March 5, 2003: The Upper Room: A Place Of Service

Let us pray: Dear Savior, tonight we begin our walk with You to the cross. Along the way we will top at those various “tourist attractions”—the places of Your passion. As we do that turn our hearts toward the love You showed us at each place. Turn our souls toward the sacrifice that You made at each place. And turn our lives toward emulating You in faithfulness and thankfulness. Amen

TEXT: John 13: 1-17

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
When I was about a year old we moved into the house at 414 East Chestnut Street in Redwood Falls, Mn. My family lived there until I was 21 years old. Every time I go back to my hometown, I always either drive or walk past the old house. I’m always amazed at how small it looks. How could it hold the 6 of us? Why did it seem so big when I was young? It brings back a host of memories.

Over the next 6 weeks we’re going to walk down another “memory lane.” We’re going to visit places where we’ve all been—in spirit, although not in body. For how many times have you heard the story of Christ’s passion, closed your eyes, and envisioned the many stops along the way to the cross? Tonight we start the journey. We’ll begin our walk with Jesus during the final 72 hours of His life. And the first stop is:


Where was the upper room? Aside from the fact that it was in a fairly large house located in the old city of Jerusalem, we don’t exactly know. Some think it was located in a house belonging to John’s family. But, in any case, Jesus arranged to have it available to celebrate a final Passover there with His disciples. And it was furnished, too, with couches and tables so as to give everyone “elbow room.”
“Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and to to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he know showed them the full extent of his love.” Jesus loved these twelve men. O, loving them wasn’t easy in strictly human terms. For they were all sinners. Peter was hard-headed. James and John were a bit arrogant. Judas was a thief—and worse. The rest were an amalgamation of petty, bickering individuals. For three years Jesus had served them. For three years He had carried them along—even as they forgot miracles and lapsed back into that questioning spirit so native to mortal human beings. In fact, that very night, they had been arguing about “Who will get to sit next to Jesus?” Their egos were more important to them than anything else. They still didn’t know what true Christian service was.

The evening meal was about to be served. Jesus waited for any of them to make the first move. None did. So, “he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel.” It was a servant’s job, really a slave’s job. He unlaced their sandals and washed their dirty feet. It only took a few minutes, after all there were only twelve. And when He finished, He returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Did they “get” it? Not that night. Judas never understood. And the rest took a while for it to sink in. Eventually, however, they began to comprehend that sacrificing for others, serving them in love, imitating Jesus was to be an integral part of their future lives. In the upcoming years they would wear out countless pairs of sandals going and preaching Christ’s message. They would all do prison time. All except one would become martyrs. And that one would die in exile. They did so because Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” They did it because “there is salvation in none other.” Yes, they learned to imitate Christ by serving others.

You know what Jesus did in that upper room. You know that Jesus wants you to treat people as He has treated you. Or, as St. Paul writes: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves…Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

When I hear those words, I feel pretty inadequate. For more often than not, my attitude is anything but humble. It usually is about me, and not so much about others. So, visiting the upper room, and being reminded of God’s will for me is very corrective. Yes, imitating Jesus is always a good thing.


Sitting at that table in the upper room was someone you know. His name was Peter. Technically his name was Simon, but Christ called him Peter because that means “rock.” Christ viewed Peter’s faith as rock-like. But tonight Peter had rocks in his head. Peter is embarrassed when Christ tries to wash his feet. Apparently Peter thought Jesus was above serving him. He meant well, but he was bone-headed. He thought he knew better than Jesus.

What does Christ do in this instance? He takes Peter to the bottom line of their relationship. It wasn’t about dirty feet. It was about humility and the heart. It was about whom to trust and believe in. It was about getting right with God—either through your own efforts, or with Christ’s help. And it is still the same today. When it comes to Christ, it is either “His way or the highway.”—And that highway leads to hell. That’s what Jesus meant when He said: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

Peter wasn’t done disagreeing. “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.” How exasperated Christ must have been! Peter isn’t getting it. So Jesus adds, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” Yes, souls are cleansed by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. And where that cleansing is rejected—like Judas—via unbelief, lostness results.

Jesus doesn’t offer to wash our feet tonight. Neither does He command us literally to wash each other’s feet. What He does command us to do is to preach His Word of forgiveness and to celebrate His sacraments. And as we confess our sins and commune, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.

My friends, don’t be “rock-headed” like Peter. Don’t debate with Jesus about his love. Don’t argue with God over the way to eternal life. Don’t look for something that you can contribute to your salvation in order to retain self-respect. No. Confess your sins. Admit your guilt. Acknowledge your neediness. Do so not just on Ash Wednesday, but every day. And then every day kneel at the foot of His cross and know that “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

The upper room is a place of service. A place where we see the full extent of Christ love for us and a place where we learn to imitate Him. Submit your lives to the Lord and then let these words of Jesus ring in your ears: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Amen