Lent readings 2022
These are the daily readings for Lent 2022
2 March to 16 April
These readings are taken from "The Crucified is My Love" by Johann Ernst Holst
available as a free download from www.plough.com
Week 2 - 7 March to 13 March
Day 6 - Mon 7 March
The King Enters Jerusalem
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him . . . Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it. (John 12:12–14)
And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:8–10)
As he was drawing near – already on the way down the Mount of Olives – the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:37–40)
While the Lord was in quiet Bethany there was tremendous excitement in Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had come to celebrate the Passover and the royal city, which was already crowded, was filled to overflowing. One question filled the thoughts and conversations of all: Will the prophet of Nazareth, the great conqueror of death whom the council excommunicated, also come to the festival? Will he dare to do so? Then the news spread rapidly that he was already in Bethany and was preparing to enter Jerusalem.
His enemies were enraged, his followers encouraged, the indifferent were roused, and great and very mixed crowds set off for the Mount of Olives and waited for him in tense excitement. The cry rang out: “There he is!” The King of Peace came into sight at the top of the hill riding on a donkey, surrounded by his disciples and many other followers. At the sight of him, reverence for this wonderful man of God, which was repressed till now, breaks forth with irresistible power in the crowded throng. They recognise him as the promised Son of David, the longed-for Messiah King. They spread their clothes in his path, break green branches from the palm trees and wave them joyfully in the air. In this way they receive and accompany their great yet so unassuming King. An enthusiasm from above takes possession of their souls. They begin to sing songs of praise: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” These psalms spread from one throng to another: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The enthusiastic singing continues to ring out more and more powerfully right up to the gates of the capital city – indeed, right up into the temple precincts: “Hosanna to the king of Israel! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
What a blessing might have dawned upon Israel that day if the whole nation had paid homage to its king and been faithful to him unto death! But the higher the waves of the people’s joy rise, the fiercer grows the hatred of the enemies. Standing by the roadside, they call out to the Lord in their exasperation, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He, however, accepts the people’s homage and rebuts these grim elders with the words, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” But the populace is fickle while the hatred of the adversary remains firm. The king enters his city, but his crown will be a crown of thorns, and his throne the cross on Golgotha.
How do you, my soul, honour your King? How are you, his Church, accompanying your Saviour on his way to death? How are you keeping your pledge of loyalty?
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41–44)
When the Lord had reached the top of the Mount of Olives, the royal city with the gleaming gold of the temple lay in all its glory before his eyes. But in the midst of the disciples and rejoicing throngs around him, a deep sadness filled his holy soul at this sight, and his eyes overflowed with tears.
If a child weeps, we feel pity; if a hero weeps, our hearts are unnerved. But when Jesus weeps, Jesus the Son of God and of man, the lion of the tribe of Judah, it brings us to our knees, and we fearfully have to ask, “What is the cause of such tears?” The Lord himself answers us in words of deep emotion. He is not weeping for himself. He is not weeping because of his own approaching suffering. He represses these feelings. They are tears of love and sorrow that he sheds for his unhappy Jerusalem. He knows that there is still a time of grace for Jerusalem, that she may still be saved and raised to her true glory if at the last moment she turns with her whole heart to the Messiah who is just entering her. But he also sees Jerusalem’s hardness of heart. He sees how she rejects her only helper and saviour, and that because of this the storm clouds of God’s judgment gather ever more darkly over the beloved city. He sees her at last, broken and ruined by the iron military power of the pagan Romans, sinking in smoke and rubble.
Jesus’ tears also have significance for us. He weeps for us, too, as long as we rush unrepentant along the broad way that leads to destruction. The tears of a mother for her morally corrupt child ought to wake him out of his sleep of sin. The tears of Immanuel to fall into our sinful hearts like drops of smelted gold, burning, startling, and shaking us up.
How many nations are still blinded like Jerusalem of old! They build their houses and palaces and set up their governments without fear of God and without prayer, obstinately relying on their own strength. They do not see God’s approaching judgment; they do not feel the quaking of the earth under their feet; they reject all admonitions to repent and turn around. How many people who call themselves Christians, even the old and infirm, do not see their death coming! They do not make use of the time of grace still given them; they do not lay hold of the one who alone can save them and make them blessed. Oh, that the tears of Jesus’ love may still move us all, before it is too late, to consider what gives true peace.
