Dear Believers in Christ,
Like Peter and the rest of the twelve, less the one who betrayed our dear Lord Jesus Christ, "You are clean." This is what Jesus had done for them, and what He is giving them in order that they also will do just as He has done to them. Here in our Gospel text, Jesus is preparing his disciples to go and make people clean, that is, to wash away their sins.
Not only has He given them an example, He has given them a command to do so. He sends them out with authority--the authority of His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit to do what He has commanded them to do according to the example He has given them.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me." (John 13:20)
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." (John 20:21-23)
"Maundy" (as in Maundy Thursday) means "mandate". It comes from the Latin (mandatum sum), "I mandate you; I give you a new mandate"--that is, a new commandment. He bids His disciples--and those who would become disciples through their ministry of preaching, baptizing, and teaching--to love one another as He has loved us. That is, to forgive sins in order to make sinners clean.
But is this a new command really? Speaking to the Pharisees, who were once again trying to trap the Son of God, Jesus sums up the commandments this way: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)
Speaking also to a group of Pharisees who were seeking to lay a trap in order to kill Him on an earlier occasion, according to St. John, Jesus explained that the Law and the prophets of Scripture in fact speak of Him and are fulfilled in Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. (John 5:39-43)
So this Maundy Thursday, mandate, or command, is really all about what Jesus, the Son of God, is doing and will continue to do with those He has washed clean of their sins — those he has called to believe, and sent out into the world to do likewise. To prove His point, Jesus wraps a towel around His waist, gets on His knees and washes feet--icky, stinky, calloused, mud-caked feet. It’s interesting that in Eastern cultures it is a great insult to sit with your feet pointing at someone. Or to throw your shoe at someone. It signifies disgust, contempt. But Jesus takes on the role of the servant and washes their feet.
But Peter refuses to allow Jesus to do it. His point? We should be washing God's feet—not the other way around--as if we sinners are supposed to be taking care of God.
But Jesus rebukes and corrects the ever-impetuous Peter, who is representative of everyman, "If I don't wash you, Peter, you have no part of Me." Jesus didn't come to have HIS feet washed. He came to wash sinners, to cleanse them from their sins by His holy life and innocent suffering and death. The command is not about what Peter, or the rest of the disciples, or you or I, or any poor miserable sinner is doing. It is about what Jesus the Son of God is doing and will continue to do through those He calls and sends to do His work.
Jesus, your Saviour, the very Son of God in human flesh, has washed you and marked you as holy with the waters of Holy Baptism. He has cleansed every spot, stain, sin, and bit of guilt from you. You are holy as He is holy. You are righteous, as He is righteous. You are the Father's beloved child, just as He is the Father's beloved Child.
Don't look at yourself now, or what you are doing. YOU aren't the reason you are a child of God. "Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith,": towel around His waist, washing His disciples' nasty feet just hours before soldiers will take Him away to die.
This is love: not that you love God, but that He loves you. He wants you to love Him. He commands you to love Him. But it’s not for His sake that He wants your love, but for your sake. He's going to be just fine whether you love Him or not. True love is that God loves us and gave up His Son as a sacrifice for us. (1 John 4)
This love is the love that pays no attention to self, not even when that self is being sinned against, mocked, ridiculed, spit upon, cursed, tortured—even killed. It's the love of the Father who gave His Son over to those who did all of that. It's the love of Jesus that suffered all of that. It's the love that doesn't get even, but bears all and forgives all. And it is this sacrificial love that He commands of His disciples and all the Baptized, including you and me.
Of course, this is only possible as Christ lives in us and we live in Him. So when you fail, when you don't love others like Jesus loves you, when you don't fulfill His mandate, have your feet washed again by Jesus. A clean person doesn't need a whole bath, they just need to have what they stepped in scrubbed away. And that is where what Jesus, the Son of God, is doing comes in again.
So, run back. Run back — to Holy Baptism, where you are buried with Christ in His death and raised with Him in His resurrection to the life of this new command.
Run back — to Holy Absolution, where Jesus washes your feet to cleanse you of that sin you step in every day of your life.
Flee to where Jesus is washing you and be cleansed again. In these things, God brings you to Maundy Thursday and to loving one another as He has loved you. He brings you back to what Jesus, the Son of God is doing, instead of what you the sinner are doing—cleansing you, every last bit of you, and cleansing your neighbour sitting next to you and in front of you and behind you too.
Yes, you are clean. Now go and love one another, and even all people, serving one another in love, and forgiving each other every sin, just as you have been forgiven.