Today is Maundy Thursday. It is the day Christians have celebrated the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Maundy Thursday falls within Lenton season. So what is Lent and should we care? "By what standard" do we create and celebrate our holidays or holy days is the heart of the matter. Do we desire to redeem time and transform its usage and meaning to glorify Jesus? I'm sure every evangelical Christian affirms. This means that time does not belong to the civil government. Our holidays ought to glorify the enthroned Jesus not the civil state. Time is not arbitrary. As Christians we do not destroy time or cower away from it. We are to redeem it unto the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 5:10, Eph 5:16). Our holy days matter (Est 9:26-32).
Let's get back to Lent. What is it? Lenton Season begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days (excluding Sundays). Our church calendar is set in a northern hemisphere context. The church's history is in the northern hemisphere. Lent comes from the Middle English word lente (spring) and the Old English word lengten (lengthen). It was the time of year when days were lengthening. The earth's death like sleep of winter is being transformed by light. Death is leading to resurrection. Lent is a 40 day preparation season. The allusion is to the 40 year wondering of Israel in the desert (Num 32:13) and Jesus wondering 40 days in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11). 40 typifies a time of testing and preparation. The church is preparing to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
During the 40 days of Lent we are to imitate Jesus. It is a time for us to earnestly examine ourselves afresh in the person and work of Jesus. As we imitate our Lord in the 40 days of lent we earnestly seek to struggle against sin, the flesh, the world and the devil. It is a period of desiring to be more sanctified and thus increase in Christian maturity. It is not a time of mere outward observance to ritual. No outward observance cleanses our hearts or sanctifies us. Lent is all about Jesus and His work in the world and us. Lenton season is all about an attitude of and disposition to repentance. True repentance is not mere words or outward action; rather it involves the whole man turning from sin to Christ in heart, mind, soul and deeds.
Maundy Thursday is right on the cusp of Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus. This day celebrates the act of Jesus washing the disciples' feet in John 13. This feet washing occurred right before the Feast of the Passover (Jn 13:1) and after the Lord's Supper (Jn 13:2). It is important to note the context and the allusions in the washing. Often we try and squeeze our theology or thoughts back into the text. Yes, the feet washing was about service. But there is also rich Old Testament allusion here and we must not miss it. The Exodus Passover Feast (Ex 12) occurred prior to the Day of the Lord, when God came in judgment on Pharaoh and delivered His people from sin and slavery. The Feast occurred on the night before. Each family, or if the family was too small it joined with neighbours, was to take a young sheep or goat (Ex 12:5) without blemish from their flock/herd. Four days later all of Israel was to kill their lamb or kid at twilight (Ex 12:6), paint blood from their kill on their doorposts (Ex 12:7) and then roast the meat for an evening meal to be had with unleaven bread (Ex 12:8). Think about the Lord's Supper in this Biblical context. Consider the family and neighbour centric nature of the meal and the act of preparation was consecrated as a whole community. The Lord's Supper incorporates all of this, even the sacrifice! Think about it. The people of God took the sacrificial animal and they killed it and spread the blood on their doorposts. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, was taken by His people the Jews and crucified (Acts 2:23-24). The Jews even cried out "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt 27:25). In the Last Supper Jesus celebrates the Passover knowing that He is the Lamb of God, He is the offering that the Father has provided (Gen 22:13). Jesus knows that the Father will not stay His hand against Him (Gen 22:10-12) so that the world can be redeemed (Jn 3:16-17). In the Last Supper Jesus declares that He is the fulfilment of the Passover and that we must feast and drink of His body and blood (Lk 22:19-20, cf Jn 6:49-58).
But why does Jesus wash the disciples feet after the Supper (Jn 13:2, cf Lk 22:14-22)? Again, we must understand it in context of the Old Testament allusions. Yes, it's about service. But there is more, a rich Old Testament tapestry. Washing feet is not unique to the New Testament. In Exodus 30:17-21 God commands the making of the Bronze Laver. It is for ceremonial washing or cleansing (Ex 30:17). The Levite Priests would die if they did not cleanse their hands and feet (i.e. the whole man) before entering the tabernacle to minister at the alter before God (Ex 30:21). This was a typological cleansing of sin. Man needs to be washed or baptised before he comes into the presence of God, or he dies. No unclean thing can stand before God and live (Ezra 9:15). The washing or cleansing was a typological clearing away of sin. It foreshadowed Jesus who came to take (wash) away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). Jesus' ministry of healing the sick in Israel was a ceremonial washing, cleansing and preparing the nation for judgment. The house of ISrael was being cleaned for judgment. In the washing of the disciples' feet Jesus is cleansing the disciples and preparing them to be the new Priests who are to minister before God. The church is the new priesthood (1 Pe 2:9) who stands as the Levites did before the throne of God ministering on His behalf.
Maundy Thursday is important. It not only shows that we should humble ourselves and serve each other, it also points to the work of the church (God's priests) ministering the Word of God to the world (the redeemed land). Washing or cleansing points to repentance and baptism. Maundy Thursday thus points to the need of all men - Jesus the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
When Jesus washes you, your sins are forgiven (Acts 22:16) and you become ceremonially clean. As a true priest you are relationally as close to God as possible. The blood and the water cleanse you and through Jesus’ resurrection you are brought into the Father's throne room, the true Holy of Holies, without being destroyed. The church is a priesthood of all believers who take the offer of eternal thirst and hunger quenching wine and bread out to all nations. This offering can only be eaten by those who the Father calls and grants repentance, faith and cleansing. Our cleansing/washing is "baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him" (1 Pe 3:21-22). Repent and believe the gospel. Live a life worthy of Jesus.
The first century feet cleansing was important. Let us remember.