Day 7 - Tuesday 8 March
The Grain of Wheat
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.”(John 12:20–26)
When the Lord had entered the forecourt of the temple after his solemn entry into Jerusalem, some Greeks also wanted to see Jesus. Just as after his birth the wise men from the east approached him, so now before his death these Greeks come as representatives of the nations of the world. Moved by the news of the raising of Lazarus, struck by the jubilation of the surging crowd, they expressed their wish to see the Lord – the very deep and mostly unconscious longing of all pagans and indeed of the whole human race.
Jesus himself saw in their coming the beginning of his future glorification, which was to reveal him not only as Israel’s Messiah but also as the head and saviour of all nations. At the same time in the parable of the grain of wheat, he taught his hearers that his way to glory could only be through death. As at dawn the light of the coming day blends with the darkness of the night, here the Lord’s sadness over his approaching death was interwoven with the joyful hope of resurrection.
In the parable of the grain of wheat he points to Golgotha and the tomb in Joseph’s garden. When the divine grain of wheat was buried, his disciples surely thought of these words and began to sense something of their meaning. But it was also for us that the Lord went this way, and we should now go with him: that is, we should die with him, crucify our old nature at his cross, and finally sink into the earth, trusting in him. But our dying should also be illuminated by the assurance of a blessed resurrection.
In spring the grain of wheat that was sown awakens to new life, and all the other young blades of wheat shine with it in fresh green. They ripen and bear fruit in the light of the sun. It is the same with the highest form of nature: humankind. We also can only attain to new and more beautiful life through death and the grave. Even though the winter is long, the day of resurrection must come when this human seed, buried with so many tears, will awaken and bloom. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our guarantee for this. If this heavenly grain of wheat had not fallen into the earth and died, then Christ would have remained alone, the unique God-man, highly exalted, apart from and above all other humans. But now, since he has died and risen from the dead, he bears fruit many thousandfold. All of us who live on earth as his redeemed, the church in whom he lives, gathered from all nations, and the countless hosts of the blessed in the heavenly paradise – all form the one nation, the one body of the Lord, the blessed fruit of his resurrection. And when finally spring comes and Easter morning dawns for those whose bodies rest in the earth, when they are raised in eternal transfiguration to live on the new earth under the new heaven, then the Lord Jesus Christ will be the sun that illuminates them and he will be glorified in all.
When I Am Lifted Up
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:32–33)
The Lord spoke this word about his being lifted up to the Jewish people and to the seeking Greeks shortly after he had entered the temple forecourt. What he meant here by his “lifting up” is explained not only by John’s addition, “This he said to indicate the kind of death he was to die,” but also by what the Lord himself said to Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14).
In contrast to the lifting up desired by the disciples and the populace (that is, being raised to the royal throne of a worldly monarchy) the Lord here envisages being lifted up on the cross, where in his sacrificial death he was to bear the whole curse that the serpent had brought upon the human race. Nevertheless, just as the foot of the cross was rooted in the earth while its head was raised to heaven, he was to die only in order to be raised to the throne of heavenly majesty through overcoming death and bursting the grave. Thus he combines in one prophetic saying his being lifted up on the cross and his elevation to glory.
“I will draw all people to myself” means he will not coerce with outward force but draw them with the gentle yet world-vanquishing might of his sacrificial love that bears all things and suffers all things. He will not terrify them with threats and punishments, but win them through wakening a free inner conviction, through kindling a holy love for him.
In this way Christ draws Jews and Greeks – all peoples and all nations who allow themselves to be drawn – out of the bonds of earth to himself on the cross. His love overcomes their natural opposition, enduring, atoning, and forgiving. In his suffering he becomes the most beautiful man in the eyes of all repentant sinners. At the foot of his cross the old heart dies; at the foot of his cross a new heart is born. Thus he drew the criminal to himself. “To myself,” says the Lord – not to any kind of dogma, not to a law, but to himself, to his most holy person.
He draws them into his discipleship, into his school of the cross, into a God-fearing attitude of mind, and so makes them living members of his church on earth. Finally he draws his own, through death, out of the prison of the body, out of this earth’s vale of tears, up to the perfect life and love of his heavenly kingdom. There they will experience the meaning of the divine prophecy: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you to myself” (Jer. 31:3)
Day 8 - Wednesday 9 March
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:14–16)
Is it true that each Christian has a price for which he would sell his Saviour? Unfortunately it is only too true in the case of all who are not willing to break with sin. It is true for those whose Christianity only serves to satisfy their earthly desires, or who imagine they are able to combine it with serving the world. We see what this must lead to in the shattering example of Judas.
