, it’s the last action of great significance he will do besides leading (and updating) the Passover meal. He will give the disciples further teaching, he will pray, he will heal a Roman guard’s ear that Peter has impulsively severed, and then beyond this things seem to shift, humanly speaking out of his control as he faces Pilate, then Herod and then speaks a few sentences from the cross.

I think it’s interesting that John includes this narration — none of the synoptic gospels have it — and yet does not include the familiar Last Supper narrative. Those who produce what is called a harmony of the gospels, place the washing of the disciples feet first, as some activity from the meal — some teaching about his eventual betrayal, and the particular instruction to Judas who then exits — is covered later in John 13. And yet, the evidence from verse 2 is that “the evening meal was in progress,” (italics added) so perhaps the foot-washing happened more in the middle.

The meal is highly structured and drawn out. For example we think of Jesus taking “the cup,” but there are two cups mentioned, scholars say they shared a third special cup, and that there ought to have been a fourth one, but the meal is not completed in that sense because Jesus is saying that the meal will be completed at what we call the marriage supper of the Lamb. So I’m going to place the foot-washing in the middle of the overall ceremonial part of the dinner.

Here is the text,

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

I’ve heard people loosely use the term, “the sacrament of foot-washing,” but the Roman Catholic Church, who one might think of as the arbiters of all things sacrament doesn’t include it. Why is that? Father Joe, who writes at Blogger Priest replied in 2014, pointing out that the sacraments have to have particular meaning and this raises “the difficulty was as to what it signified.” He continues,

St. Augustine made a connection with baptism (and yet there was already a formula for that sacrament). Most authorities and the Church associated it with ordination to the priesthood. Indeed, it plays something of this role in the (spiritualized) Gospel of John. There too the apostles adopted the laying on of hands upon the head of a man as the manner in which he was called to holy orders. Today, the foot washing increasingly refers to our commission as servants or disciples. That is already sufficiently signified in our baptism and confirmation. So I guess the short answer is that the sacraments are not capricious. There was no need for an eighth sacrament. However, once a year it does function as a “sacramental” that emphasizes both the importance of the priesthood and our call to live out our Christianity with humility and charity.

So what’s maundy about Maundy Thursday?

It’s actually a Latin word taken from the first words of Jesus later in the chapter,

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” (13:34)

Jesus continues,

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

In my reading, verse 15 is just as clear as the instruction to observe the Lord’s Supper as we do in the Eucharist, or Communion or Lord’s Table in our modern services. So why the one and not the other?

A few years back this was part of a discussion in the Reformed community page on Reddit.  One answer reads,

A sacrament is an external sign and seal of a deeper spiritual mystery instituted by God, which is a special category occupied by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There are many other things that Christ exhorts us to do, but not everything he tells us to do is a sacrament.

So we don’t accept foot washing as a sacrament because it was never instituted as a sacrament. There are clear commands in the New Testament to baptize in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) and observe the Lord’s Supper–“Drink of it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27). And then both are repeated elsewhere in the epistles, with information on the spiritual mysteries behind them.

Foot washing, on the other hand, was something Christ did to show the disciples and his Church how they should treat one another. It wasn’t instituted as an external sign that should be repeated by the church in all ages.

Another commented,

There is a difference between the Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper is what Jesus ate with this disciples before his crucifixion, and that included foot washing. The Lord’s Supper is what he commanded his church to do, in commemoration of the Last Supper and in looking forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We were commanded to continue eating the bread and drinking the cup. We were not commanded wash feet – that was something that Jesus in particular did, and indeed only Jesus could do, as you can see when Jesus rebukes Peter. It would be inappropriate for us to do foot washing for the same reason that it was inappropriate for Peter to try and wash Christ’s feet. Like Peter we cannot make Christ clean – in fact it is unwittingly blasphemous to even think that – rather, only Christ can make us clean. Partaking of the bread and wine, however, demonstrate and are a reminder that Christ’s body was broken and his blood was shed for us, and that we need it.

There are more responses like this, but I can’t say I find them all totally satisfying.

One person wrote,

I’d find it easier to make an argument that foot-washing should be a sacrament than to make one that it shouldn’t.

