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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

The God of Love is the God Who Comes Down: Thoughts on Holy (Maundy) Thursday

The God of Israel came down from heaven in a cloud on Mount Sinai, and He ate and drank, He feasted with Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders. He hosts them. He serves them. He gives, they receive. He is a God of love.

This same God then came down from heaven in human flesh, as a man, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and He ate and drank, He feasted with Peter, James, and John and the other disciples. He hosts them. He serves them. He gives; they receive. He is a God of love.

This same Jesus then came down from the seat of honor at supper, and setting aside His garments, He stoops down, kneels down to foot level to wash His disciples' feet. He takes the position of a slave, a servant. He gives; they receive. He is a God of love.

But Peter protests. But why? Because the washing of the feet is the slaves' task, the servant's duty to his master. And so Peter recognizes that the Lord of heaven and earth, the creator of everything, should not take the position of the slave, the form of a servant. It is beneath him. God is not to serve, but be served. And yet, neither Peter nor any of the disciples had stooped down to wash Jesus' feet. It had not occurred to any of them to take the form of a servant, to take up the task of a slave and serve their Lord and Teacher, Jesus, the God of Israel in the flesh. He is condemned by His own thinking, by his own unloving attitude toward Jesus, the way we feel when someone gets us a present for Christmas or our Birthday, and we didn't think enough of them to get them something.

But more than that, Peter didn't yet see who Jesus really was and what Jesus was really about. In fact, Peter didn't really see who the God Israel really was and what the God is Israel was really about. For the God of Israel is a God of love. He comes down, He stoops down to host, to serve, to give. Thus Jesus says, if I don't wash you, Peter, you have no share in me. That is, if I don't come down, if I don't stoop down, if I don't take the form of a servant, you have no share in me. For unless, I stoop down, you will not be raised up. Unless I empty myself, you will not be filled. Unless I give of myself, you will not receive me. I give; you receive. I am a God of love.

How low would He go? How far would Jesus stoop down? He would go all the way to the cross, all the way to His death, all the way to the grave. He would love them to the end, until it is finished. This is the God you have--a God who comes down, a God who empties Himself in order to fill you, a God who sets aside His power and might, His right as God to be served, and takes up the form of a servant. God serves you. He gives; you receive. For He is a God of love.

This is what love is, and this is what love does. Love empties itself, gives of itself, for the sake of the beloved. It seeks not its own good, but the good of the one loved. It gives everything and takes nothing. It looks not for reward, for love is not selfish. Love is selfless. Love always gives. Love never fails. Love never ends. And Jesus loved them, and you, to the end.

And like Peter, we protest. For it is difficult to receive because in receiving we are vulnerable. It is difficult to be loved, because in being loved, we are shown how much we don't love. We don't love God as we ought for we don't love one another as God has loved us. We don't stoop down. We don't take the form of a servant, the position of a slave toward one another. We don't subordinate ourselves one to another out of reverence for Christ. We don't put others first and ourselves last.

We instead insist on our own way. Husbands to their wives. Wives to their husbands. Parents to the children. And children to the parents. We don't submit, we don't obey, we don't serve, we don't love. When was the last time you said, in all honesty and humility, I'm sorry to your husband or wife, your mother or father, you son or daughter, your boss, co-worker, employee? When was the last time you put best construction on something they did assuming that they did it not to upset you but out of habit or in haste? If you loved, you would. For love covers a multitude of sins.

And that is why this same Jesus comes down from the seat of honor at the right hand of the throne of God, and gives of His body and blood in bread and wine. He eats and drinks, He feasts with you, with the whole church, with angels and archangels, with the whole company of heaven. He hosts you. He serves you. He gives; you receive. He empties Himself in the chalice, so that you are filled up with Him  by drinking from it. He takes away your sin, and gives to you His righteousness. For He is a God of love. And He loves to the end. And He fills you with His love. For what you eat and drink is love itself, love in the flesh, taking up residence now in you.