7th Day Of Lent
Beloved. Tonight we begin pondering our Lord’s holy passion—His suffering and death for us and for our salvation. This is a great blessing of these midweek Lenten services. We take time out of our busy schedules to hear once again and to be strengthened in our faith. Lent refreshes us and strengthens us anew. Just like eating a meal takes precious time out of our day, but strengthens us and gives us energy to continue on in our daily tasks—and no one would call a meal a waste of time—so too Lent and the time we spent pondering our Lord’s suffering and death is in no way a waste of time or a nice luxury. It is absolutely vital, especially since our lives are filled with the day in day out “life”—its cares and worries and just normal things that are seemingly so important and urgent—that what is truly vital—our Lord, His word, our attending to that word and our faith—is often pushed to the background.
But in Lent—and especially in our midweek services—we have the opportunity to go back and spend time with our Lord; to go back to those very crucial hours leading up to Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross to crush and destroy sin, death, devil and hell and to reconcile us sinners with the holy God.
This year we will focus our attention on St. John’s account of our Lord’s Passion. Tonight, we find Jesus and the disciples in the upper room. They are in the midst of the Passover—the celebration of God’s rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt and a foreshadowing of Jesus’ work of rescuing us from sin, death and the devil’s tyranny. By washing their feet, Jesus showed the disciples that He did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for us [Mt. 20.28].
Right before our text, Jesus tells the disciples: “Amen, Amen, I tell you: One of you will betray me.” And then come the words of our text: The disciples were looking at each other, uncertain which of them he meant. One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ bosom. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out which one Jesus was talking about. So leaning back against Jesus’ breast, he asked, “Lord, who is it?”
This holy and penitential season of Lent naturally raises the question in each one of us, as Jesus’ announcement did to the disciples: One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me. They were very sad and began to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I, Lord?” In the season of Lent we especially hold up our lives to the scrutiny of God’s holy Law. There we see our sin; there we see how much we have sinned; there we see how much we have offended the holy God by our sins; there we see that we earn and deserve nothing but God’s holy wrath and punishment. Lent raises up doubt in our minds about ourselves. And rightly it should! We are sinners. And any sin that we see or hear about others committing is a sin that we ourselves could commit—even the sin of Judas. Dear Christian, this is a harsh preaching of God’s holy Law to us. Instead of being like the disciples who were looking at each other, uncertain which of them he meant, trying to detect evidences of guilt in the faces of the others, instead of being like St. Peter when Jesus warned him that he would deny Jesus three times [Mk. 14.31]: [Peter] spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all said likewise; let us each recognize and confess our sin, lest we fall into the danger of spiritual pride that St. Paul warns us against [1 Cor. 10.12]: Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Let us not take pride in ourselves and our supposed virtue and spiritual strength—looking at [the] other, uncertain which of them he meant—since there is no way I could do such great sin. Instead, let us of us, spurred on by the Lenten reflection on our own lives, humbly and truthfully say: I a poor, miserable, sinner confess unto You all my sins…
Let the recognition of our sin and our sinfulness drive us all the more and closer to Jesus. Lent’s repentance is only half way done when we merely recognize our sin; Lent has done its full work only when we grow closer to Jesus, our Savior from sin. And in our text, we have a beautiful image of this: One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ bosom. Lent has fully done its work when we are lying/ reclining at Jesus’ bosom. That disciple at Jesus’ bosom is St. John, the one who wrote this Gospel. That’s why a proper Lent for us is a Johannine Lent, that is, one which leaves us lying/ reclining at Jesus’ side.
Really, St. John’s position here at the Last Supper is a position of honor. It was the position next to Jesus on His right. Contrary to the way the Last Supper is usually depicted—with the disciples sitting around a table—the meal was eaten Roman style. St. John was reclining on the same couch/ pillow with Jesus in the position closest to Him. All the ones at the table would recline on their left side and rest on their left elbow, so that the right hand would be free for eating.
But what is also interesting is that Judas, although not in that same honored spot as St. John was—since only one could be there—is that he too is near Jesus, perhaps even right next to Jesus on His other side. At the very least Judas is at least within arm’s length of Jesus. And it is usually a sign of honor and care to be given that piece of bread that had been dipped. Our text: Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread, after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. But there is a huge contrast between St. John and Judas. Judas is near Jesus, even receiving the bread as a token of Jesus’ care, but St. John is reclining at Jesus’ bosom.
Jesus, in grace, knowing Judas’ heart and what he was planning, had Judas close to Him so that Judas could hear His word, so that He could show Judas grace and by His words and actions try to turn Judas from doing his work; in short, Jesus gave Judas every opportunity to repent. But he didn’t: Satan entered into him.
The warning for us—just because we think we are close to Jesus, just because Jesus is showing us grace and every mercy, does not necessarily mean that we are having a Johannine Lent, that we are reclining at Jesus’ bosom.