What do you think?


Postscript:

People I know who have participating in foot-washing have described it as a sacred experience, a holy moment if you will that they will always treasure. But we seem to dismiss it as a First Century practice no longer applicable. The website Beliefnet offers alternatives.

…Many Christians like to show their humility and love in other ways that do not require the literal washing of feet. Some churches will promote this to help strengthen the bond within their congregation. Other ways you can symbolically wash the feet of those you want to be of service to include:

  • Engage in a random act of kindness
  • Leave flowers on a friend’s doorstep
  • Call someone just to check in on how they are doing
  • Share words of love and appreciation
  • Make amends for something you have done that may have been hurtful
  • Stand up for those who are unable to do so for themselves
  • Support someone, despite if you agree with their choices
  • Lend a listening ear to someone going through tough times
  • Bring a new person to your church
  • Use your God-given gifts in new ways

The main purpose of foot-washing is caring for others, cleansing us in a sin-cursed world, and to emulate Jesus in everything we do. As long as there are genuine emotions behind the act, the service to others will bring feelings of humility and empathy. It is a beneficial act for both parties.

So whether figurative or literal, is there someone whose feet you might wash this week?


Related worship song – a must listen!

If you don’t know this song, which we’ve featured here before, I urge you to take the time to experience this Graham Kendrick composition.

 

April 10, 2020

For Me He Died: A Good Friday Collection

 

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.

Dying for me, dying for me,
There on the cross He was dying for me;
Now in His death my redemption I see,
All because Jesus was dying for me.

– early 20th Century hymn; vs 1, William Ovens, vs. 2, Gladys Toberts


…It’s like sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

-Early Christianity 201 post


Christ died. He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE!

– Matthew Henry


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

-Colossians 1:19


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.

~ Watchman Nee


It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.

– Grant Gunnink; quoted at Daily Encouragement (C201 link)


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– I Cor. 1:18


My hope is in the Lord
Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin
at Calvary.

For me He died,
For me He lives;
And everlasting life and light
He freely gives.

Hymn, My Hope is in the Lord, © 1945 Norman J. Clayton Publishing © Renewed 1973


May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

– Galatians 6:14


The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve.

-Clarke Dixon (C201 link)


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

-Ephesians 5:1,2


It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God Reigns, verses 3 and 4


But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

-Hebrews 2:9


The problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.

-Glenn Packiam (C201 link)


And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
“O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart.”

-Oswald J. Smith, Deeper and Deeper (C201 link)


It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence.

– Russell Young (C201 link)


■ Here is the embedded link to the Good Friday (and Communion Service) playlist we’ve been promoting all week. This will play continuously as long as you leave this page open, or you can click through to YouTube and watch it (some of the songs are lyric videos) there. Unlike the hymns quoted above, these are all modern worship cross-centered songs.

 

February 10, 2016

Can We Really Trust the Gospels?

Today we welcome back friend and regular contributor Clarke Dixon after several weeks away. From what he told me once before, he’s as happy to be back crafting sermons as we are to read them here. Click the title below to read at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

The Gospels. How Do We Know They Are True?

How do we know any of it is true? Why bother reading the Bible? In our church family we are encouraging the reading of the Gospels over the season of Lent. We will be reading all of the Gospel of Mark, all of the Gospel of John, and parts of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. (A reading schedule is available at calvarybaptistcobourg.com). Why bother committing to such reading? How do we know the stories about Jesus and his teachings in these Gospels are not just fairy tales made up by the disciples?

So how do we know? Consider John 15:26,27:

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27 ESV)

These two verses point us to two answers.

First, we have the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. In verse 26 Jesus says that “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” This inner testimony from the Holy Spirit can come rather like an intuition but it can also come along as strong feelings, like sorrow and regret or of joy and belonging. This is not just testimony that indeed there is a God, this is testimony that the God Who is wants to have a relationship with us:

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:14-16)

This testimony of the Holy Spirit is to the reality and love of Jesus, but also to the truth of the scriptures.