The closer his relationship with the Lord, the more powerfully did he feel himself compelled to make a quick decision between complete dedication and hostile desertion. Since he did not want to tear his deeply rooted love of self and of the world out of his heart, he was dragged into the camp of the enemy. For the miserable price of a slave, for thirty silver pieces, the once enthusiastic disciple sold his Master! To be sure, the paltry silver pieces were not the real object of his action. Above all he sought to rid himself of this master, who by his constant demand for a complete change of heart and life had become ever more unbearable to him. He sought to acquire a reputation in the eyes of the leaders of his nation and so reach once more a comfortable position in life. Incidentally, his avaricious nature was not averse to making a small profit while doing so. While considering these thoughts, his better self rose up once more against them. Once more a terrible struggle was fought in his breast, but with the sad result that his conscience was finally crushed. Then he went and concluded the hellish agreement.
But the king of heaven and earth, in whose light and love the transfigured earth will one day celebrate its eternal Sabbath, was valued at the paltry price of a slave. What humiliation and outrage he had to endure! He emptied himself and took the form of a servant, and was obedient unto death. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He atoned for our pride and suffered our humiliation. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace (Isa. 53:4–5).
But for those of his disciples who thank him from their hearts, who willingly empty themselves of self with him, who break completely with their sin and take upon themselves the form of a servant in devotion to their Master – in short, those who truly believe in him and love him above everything – for them there is no price in any world for which they might forsake and betray their Saviour. History bears witness to this in the joyful death of countless martyrs, who were able to say to their Lord and Master with the psalmist: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26).
How do you stand, my soul, with regard to your sins and to the selling price? Examine yourself carefully. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for Christ’s sake will keep it (John 12:25).51
The Fig Tree
In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:18–22)
After the Lord had made his entry into Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, spoken powerful words to the people, and healed the blind and the lame (conscious all the time of the wrath of his enemies), he returned in the evening to peaceful Bethany. The next morning he returned to the royal city. His soul was filled with sorrowful thoughts as he walked with his disciples through the fig grove of Bethphage, and the pinnacles of the lost city rose again before his eyes. Most of the crowd who had hailed him on Palm Sunday were pilgrims coming to the festival; the citizens of Jerusalem itself were mostly hostile to the Lord, under the influence of their stubborn leaders.
Now, as he was hungry, he looked for fruit on a fig tree. Finding no fruit upon it but only leaves, he immediately caused it to wither with his word of authority. That was a symbolic action, by means of which he wanted to teach his disciples a profound lesson. The cursed fig tree was a picture of the terrible fate that would befall his people, the city of Jerusalem, which had been planted in God’s garden. Since this people, in spite of God’s kindness and patience, and in spite of outward religious services and sacrifices, still did not bring forth the fruits of repentance and of faith, it had to fall under judgment.
In the same way today the Lord will not be satisfied with the mere leafy decoration of Christian forms, beautiful services, pious words and feelings. He desires above all the good fruits of a spiritual life: repentance and faith, loving obedience to God in action and in suffering, self-denying love to our neighbour, and conscientious faithfulness in our earthly and heavenly calling. But where do we find these fruits? How many Christian churches have already fallen under the same curse of withering because they lacked these fruits! In how many countries and communities are there warning signs of God’s judgment because at the time of their visitation they did not consider what served their peace!
But to those who feel struck by God’s judgment, who do not complain of their enemies or their fate but lament over their own sins and faithfully hold out in living trust in God – to such, the Lord gives a comforting promise. In his strength they too shall do what he did to the fig tree. By holding firmly together in faith and prayer, they shall succeed in making the enemy’s powers that oppose God wither and die away, so that they are no longer able to harm the Lord’s little flock. Yes, in the power of faith the faithful shall move mountains – the mountains of their worries and needs but most of all the mountains of sin – and cast them into the sea of grace. Whoever holds firmly and faithfully to the promise and is loyal in the discipleship of Christ will experience the fulfilment of this promise.
Day 9 - Thursday 10 March
Where Is the Room?
