Sermon for Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017 || 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
This evening we celebrate two things. First, we celebrate the new commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us. This new commandment is the “mandatum” that gives Maundy Thursday its name. We wash each other’s feet to remind us of Jesus’ own servanthood and his love displayed through his act of humility. Second, we celebrate what we loftily call the “Institution of the Eucharist.” That is, we remember the Last Supper when Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and shared them with his friends and said, “This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”
This meal goes by many names: Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. And they all derive from the event St. Paul recalls for the Corinthians in tonight’s second reading, an event we call the “Last Supper.”Continue reading “The Last Supper”→
Sermon for Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015 || John 13:1-17, 31b-35
“Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Thus begins the second half of the Gospel according to John. We’ve walked with Jesus for three years since he called his first disciples, since he miraculously turned water into wine, since he drove the businesspeople out of the temple. We’ve overheard his conversations with the Pharisee Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well. We’ve seen him heal a man suffering from paralysis and a man born blind. We’ve eaten the bread broken to feed 5,000 people. We’ve listened to Jesus call himself all sorts of names: the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd. Recently, in an act that probably sealed his fate with his enemies, he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.
That’s what happens in the first half of the Gospel. In the second half, we sit down with Jesus at dinner as he washes his disciples feet and talks with them late into the night. We follow him as he is arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified. And with Mary Magdalene and Thomas and the rest of the disciples, we see him risen again.
In between the two halves of the Gospel according to John, we have these two verses serving as a hinge. “Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
He loved them to the end. This is one of my favorite verses in the Gospel because it is deliciously ambiguous. The ambiguity raises this question: What end does he love us to? The obvious answer is his own death: the end about to be narrated, the end that happens at Golgotha. But this “end” is an unsatisfactory choice because we who live on the other side of Easter know that the cross was emphatically not the end.
So what other “end” is there? There’s our own, individual ends. Surely, he loves us to that point. But this too is an unsatisfactory answer, because our own earthly deaths are not the end either. They are a gateway to the larger and fuller life of consummation in God. The most famous hymn ever written reminds us there’s no end to that life, ever. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”
Then there’s the end of the planet we live on. That will happen at some point, whether we humans cause it or the star we call the sun loses its light. But even then, we believe the words St. Paul shares with the church in Rome: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s pretty definitive, if you ask me.
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. I honestly can’t think of an “end” final enough for the love of Jesus Christ to move from the present tense to the past tense. That’s what this week we begin tonight is about. Each day there is another end. Jesus is arrested and everyone flees. That sounds like an end. Jesus is convicted to die. Another ending. Jesus dies on the cross. The story is over. The stone rolls shut on the tomb. The End.
And yet none of these is the end. There is no end where the love of Christ is concerned. The love of Christ is bigger than the end. In the first half of the Gospel, this love heals the broken and raises the dead. This love opens the minds and hearts of those who hear Jesus speak. This love perseveres through the invective of his enemies. And now this love brings him to his knees with a basin and towel to serve his friends. This love expands out from Jesus as he gives his followers a new commandment: to love each other as he loves them. As he loves you. Me. Us.
In another letter, Paul speaks about love. And among those well-trod words, three of them ring out: “Love never ends.” So whether you are at the end of life or simply at the end of your rope, know this. Jesus loves you to the end. And because there is no final end, no end of ends, we can in all faith shorten that sentence to this: Jesus loves you. Always has. Always will. Because there is no end to his love.
Art: Detail from Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples by Tintoretto (late Ren.)
Imagine with me the thoughts of the disciple Judas Iscariot, after he has left the Last Supper while he is on the way to the police. You may wish to click here and read John 13:1-30 before reading the following.
I let him wash my feet. I knew what I was going to do, and I still let him wash my feet. I could feel the gentle pressure of his hands through the coarse towel as he dried them. God. Gentle pressure: it’s always gentle pressure with him. He touched the dirtiest part of me, and there was no recoil, no disgust. And all the while, I had this strange sense in my gut that he knew what I was getting ready to do. Even though I had decided to go to the police and let them know where they could find him, I still let him wash my feet. I let him serve me, but there was no earthly reason why he should, for I am on my way to betray him.
Betray him. It sounds so ugly when I say it like that. I’m not betraying him: I’m saving myself, saving all of those lazy hangers-on who don’t realize how much trouble he’s getting us into. Peter, who can’t keep his big mouth shut. Thomas, who says he’s ready to die with him, which I doubt. Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, the rest. They have no idea what’s really going on. I’m the only one that sees clearly. I’m giving them the opportunity to escape with their lives. Once he’s out of the picture, the police and authorities will forget all about the rest of us. I’ll be off the government’s most wanted list. I’ll be able to slip back into obscurity. No one will remember my name, and that’s just fine with me.
Will people remember his name after all this is through? He’s just another in a long line of disposable saviors. God. How did I let myself get caught up in all of this? I’m the smart one. I’m the planner. I see into the way of things. And still, he called my name and I followed. I feel so foolish. Foolish and angry. I’ve been angry for so long that I can hardly remember the last time I was at peace. Last week in Bethany, I yelled at Mary for being wasteful with her money, but I would’ve yelled at anyone who gave me an excuse. Why do I feel like this?
I’ve always sensed that I’m different somehow from the rest of them, that I’m on the outside of the group. Last year, he said one of us was a devil, and I’m sure he was talking about me. He didn’t say it outright, but I remember him looking at everyone but me. He always seems to hold me at arms length. I never feel close to him. Until tonight. Until he washed my feet tonight. Until he handed me that piece of bread tonight.