Again, how does St. John refer to himself? He doesn’t refer to himself by his name but as the one Jesus loved. It wasn’t as if Jesus didn’t love the others. He did! He even loved Judas. He called all the 12 to be in that special close relationship with Him and to be the ones who would bring His saving message and work into all the world. He blessed them in every way, beyond measure. But as St. John refers to himself as the one Jesus loved, he is reflecting on how much Jesus loved him and continued to show him love. He rejoices in that love and grace. For St. John, Jesus’ love, grace and mercy toward him were so abundant and so rich it was as if he alone was the one Jesus loved. St. John treasured that love. It was a holy pride/ a good pride that he had as he recognized himself as a recipient of Jesus’ great love.
So a blessed Lent for us, a Lent like St. John’s—a Johannine Lent—is one in which we lean at Jesus’ breast, are close to Him, and one in which each one recognizes and rejoices in the fact that he/ she is the one Jesus loved.
Let this Lent again remind us how incredibly blessed we are here, dear Christian! That first Maundy Thursday St. John was reclining at Jesus’ bosom—so near, close and intimate. But we, 2000 years later are in no way worse off. Instead, we, too, stand in the most intimate union and communion with our Lord Jesus. We may not physically be reclining at Jesus’ bosom like St. John that day, but we are baptized. We are baptized in Jesus; in baptism we are united with Him and His death and resurrection [Rm. 6.5]. Through Holy Baptism we are most intimately joined to Jesus, and by that also our fellow Christians so that we are the one body of Christ. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit tells us through the blessed apostle, we have been clothed with Christ [Gal.3.27]. He is as close to us as our clothes and, in fact, as Christians Christ lives in us [Gal 2.20]!
If there is any doubt in our minds that we are most intimately united with Jesus, even more so than reclining at Jesus’ bosom like St. John that day, let us run to the Holy Supper and there Jesus gives us His very body and blood; there He comes to us in our mouths and unites Himself with us giving us Himself, physically, and the heavenly and spiritual gifts and blessings He won for us. There is no doubt that each Christian can say that he/ she is the one Jesus loved.
Our life as a Christian is one of closeness with Jesus, of most intimate union with Him, of reclining at Jesus’ bosom. Why do we want to be reclining at Jesus’ bosom? Simply put, so that nothing Jesus says or does escapes us.
Our text: One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ bosom. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out which one Jesus was talking about. So leaning back against Jesus’ breast, he asked, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread, after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
The actions of St. Peter, St. John and Jesus go largely unnoticed by the rest. St. Peter probably used some sort of hand signals to get St. John to ask Jesus. St. John was right at Jesus’ chest and just had to lean back and quietly ask/ whisper. And Jesus’ answer was obviously quiet so that none of the rest heard it. But St. John heard it! And that was the blessing of being where he was reclining at Jesus’ bosom.
This, too, is the position and attitude of the Christian reclining at Jesus’ bosom and what makes for a blessed Lent. We are by faith in such close communion with our Lord that we do not fail to hear what He tells us in His holy word. We listen as He speaks to us in the still, small voice of His holy word. So precious is our Lord’s word to us that we do not want one syllable to drop from His lips unless we hear it. In short, we approach His holy word, we approach Him in the Divine Service with the prayer, “Speak, O Lord, Your servant is listening.” What Jesus says, we listen to—be it a word of warning or a word of comfort.
Our text: Then he dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. We don’t want Jesus’ word of warning, the call to repentance to fall on our deaf ears like they did Judas. By marking Judas and giving him that small piece of dipped bread, Jesus was calling him to repent. Jesus was, in effect, saying: I know what you are doing, what you are up to. I have shown you grace and will give you one last chance to repent from what you are planning on doing. Judas was at the point of no return and gave himself completely over to the devil’s urgings. He had yielded so much to the devil’s promptings that he lost any ability to turn to good.
A blessed Lent for us means a Johannine Lent—one spent reclining at Jesus’ bosom to hear His word of warning and call to repent. Not letting one word calling us to repentance go past us without hearing and acting on it. But a blessed Lent for us means a Johannine Lent—one spent reclining at Jesus’ bosom also to hear His word of comfort. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do more quickly.” These are words of greatest comfort. By them Jesus threatens the devil. The devil will feel the full force of Jesus’ strength and be crushed. Jesus, in effect, says to the devil: Bring it on! What you are about to do, do more quickly. This is the cry of One who is certain of the victory. This, too, we hear Jesus speak as we are reclining at Jesus’ bosom and listening to His word. This is a proper Lent, a St. John type of Lent, a Johannine Lent. Here we listen to and reflect on Jesus’ love in coming to save us sinners and take great comfort in His victory for us! INJ Amen.