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. (Luke 22:7–13)
The story of the Lord’s suffering leads us into the depths of unfathomable pain, but it also offers us much comfort. One such comforting event is the story of the preparation of the Passover. Even as we feel the painful poverty of the Son of Man who had no home of his own in which to celebrate with his disciples, we are touched by the courageous obedience and faith of the disciples whom the Lord sent out. They sensed the danger threatening the Master and them too in Jerusalem. They had no idea where and how they were to meet the unknown man with the jar of water in the city crowded with pilgrims to the festival. Nevertheless they went without protest, trusting the Lord’s instructions.
Here Jesus once more lets rays of his wondrous far-seeing vision shine out into the darkness of his way of suffering in order to strengthen the faith of his disciples. The disciples soon find the man whom he indicated, a secret follower of the Lord. He is carrying home a jar that he has just filled with water – but now his heart’s longing is to be filled with the water of life.
At the words, “The Teacher says to you,” his soul thrills with joy. For the one Master whom he honoured, as the other disciples did, has recognised his longing and wants to come to his house. “Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” The unknown man immediately understands this question. He does not give the apostles information as to where they might find a suitable room elsewhere, but with joyful readiness he opens his own house to them, giving them the use of his large room, carpeted and furnished with cushions.
As dismaying as the fact is that “he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him,” the words that follow are encouraging: “But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11–12). There were some among his own people who received him in faith, and one of them was this householder.
At this time of Lent the Lord turns to us too and asks our hearts the question, “Where is the room?” And he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). What a guest! What grace to be allowed to keep the Passover with him, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with him! It is a wonderful task to prepare a guest room for him; still more wonderful is the joy of welcoming him. But the glory of being with him in eternity is a joy beyond our conceiving.
The Passover Meal
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:14–18)
On the Thursday evening before Easter, the Lord and his disciples entered the room that was prepared for the festival and sat down. He knew that this was the last Passover that he would celebrate with his disciples on earth, and they too were filled with anxious fears. Then the Lord opened his mouth and said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” What was the reason for this earnest longing? He knew how decisive this meal was for him. He knew that arrest, torture, and death would follow. But the power of love overcame all fear. “Having loved his own, he loved them to the end.” He wanted once more to share a peaceful meal with his faithful disciples, who had left everything to follow him. He wanted to lay his last teachings on their hearts and impart heavenly comfort to their souls, to give them strength to endure even the most difficult things for his sake. He longed once more to be refreshed and comforted by their fellowship of love. But his vision saw beyond this.
The Passover was a festival in memory of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt, but at the same time it was a prophecy of the freeing of the whole of humankind from the heavy yoke of sin and condemnation through the atoning death of the perfect Paschal Lamb. It was his earnest longing now to fulfil this 1500-year-old prophecy and at long last to redeem the lost world through his sacrificial death, to close in this way the old covenant and set up the new one. But he saw still further beyond this deed of redemption. He looked into that sunny distance beyond time where his whole work would be brought to perfection, where he would celebrate the meal of joy on the transfigured earth with a redeemed humankind and drink with them the new fruit of the vine.
The Lord’s earnest longing is the same for all Christians throughout all ages and in all nations and for us too. But alas, how dull are our hearts, how lukewarm is our love for him, how little do we understand what he feels and does for us! Certainly in our hearts is also an abyss of longing and yearning, but all too often our wishes and desires are set only upon transient earthly pleasures, which can never satisfy us and bring us true happiness. We draw water from broken cisterns, and if we continue in this futile way we are bound to languish miserably with our thirst unquenched. Oh, that we might learn to bring all our thoughts into one high longing and endeavour: that we might set them completely on him who has loved us so ardently, and in whom alone we find peace!
Day 10 - Friday 11 March
The Disciples Quarrel
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:24–30)
The weaknesses and mistakes of his own disciples were among the heaviest burdens that the Lord had to bear, even during his farewell meal. While he was expressing the longing of his heart all should have been filled with heavenly peace, yet a quarrel arose among the disciples as to which of them was the greatest. So the Lord now had to reprove their pride. He did this by pointing out that it is a characteristic of the worldly mind to strive to be great. Pride, ambition, and the lust for power are here exposed as the motive of world history. How many thriving countrysides have been laid waste, how much blood, how many tears have been shed simply because the mighty of the earth want to rule!
