Monday, May 21, 2007

Getting Started, Again

I am making a second attempt to work the blog...

The Gospel according to St. John is interesting for many reasons. It is not a part of the synoptic tradition. As Luther once remarked in a sermon, He liked St. John the best because St. John let Jesus speak for Himself. In other words, Luther believed that St. John has more of Jesus' sermons than the synoptic gospels. You be the judge as to the truth and validity of that statement.

Nevertheless, St. John 13-16 makes for some very interesting ecclesiology. These chapters take place in the upper room at the time of the Passover meal. St. John omits the institution of the Lord's Supper. In chapter 13, Jesus stoops down to wash the disciples' feet. He is putting all things in order before He dies. Why the washing of the feet? This may be perplexing unless once thinks about the rich imagery and symbolism that weaves in and out of the Holy Scriptures. There is a Jewish form of literature that focuses on such themes as "road, way, path, light, and feet." It can be seen in the psalms, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"(Psalm 119:105).

It is seen in the gospel of St. Mark when Jesus says, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me"(St. Mark 8:34). It is seen a verse before when Jesus tells St. Peter, "ho pisw mou" "Get behind Me." So the whole notion of walking along the path and following Jesus is apostolic in emphasis. It is language and imagery not to be regarded lightly.

As a result, when Jesus stoops down and begins to wash the disciples' feet He says to them, "What I do you do not understand now, but you will know after this"(St. John 13:7). What is He doing? How will they know? Jesus hints at the answer in verse 13 where He says, "You call me 'the teacher' and 'the Lord' and you speak well for I am. Therefore, if I, 'the Lord' and 'the teacher' was your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another." This is apostolic just as Christ's remarks to Peter in St. Mark 8 are apostolic.

Jesus is setting things in order. He is getting ready to die, and His love for His church is evident in the upper room. Washing the disciples' feet and then referring to Himself as teacher in verse 13 demonstrates that Jesus is connecting the washing of feet to that of the aspect of teacher. They are to do likewise in the future. The apostles will go forth and do as Jesus had done, which is to serve the church through teaching the apostolic message.

Though St. John doesn't give us a "last supper account," we can clearly see from the synoptics that Jesus is concerned for His church. He is putting things in order. The apostles are to do as Jesus has done. Their feet are clean due to Christ's washing, which is tantamount to Jesus sending them, "apostello." The word "apostle" is even used in verse 16. The disciples now with clean feet are just about ready to begin the apostolic ministry. Now that their feet are clean they will "hand down" (paradidomi) the teachings of Jesus to the world as if it were Jesus Himself who was doing the teaching. This is seen by Christ's words in verse 20.

They will stand in the stead and by the command of Christ and they will "observe all things just as Christ commanded"(St. Matthew 28:20). Jesus then goes on to preach His last sermon to them in St. John 14-16, words of great comfort to the apostles and those in the church today. Jesus then prays for His church in the famous prayer in chapter 17.

These chapters mount with increasing intensity for the apostolic ministry was drawing near. What would ushered it in? Christ's death on the cross. "It is finished," as Jesus breathed His last from the cross. The sins of the world had been atoned for, and all that was needed was for the church to use the gifts which Christ had given to His church--baptism, the proclamation of the gospel, and the Lord's Supper. The foot washing was basically saying, "be faithful." St. Paul says it another way in 1 Corinthians 11:2, "Now I praise you, brehtren, that you remember me in all things and *keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.*

Therein lies the apostolic way. Therein lies Christ's charge "if I, then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." In other words, do the Rabbinic thing and teach as I have taught you. Walk the road of Christ and be in the stead of Christ.

This brings comfort to the church today. When we sit in the Divine Service and we hear the gospel lection proclaimed and absolution pronounced upon us, we should be hearing Christ. We should also realize that this proclamation is the fruit and the gift of Christ given to the apostles to walk as Christ had walked and "hand down" the teachings of Christ, for these teachings are salvific and life-giving.

+Fr. Chadius