Jesus was real to me long before I knew there was any evidence for the truth of Christianity which brings us to the second way we know the Gospels are true. We have the historical record, we have the testimony of eyewitnesses: “you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (v.27) Keep in mind that here Jesus is speaking specifically to the disciples, that they are to become eyewitnesses of the facts about who Jesus is, what he said, what he did, how he died, and how he was raised to life again. Because of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit we do not need evidence to believe, but when something is true we can and should expect the evidence to point in that same direction. We have this evidence through the disciples who were eyewitnesses. We have their genuine testimony preserved for us in the Gospels.

2 Timothy 3:16 points out an interesting fact about the works that make up the Bible:

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Saying that scripture is inspired by God is different than saying scripture is written by God. God is to scripture what the flute player is to music. The music that comes from the flute will be according to the desires of the flutist, but the flutist very much wants to use the flute. There is no scripture without God, and it is exactly as he has planned it to be. Yet there is no scripture without some very genuine flesh-and-blood people involved also. While the testimony of the Holy Spirit may convince us of the truths of scripture as we read, the fact that flesh and blood humans were involved as eyewitnesses points us to some evidence quite outside ourselves.

There are a few things for us to note:

  • The Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or people intimately connected with the eyewitnesses of Jesus. It is interesting and instructive that we do not have just one Gospel written by one person, or even one written by Jesus. Instead we have multiple witnesses. This is not one person attempting to get a new religion going as we often see in cults. Instead the early Christian movement is many people responding to what they saw in and through Jesus. Experiencing the risen Jesus caused many people to recognize the gravity of all the facts around Him. The Gospels were written to get those facts down. This makes better sense than the theory that someone or a group of people tried to turn Jesus into something greater than he actually was.
  • The Gospels preserve the eyewitness accounts of genuine eyewitnesses. Slight discrepancies between the Gospels on minor matters can be a source of stress for those who see the inerrancy of scripture as meaning that God should inspire out and iron out every such thing. However, these slight discrepancies do point to the genuine nature of the Gospels as coming from eyewitnesses to genuine events. The inerrancy of scripture means that the Bible is exactly the way it needs to be do reveal to us exactly what God wants to reveal. That there might be differences, take for example the manner in which the death of Judas occurred, makes no difference to God’s revelation of fundamental truths. That the accounts are not exactly the same demonstrate that the accounts are genuine for it is human nature to remember the important bits of what we experience with greater clarity than the details.
  • The Gospels were written quite closely to the events they describe as a means to preserve the eyewitness accounts. If the Gospels were written even one hundred years following the events they describe and there was not already a coherent Christian movement you might be able to make a case for them being written in an effort to help create yet another new man-made religion. But they are dated much earlier to the events they describe, some scholars putting them as close as within thirty to forty years after. This would put them at about the time people realized they had better start writing things down before the eyewitnesses all passed away. They were written at a time all the facts could still be checked. And they were written after the movement had already gained steam. They were written to preserve, not fabricate.

As we consider the truth of the Gospels, we should not be surprised by efforts to discredit the Gospels and the eyewitnesses that stand behind them. If it is true that Jesus rose from the dead, then it is also true that he died that our sins might be forgiven. And if it is true that he died that our sins can be forgiven, then it is also true that we have a sin problem in the first place. Therein lies the problem for many people. It is not just about confessing interesting facts from history. It is rather confessing a fact about ourselves; we have a sin-against-our-Creator problem and we need help.

Some people are interested in Jesus the way an hobbyist might be interested in airplanes or cars. I can tell you many interesting (to me) facts about airplanes and motorcycles, but they do not change my life one bit. Facts about Jesus, however, are life changing. I remember not wanting to wear glasses and so I refused to admit that I needed them. In grade six I needed to squint to see what was written on the blackboard. By grade eight it seemed I needed to squint to be able to see that there was a blackboard. When I first wore my glasses I felt embarrassed and worried about the names I might be called. But I also saw clearly for the first time in years and wondered why I had waited so long. Those who may be embarrassed at the thought of becoming a Christian, once they do so will wonder they didn’t do so earlier. That I need glasses is a life-changing fact, and the glasses themselves have been life changing. Sin is a life changing fact and Jesus Himself is life-changing.