Similar sins are to be found in smaller circles and in many families as well. Children rise up against their parents, subjects against their superiors – because each wants to be lord himself. Christ, on the other hand, emphasises that to serve in humility is an essential principle of his kingdom. The Lord himself, for whom all the crowns of this world are too paltry, whom the angels of heaven worship, became the servant of all. His whole life on earth was continual serving.
He obeyed his parents; he helped the most wretched of the poor; he washed the feet of his disciples; he bore the heaviest and most infamous of all burdens, the curse of our sin, in inconceivable degradation. And we, pitiable human beings, want to give ourselves airs and in beggarly pride place ourselves above others! We do not become small and humble until under Christ’s burden (that is, under the heavy load of our own sin and guilt and under the wonderful load of his compassion) the heart of our old nature is broken. When we become humble the Lord will become our highest and loveliest, our all in all. Only then can a beam of the comfort that he gave his ashamed disciples rise upon us too. He accepted the faithfulness that they had shown him, such as it was, and looking ahead regarded it as perfected and assured them that they would have full share in the kingdom of his future glory.
The time they spent with him was also a school of humility, a daily lesson in becoming smaller. We too must go through the true school of humility in the discipleship of Christ; then our whole life and work become self-sacrificing service. Blessed is the Christian who bears others, even the most unworthy of them, in love for his Saviour’s sake! Blessed is the king who in all his ruling strives only to serve his people! In view of the glory that the Lord promises his faithful followers, it must become clear to us that it is contemptuous folly to risk eternal happiness for the passing honours of this world. In the final, perfect kingdom the most humble one will be the first – Christ, the eternal king. All the redeemed will be close him, but those who resembled him most in humility will be closest of all. Free from all envy, each will rejoice at the honouring of the others, and all will know that it is only out of grace that they wear the crown of life.
Foot Washing as a Symbol
He rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” (John 13:4–10)
“I am among you as one who serves,” the Lord had just said (Luke 22:27). Now he arose and gave proof of this word in deed by washing the feet of all those sitting at table, a service that had been neglected. The Lord of glory, who knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, knelt down in front of his sinful disciples and washed their dusty feet. This moving act is symbolic of his spiritual work of love upon his disciples.
Judas is cold and silent as he allows this menial service to be done to him. The other disciples are amazed and ashamed yet submit to what their Lord is doing. When, however, he approaches Peter with the basin, the disciple draws his feet away in alarm and cries out, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Here once more the impulsive disciple gives such lovable expression to natural feeling! Nothing can humble him more deeply than such a service done by the Master. But this bitter humiliation is a wholesome medicine that the Lord cannot spare his Peter. He seeks to calm his resistance with friendly words of encouragement, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” But Peter cannot be quiet and cries more vehemently, “Never!” Then the Lord overcomes his resistance with the severe words, “If I do not wash you, you have no share in me.” No share in him? Peter cannot bear that.
Where could he go if he were to have no share in him who is his life, his all? He is completely disarmed and softened. He also begins to sense the significance of the washing, and in a flood of emotion he calls out, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” But here he has misfired again. At this time the Lord wants only to wash his feet. For whoever has had a bath – as was the custom before the festival – needs only to have his dusty feet washed in order to be clean.
Through their community with the Lord the disciples were purified and sanctified as by a holy bath. But he wanted to cleanse them of the daily stains through his forgiving work of love. He does the same thing to all his own through the ages. The bath is like baptism, which unites us with Christ and makes us God’s beloved children. The washing of the feet points to the constantly renewed forgiveness of the sins that cling to us – such as we experience after every repentant prayer and in each celebration of the Lord’s Supper shared in faith. But the Lord also works for our betterment through the humiliations and suffering in our lives. Those who continually pray for forgiveness with repentant hearts will find peace in the blessed truth: “The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Whether they are aware of it or not, they will receive the heavenly powers of sanctification and so be prepared to belong one day to the throngs around the throne who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14).
Day 11 - Saturday 12 March
Foot Washing as an Example
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12–17)
“Do you understand what I have done to you?” the Lord asked his disciples after washing their feet. He asks us the same thing every time we have been helped through humiliation and distress. He asks it especially, however, in the time of Lent, and every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper or hear the message of salvation. In all these things he is carrying on the loving service of washing our feet and working for our sanctification.