I had to get out of there. I felt this sudden surge of anger in my chest, a feeling of such malevolence, stronger and more foreign than I had ever felt before. He handed me that piece of bread. He handed me himself. God. At that moment, we had our closest connection ever and I understood most perfectly my place in all of this.
I’ve been so angry for so long because his words mean something different for me than for everyone else. I’m the exception. I’m the one who doesn’t count in the total. And he chose me! He chose me for this assignment. He knew all along. I’m not betraying him, no matter what people will say. I’m doing exactly what he wants me to do. I’m his most faithful follower. So why am I shut out? Why am I alone in the darkness?
He chose well. He knew I have the foresight and the stomach to see this through. I could go back. I could forsake the path I’m on. But that – that would be a betrayal. He handed me himself. He is in my hands. And I have to make those hands bloody. Now my anger is my ally. It steels me for the task ahead. As long as I keep seething with this foreign hatred I’ll be able to accomplish what he sent me to do. He told me to do it quickly. Perhaps he thought that I would change my mind if I dwelt on this task too long. But I will not. I will not. I will not. I will keep walking away from him, walking toward his end, walking with clean feet becoming dirtier with each step.
Several people who’ve heard me sing this live have asked for a recording, so here it is. And I’m including the lyrics because parts of it (especially the Peter Gabriel section) are a bit difficult to follow. If you want to play it yourself, let me know, and I’ll send you the lead sheet. I hope you enjoy it!
(Oh, btw, I’m working on a second Gospel Medley. If you think of a song I could use for a piece of the Gospel, let me know. Right now, I just have Bryan Adams for the call of the disciples.)
(To download, right-click picture and choose “Save Link As…”)
The Nativity (Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin'”)
Just a virgin girl when the angel said to her,
“You will bear the Son of God.” She said, “Here am I.”
Just a carpenter of David’s line from Bethlehem;
He took her for his wife (the angel told him to).
So Caesar made the census rule
Telling all to go back home
In a stable Mary bears her babe
He’s the Son, the Son, the Son, the Son.
Shepherds grazing up and down the countryside
The wise men searching in the night
Starlight, angels singing ‘bout the Incarnation
Shining on this holy night
Don’t stop believing
Remember it’s with God you’re dealing
Peace to people
– – –
John the Baptizer(John Mellencamp, “Jack and Diane”)
A little ditty about John the Baptist
Whose favorite dinner was honeyed locusts
John, he’s saying, “I’m just the voice crying out:
Prepare the way of the Lord, that’s what I’m talking ‘bout.” (Sayin’)
Oh yeah, it won’t be long:
the kingdom has come near, repent your wrongs
Oh yeah, it won’t be long:
He is coming soon, I can’t tie his sandals’ thong (now walk on)
– – –
The Feeding of the 5000(The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”)
Jesus looks up, and he knows he’s gonna feed,
He’s gonna feed the people coming to see him.
The disciples, they all say they’re gonna need
They’re gonna need denarii to feed them all.
But I see there five loaves of bread
And I see there two tiny fish
I will bless this food to feed five thousand people
So sit down in the grass
Gotta lot now! Gotta lot now!
Gotta lot of scraps of bread leftover now!
– – –
Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration(John Parr, “Man in Motion (St. Elmo’s Fire)”)
Jesus asks, “Who do you disciples say has come?”
Peter says, “You’re the Son of God, the Chosen One.”
God revealed this to you, not some fleshly search
So I name you Rock, now go build my church.
Then they climb the highest mountain, underneath the starry sky
And they witness Jesus’ changing, whiter and whiter
Gonna build some tabernacles, but then a cloud descends:
“This is my beloved Son, listen to him”
– – –
The Last Supper(John Denver, “Leaving on a Jet Plane”)
All my friends are here in this upper room.
Their feet are clean, now my Passion looms:
Here’s a four long chapter speech to say goodbye.
See this bread I’m breakin’, it’s a special loaf,
The wine you’re drinkin’ is my blood’s merlot.
Let’s share this meal before I’m brought to die.
So take, eat: you’re sharing me.
Drink this to remember me.
Hear my words ‘cause soon I’ll have to go.
I’ll be dying on the cross soon,
But know that I’ll be back again
Oh, friends, I hate to go…
– – –
The Crucifixion(Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”)
On his head’s placed a crown of thorns;
The temple veil will soon be torn.
Without a noise, without his pride, he reaches out to his bride.
They crucify: the blood, the sweat
His mouth is dry from thirstiness.
Eli, Eli, Have you forsaken
Me to die? You’ll be with me in
Paradise. Oh God forgive them.
Then he cries: I commend my Spirit.
I see the blood and the sweat, oh, but it’s not over quite yet.
Just come on down this Sunday, meet you there at sunrise.
– – –
The Resurrection(U2, “Beautiful Day”)
They go to the tomb, on the first day of the week
But there’s no stone, so Mary takes a peak
She’s out of luck, and the reason that she had to care
Was apparently snuck away when they were unawares
But she knows she’s found a friend when the gardener says her name.
And then Jesus sends her saying, “My return proclaim.”
On this Easter Sunday, the grave falls and you know
On this Easter Sunday, death’s sting is wiped away
On this Easter Sunday…
Touch me, put your finger in my side
When I leave, my Holy Spirit will abide
It’ll be Pentecost Day, tongues of fire, you know
On that Pentecost Day, the Church is here to stay
On that Pentecost Day…