Getting ready for Easter has been an annual experience in my life as far back as I can remember. Easter Sunday was always a special occasion at our house, and the preparations were thoughtful and meticulous.
It usually began weeks early as my mother would drag us to the clothing store to purchase our Easter clothes. In our family, you always wore your best clothes to church, but on Easter, we always had new attire. This was back in the time when a young boy was expected to wear a suit and tie, and I was no exception. Although I would never have admitted it, I was always a little proud of my new Easter suit.
Saturday evening before Easter Sunday was always an important time. That was when we colored Easter eggs. In our family, we did not use plastic eggs with candy inside – we only used the real thing. My mother would boil approximately two dozen grade A whites. Hot water and a touch of vinegar were poured into about five or six old coffee cups, and a small tablet of dye was dropped into the mix.
My sister and I worked hard at being creative with the way we colored the eggs. There was a touch of friendly competition to have the best-looking egg.
On Sunday, always after church, my parents would hide them in the yard, and the search was on. It never took a long time to find two dozen eggs in the familiar yard. Since we lived in Colorado, there were years when the ground was covered with snow on Easter Sunday. On those occasions, the eggs were strategically hidden in the house. This always raised the concern of not locating all the eggs because they would stink in a few days.
The family dinner was another Easter preparation. Since my father was the pastor of the church, it was not uncommon for us to have friends from the church to share the meal at our house. This was always great because it usually meant they would bring their eggs, and our hunting experience was intensified. However, my plan is not to talk to you about shopping for clothes, coloring eggs, or cooking a ham dinner. I am taking this occasion of Maundy Thursday to speak about making spiritual preparations for Easter.
Now, the first issue to be addressed is, what does the term Maundy Thursday mean? Very early in the history of the church, Christians began to regard Thursday of Holy Week as a particular time for participating in the Lord’s Supper. The day came to be called “Maundy Thursday,” a reference to Christ’s giving a “new commandment” (John 13:34) to His disciples. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “commandment.”
Usually, the early Maundy Thursday observances included a ceremonial foot-washing, in imitation of Christ’s washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:5-11). Celebration of this special day has taken many different forms, usually depending upon the tradition of the local church.
It is crucial that we make the proper spiritual preparations for Easter. It requires much more than getting up on Easter Sunday, putting on a set of new clothes, and going to church, especially this year, when we can’t do any of those things. Spiritual preparation for Easter is accomplished by making a proper response to Jesus. From the experience of the night before the crucifixion, we learn three steps that can allow us to be prepared for Easter Sunday.
Experience Jesus’ Purification vs.5-10
That Thursday night on the second floor of an obscure residence in the inner city of Jerusalem must have been memorable. Jesus and his hand-chosen group of twelve had the rare pleasure of getting away from the crowds.
The final week of Jesus’ life began on what we now refer to as Palm Sunday. Just last week, we celebrated the triumphal entry of our Lord into the Holy City of Jerusalem. The crowd paved His processional with palm leaves in tribute to His role as King.
Jesus went directly to the temple, where he immediately discharged the money changers. He spent the next few days responding to questions and accusations. He also made very pointed comments about His future. From our perspective, His words about His death are clear, but it seems that they were not understood by anyone in Jerusalem.
Thursday had come, and the afternoon shadows from the buildings were long. The prearranged meeting place had been prepared, and Jesus entered with His faithful followers. There must have been an air of anticipation in the room, even though they had no idea of what the next 72 hours would bring.
At this critical moment, Jesus did something that was most unexpected. He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded (v.5). Although the disciples were still having a difficult time with all of the ramifications of Jesus’ identity, they obviously knew this was not proper.
As you would expect from the out-spoken Peter when it was his turn, he protested. “Never shall you wash my feet” (v.8). Like any of us, he could not imagine Jesus waiting on his needs like a common household slave.
The following exchange between Jesus and Peter teaches us a great truth about spiritual life.
- Jesus’ words, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me” (v.8), point to the imperative of being clean.
- Peter’s words, “…then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head” (v.9), express Peter’s heart. If getting your feet washed means you are in fellowship with Jesus, then wash every part of me.
- Jesus’ words, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean…” (v.10). The use of the different word, “bathe” instead of “wash,” refers to a thorough cleansing. Once you have been thoroughly cleansed, then all you need is an occasional washing.
Essentially, these words of Jesus are a reminder that every person must have a spiritual bath, and once you have had the full scrub, then you need periodic cleaning. Peter and all the others in the upper room, except for one, had been bathed. Now they were simply being cleansed from the dust and dirt of the day’s activities.
When we lived in the country, my oldest son got involved with a 4H project of raising a pig. Needless to say, for this family that was bred in the city, this was indeed a learning experience. Every morning and evening, Jeremy would make sure the pig was fed and watered, even when it required breaking the ice. When it was showtime, we were excited and somewhat apprehensive about this new experience.
On the night before the show, all the animals were transported to the exhibit hall. Part of the process of getting the pig ready was to make sure it was clean. We learned that the easiest way to accomplish the task of washing a pig is to take the trailer to a car wash. If you were to do that in the metroplex, it would be quite a sight, but in a rural community, it did not generate much attention.
Several times during the next two days the pig would manage to get dirty again. It does seem to be the nature of a pig to find the mud. However, it was not necessary to return to the car wash. Jeremy simply gave the animal a quick washing to keep it ready for showing.
In order to be spiritually prepared for Easter, you must do two things when it comes to cleansing.
- Be totally bathed, cleansed by Jesus. This is the experience of salvation.
“For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. . .” (Titus 3:3-7).