But he is also giving us an example, that we should wash one another’s feet by serving in love. We know all this, but knowledge alone is of no use to us. For the Lord adds, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Here the Lord uncovers the deepest source of our wretchedness and lack of inward peace. It is the gaping cleft between what we know and what we do. We know God’s will, but we do not act on it. The more clearly we know it without doing it, the greater will be our condemnation. So our old heart has to break in repentant sorrow and we need to receive a new heart through our Saviour’s work of love. The Spirit of Christ must fill and pervade us to enable us to follow his example and bring what we do into harmony with what we know.
It is the noble task of every Christian to serve his neighbour untiringly in love. There is no lack of opportunity for this: nursing sick parents or children with love and patience and, if necessary, literally washing their feet; helping a family in distress; providing clothes for someone who is very cold, or a place of refuge for a lost child. In every case, however, the main thing is to wash the feet of our neighbour spiritually, that is to say, to cleanse their soul from the stains of sin by leading them to the purifying bath of Christ’s compassionate love. As Christ’s disciples, we have to bear the mistakes and shortcomings of others and forgive again and again all that hurts and offends us. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
At the same time of course, following Christ’s example, we must not hold back sharp-edged truth and serious admonition, for our aim is to set the other’s better self free from the yoke of sin. Gold is purified only by the heat of the fire. It would be truly lacking in compassion to let our neighbour go to spiritual ruin through consideration for the flesh. But we can do such a work of love in the right spirit only if we lay the erring brother upon the Saviour’s heart in prayer, only if we constantly think of his true happiness and in humble love give him a good example ourselves. In doing this we shall soon experience that our own hearts will find comfort, as the Lord says, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
One of You Is Going to Betray Me
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. (John 13:21–22)
And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)
After the Lord had washed his disciples’ feet, he was troubled in spirit. For some time already he had looked with sorrow into Judas’s heart. Ever since the anointing in Bethany, Judas had been a burden upon him, and here at the farewell meal he felt weighed down by its pressure. The very presence of the lurking traitor in the circle of his closest friends was heavy on his soul. The hand that had already taken the thirty silver pieces dipped into the one bowl with him. But still more deeply did it pain the Lord that this disciple, whose soul he continued to seek, would not be held back from the way of destruction by any power of love. Jesus knew how blessedly joyful even Judas might have become. At the same time he saw the abyss toward which the lost soul was rushing headlong. Because he could not use force, he had to leave this soul to the enemy.
What can compare to the sorrow expressed in the Lord’s words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”? At the same time these words are a profound expression of the Master’s pastoral care for his disciples. Through his cry of pain, all twelve are deeply humbled. Each one feels urgently admonished to examine his own heart. The traitor is treated with consideration in that his name is not mentioned. Once more the merciful Master opens a door for him to turn back. This momentous saying was not without decisive effect. For Judas, to be sure, it became a word of judgment. But the others were dismayed and distressed. They felt struck, and looking into the hidden depths of their hearts, were filled with alarm about themselves. They were convinced that the Lord knew them best, and turning to him they asked in humble sincerity, “Is it I, Lord?” This question contained the hope that it was not them and that the Lord would be able to reassure them.
Is it I? We also will have to ask that frightened question when the gospel’s call to repentance places before our eyes all who have deserted, denied, and betrayed the Lord, persecuted him, and brought him to the cross. When the story of Christ’s passion reminds us of those dark deeds, we should not look at others but feel struck ourselves to see the roots of those sins in our own hearts. We should recognise what we would have become if the Lord’s grace had not protected us. Moreover, we ought to see with pain that it is we who with our sins have caused the Lord’s death agony. He had to suffer and atone for our sins against God, against our neighbour, and against ourselves. Nevertheless, we must not give way to despair but rather confess with childlike hearts: “What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain. Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.”
Then everything will be reversed by him. He will change the cause of our grief into the cause of our comfort. He will make us certain of this: Yes, it is you who have brought me suffering and death. But it is also you who, in me and with me, are judged, sentenced, and have died, so that in me you have atoned for all that of which you were ever guilty. Be comforted, what is yours is mine and what is mine is yours. Go in peace.
Day 12 - Sunday 13 March
He answered, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:24–25)
One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:23–30)
Just as the origin of evil is an unfathomable mystery, so the figure of Judas appears to us as a dark enigma. We will never find an answer to the questions, “Why was he chosen as an apostle, since his end was not hidden from the All-Knowing One? What is the relation between necessity and freedom in what he did?” This much, however, is clear to us: even the blackest crimes have to serve in carrying out the Almighty’s plans for his kingdom, and yet the criminals themselves must bear responsibility. Furthermore, even enlightened disciples can become traitors. Then, the higher they stand the deeper their fall. Finally, there is nothing so disastrous for believing Christians as wanting to serve two masters, that is, to foster sin while following Christ. Judas’s love of self and love of the world was a special attachment to money. His heart was hardened through greed, and greed made him a thief.