So as we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, how do we know they are true? And how do we know that the Good News, the Gospel itself is true? We know it by the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, and by the compelling testimony of credible witnesses in history. And how can I know I am loved and forgiven by God? The evidence of God’s love is in Jesus, His death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit and the eyewitness accounts stand as witnesses to that love.

Next week we will be looking more closely at the Gospel of Mark.

February 21, 2012

Lent Begins

Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I had little consciousness of the liturgical calendar beyond Christmas and Easter. There was also Thanksgiving, but then, how seriously could that be taken when it was observed more than six weeks apart in Canada and the United States?

To be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant however is to be aware of the ever changing liturgical season; it is more than the passing of time, rather, each cycle is complete retelling of the New Testament gospel story. I’ve come to believe that Evangelicals are somewhat shortchanged in this area, though non-Evangelicals are also missing out on other ministry and worship opportunities because they are slave to the calendar. Balance is found somewhere in the middle.

Part of the reason both sides miss out is due to a lack of understanding of how things came to be. With lent — which begins this year as of tomorrow morning with Ash Wednesday — while I’ll admit that Wikipedia is not always the ideal source for theological information, this article is very comprehensive.

Lent (Latin: Quadragesima, “fortieth”[1]) is the Christian observance of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxury as a form of penitence. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Christ’s carrying the Cross and of his execution, are often observed. Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches bare their altars of candles, flowers, and other devotional offerings, while crucifixes, religious statues, and other elaborate religious paraphernalia are often veiled in violet fabrics in observance of this event. In certain pious Catholic countries, grand processions and cultural customs are observed, and the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.

According to the Synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.[2][3] Thus, Lent is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. In many of the Christian churches, Lent is regarded as being forty days long, but the Sundays between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday are not typically regarded as being part of Lent; thus, the date of Shrove Tuesday will typically be slightly more than forty days before Easter Sunday.

This event, along with its pious customs are observed by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and some Baptists.[4][4][5][5] Lent is increasingly being observed by other denominations as well, even such groups that have historically ignored Lent, such as some Baptists and Mennonites[6]

One of the things I don’t see so much in literature is a comparison between the season of Advent and the time of Lent. While Advent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures the coming of the Messiah, Lent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

Both represent a long run-up to an event that we already know is to take place. There is a tension of wondering what happens next, even though we know the story. That tension is partly due to looking to see what happens next inside us. The anticipating of Christ’s coming is preparing our hearts to welcome Him and recognize Him as Divine. The anticipating of Christ’s suffering and death is preparing our hearts to receive what He is, in the narrative, about to do for us and has in fact already done. It is placing ourselves under the covering of His atoning sacrifice.

For those of Evangelical background like myself, the Wikipedia article includes significant dates falling within the next 40 days:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
  • Clean Monday (or “Ash Monday”) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. On Laetare Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing vestments of rose (pink) instead of violet.
  • The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide
  • The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him
  • Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples
  • Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial

I encourage you to read the whole article. The more Evangelical your background — especially if you are very Charismatic or Pentecostal, or very much part of a seeker-sensitive church — this will all seem rather foreign. But these traditions and forms had their origins in a church that was more vibrant than its descendant denominations today, and we do well not to toss out too much Church history.

June 8, 2010

Giving Up

I found this February post somewhat randomly.   Too many good things in the Christian blogosophere disappear after a few days, and it’s too bad, because there are a number of nuggets of gold in most Christian blogs if you’ve got the time to look for them.

This one is from Sim’s Blog and was written with Lent in mind, a time associated with “giving up” various things…

Give up complaining —— Focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism —— Become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments —— Think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry —— Trust divine providence.
Give up discouragement —— Be full of hope.
Give up bitterness —— Turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred —— Return good for evil.
Give up negativism —— Be positive.
Give up anger —— Be more patient.
Give up pettiness —— Become mature.
Give up gloom —— Enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy —— Pray for trust.
Give up gossiping —— Control your tongue.
Give up sin —— Turn to virtue.
Give up giving up —— Hang in there!

`Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.’ – Matthew 9:13