This is the same word Jesus used when He spoke of Peter being “bathed.” Until you have been bathed with the forgiveness that is available only in Jesus Christ, you will never be prepared for Easter.
“. . the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus died in our place to take our sin. The first step in preparing for Easter is to place your faith, hope, trust, and confidence in that most basic truth. If you have not taken that step, then you will never be ready for Easter Sunday.
- Be continually cleansed by Jesus
Even after we are totally forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus, we still sin. Consequently, we need continual cleansing. After the initial cleansing, we do not have to be totally bathed again; we simply need to wash our hands occasionally.
The only way to deal with sin is confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Perhaps you have been a Christian for decades, but you have come to this Maundy Thursday with sin in your life. If so, you are not ready for Easter. You need to let Jesus wash your feet with His forgiveness. You might also need to seek the forgiveness of someone you have sinned against.
The first step before you are ready for Easter Sunday is to experience Jesus’ purification that is available through His blood.
Emulate Jesus’ Submission vs.12-17
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, it was much more than an object lesson on the need for spiritual cleansing. As He concluded all twenty-four feet and put on His robe, He posed a probing question, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (v.12).
He answers His own question later when He says, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (v.15). The word “example” means a pattern or model. In other words, He was showing them what to do.
The fact that they referred to Him as “Teacher and Lord” meant that it was inappropriate for Him to be washing their feet. If Jesus washes the feet of those who are His servants, then we should be washing the feet of others.
After traveling the dusty Palestinian roads wearing sandals, foot washing was a necessity. However, a Hebrew slave was never required to wash the feet of his master. Such a task was considered too humiliating. A good host simply provided water at the door, and everyone was expected to wash their own feet.
Thus, we understand the hesitation by the disciples in allowing Jesus to wash their feet. It was the most humble act that He could have done in that setting.
It was an example of submission, and remember that Jesus says that we should do as He did. As He prepared for Easter Sunday, Jesus taught us how to serve one another.
It was 1944, and Bert Frizen was an infantryman on the front lines in Europe. American forces had advanced in the face of intermittent shelling and small-arms fire throughout the morning hours, but now all was quiet. His patrol reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field before them. Unknown to the Americans, a battery of Germans waited out of sight about two hundred yards across the field.
Bert was one of two scouts who moved out into the clearing. Once he was halfway across the field, the remainder of his battalion followed. Suddenly the Germans opened fire, and machine-gun fire ripped into both of Bert’s legs. The American force withdrew into the woods for protection, while a rapid exchange of fire continued.
Bert lay helplessly in a small stream as shots volleyed overhead. There seemed to be no way out. To make matters worse, he now noticed that a German soldier was crawling toward him. Death appeared imminent; he closed his eyes and waited.
To his surprise, a considerable period passed without the expected attack, so he ventured to open his eyes again. He was startled to see the German kneeling at his side, smiling. He then noticed that the shooting had stopped. Troops from both sides of the battlefield watched anxiously. Without any verbal exchange, this mysterious German reached down to lift Bert in his arms and proceeded to carry him to the safety of Bert’s comrades.
Having accomplished his self-appointed mission, and still, without speaking a word, the German soldier turned and walked back across the field to his own troops. No one dared break the silence of this sacred moment. Moments later, the cease-fire ended, but not before all those present had witnessed how one man risked everything for his enemy.
How can we explain such an action? How can any servanthood be explained? Does it make sense that Jesus, the Son of God, and soon to be crowned King of Kings would take off His robe and wash the feet of sinful men?
Being a servant may not make sense, but it is our calling. Jesus, on that most crucial night before His death on the cross, gave us the example to follow.
To be prepared for Easter, we must follow His example and serve one another. It will be difficult. It is so much easier to get caught up in the busyness of the season, or this year, distracted by the quarantine that we neglect the need to serve one another. To serve probably means sacrifice, and that is never easy.
We have two more days before Easter Sunday. If our eyes are open to situations, there will be opportunities to serve others. When we do, we are following the example of Jesus, whose entire life was characterized by servanthood.
Embrace Jesus’ Instruction vs.34-35
That night in the upper room was special for another reason – Jesus issued a “new commandment” (v.34):
“ . . . that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (vs.34-35).
- The Command – to love one another
Of course, the term Jesus used is that great word “agape,” which means self-giving, self-sacrificing love. It is love that seeks the benefit of the loved, not the lover.
When Jesus tells us to love one another, I must confess that it is not always easy. Some of you are just not lovable. You don’t ever reach my standards, or sometimes you don’t give me what I need, so I am tempted not to love.
- The Standard – Jesus’ love
Yet, as He sets the standard, Jesus does not allow me to pick and choose who I will and will not love. He says that I am to love even as He has loved. That is a lofty goal. Jesus loved those who were genuinely unlovable –
- lepers and tax-collectors
- prostitutes and Pharisees
- saintly old widows who gave everything to God and wealthy young rulers who could give nothing to God
- Jewish leaders who hurled accusing remarks and Roman soldiers who pounded with hammers
The Consequence – proof of discipleship
When we love like our Savior, then people will know that He is our Savior. Loving one another is how we bear witness that we belong to Him.
In 1989, Mother Teresa visited Phoenix to open a home for the destitute. During that brief visit, she was interviewed by KTAR, the largest radio station in town.
In a private moment, the announcer asked Mother Teresa if there was anything he could do for her. He was expecting her to request a contribution or for the media to help raise money for her new home for the poor in Phoenix.
Instead, she replied, “Yes, there is. Find somebody nobody else loves and love them.”
Jesus gave unambiguous instructions that night in the upper room, and we will not be prepared for Easter until we follow His words. That means we must make a conscious decision to love one another. Look around you and think about others in your life. Are you loving them?