His awareness that the Lord saw through him made it more and more difficult for Judas to remain with Jesus. But at the same time, as long as he hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, he felt compelled to hide behind the iron mask of hypocrisy. His devotion changed to enmity, and when he finally saw that the Galilean’s cause was hopeless, he betrayed him. This Master was to perish, and the traitor wanted a place in the ruling party for himself. Thus he sat at the meal and heard the Lord’s cry of sorrow: “One of you will betray me!” It flashed like lightning through his soul. It may be that his conscience stirred once more, but he struck it down. So he also asked, with total hypocrisy, “Is it I, Rabbi?” And the Lord answered, “You have said so.” Then the devil entered into him. His will became one with Satan’s will. He himself became one heart and one soul with the prince of darkness. Now the Lord had to give him up, and he pressed him to go out: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” That was all right with Judas; he could hardly endure this company any longer. And now speed was necessary if the hellish deed was to succeed. He left the room quickly and hurried to the high priests. “And it was night” – night outside, and deeper night in his soul, eternal night.
In shining contrast to Judas at the Last Supper, we see the figure of John. He was lying close to the breast of Jesus. He was “the disciple whom the Lord loved.” Jesus loved all his disciples, but John was more open to his love than the others. In his surrender he resembled Mary and in nature he was the one most like the Master. In fellowship with Jesus the spirit of the son of thunder had been transfigured into the spirit of holy love. He could never forget that he was “the disciple whom the Lord loved” and who had lain close to his breast. That remained the joy of his life, as his whole Gospel testifies.
Whoever would come as close to the Lord as John did should immerse himself in the Gospel of this disciple until that face full of grace and truth appears to him and fills his being with joy.
The Appointment of the Holy Supper
The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”(1 Cor. 11:23–25)
If we in spirit enter the room where the farewell meal is being held, we feel surrounded by the air of heaven and by the peace of God. After the departure of the traitor the Lord breathed more freely, and he appointed the meal of the new covenant – a fulfilment of the promise given in the Passover and a prophecy of the eternal, heavenly meal of joy. Raising his eyes, he gave thanks; blessing the bread, he broke it, then handed it to his disciples. He also took the cup and gave it to them saying, “Take, eat – take, drink!”
Those words are a testament, for they are the words of one taking leave, the words of the Redeemer who is about to die. In this word “Take!” the Lord lays all his love, all his work of redemption. With it he commits to his disciples all that he has done for them and all that he will still fulfil through his suffering and death. Throughout all centuries since then he speaks to his church at celebrations of the Lord’s Supper: “Take!” Every time we hear it we should remember that we have nothing to bring to the Lord to earn his salvation. On the contrary, our whole life as Christians ought to be a daily taking, thankfully drawing out of the well of his grace.
The special gift of grace that the Lord offers his own, when he says, “Eat, drink!” is at once physical and spiritual: the physical gifts of the bread and wine are also symbols of the spiritual gift of grace, the invisible heavenly food. The Lord indicates this with the mysterious saying, “This is my body – this is my blood.” He gives his disciples not only the blessed fruit of his suffering, death, and resurrection, but also his very self, his most holy person. Thus he celebrates in the Holy Supper his entrance into the hearts of those who believe in him. His powers flow through them, his life becomes their life. Nor is their frail earthly body rejected. It is fed with the food of heaven in order that it may have part one day in the great resurrection of complete transfiguration in the heavenly meal.
This sacrament is a communion, that is, a meal of community. It is first a mysterious community of the bread and wine with the body and blood of the Lord in accordance with the words, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). Further, the Lord brings about such deep and intimate community of life with his disciples that it exceeds all asking and understanding. It enables them to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Finally, the members of the Lord’s Supper of all times are bound in a living unity which scripture calls the body of Christ. All who throng to the Lord’s table – the weary and heavy laden, longing for help and seeking forgiveness and comfort, strength, and peace – can see with spiritual eyes their glorified Lord at the meal of grace. They can open their hearts to him who has given us the great promise, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).