Preached on Maundy Thursday 2017 at Saint Philip’s in the Hills, Tucson
On Palm Sunday – I mentioned in the sermon that it was really the first of four parts. Tonight is the second part as we officially begin the Great Three Days also known as the Triduum.
Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem in triumph – Palm Sunday has us hear the Passion – though mostly, it seems, out of a concern that people won’t be able to come to Good Friday services so the Passion of Matthew is in the rotation so that one Sunday each year we would hear the Passion sung or read.
Chronologically though – and spiritually – we arrive at this night as though we do not know the end. We are as clueless as Jesus’s disciples. We are given signs and portents and, perhaps, if we have been listening closely and watching with the eyes of faith then we may have gotten glimpses of the agony to come. Jesus has told us before that the hour was coming – when he would be betrayed, when he would be offered up. He has told us that he goes to prepare a place for us too.
We have sat with a mix of awe for we have seen the miracles. We have heard him preach and teach with a fierce compassion and a bold humility. We have watched in amazement as he healed on the Sabbath, as he sat with sinners, as he talked with a woman at a well and heard her testimony, as tax collectors came to know him, as children came to him, as men dropped their nets to follow him, and as women cried out to him for healing and salvation. We have heard him talk of living water and true vines – and we have dreamt of the Kingdom he promises and proclaims.
Tonight we are at the Last Supper. Jesus has sat at the table with his friends and followers and with his betrayer, Judas. This service is also often called Maundy Thursday or the Institution of the Lord’s Supper – and we learn that Judas earns eternal infamy because he is the first person in human history to leave mass early.
We arrive at this room to pray and Jesus proceeds to impart some final lessons, some preparation for what is to come, and finally to offer a new way of coming together in his Presence – with him – for all time. He tells his disciples – those whom he has baptized, taught, and who have been shaped by being part of this community of the faithful – he tells them that this Bread and this Cup are for them. That his Body and Blood are for them.
Then, that very night, they desert him and flee.
For fear they run. For fear they hide. For fear they deny. And we will too. We too will take this Bread and drink this Cup and we will run. We will hide. We will deny. We all will fail sometimes at this being Christian thing.
Jesus knew this and yet poured out himself in a cup and on a cross that we might know ourselves restored in him and by him each and every time that we gather. For we drink not just his blood but his forgiveness – we take not only bread but become a body formed on this very night when Jesus was betrayed.
The terrible truth of just what it would take to give birth to the Kingdom was revealed as Jesus is handed over, lost, to the forces of Empire through the frailty of human greed.
Yet – Jesus offers them this new way of finding him and being found by him in this Eucharist –in this Thanksgiving that he invites them to. This community will be formed by water and blood and fed by the living Bread and it will be marked by what? What will this new Kingdom be marked by?
Love. Pure, simple, kind, generous, honest love. The kind of love that is manifested not by the grand gesture of the Cross alone but by seeing their Lord who will rise again fall down on his knees and wash their feet. It is love and it is pain for love is always hard – love is always sacrifice.
Mary washed the feet of Jesus – and foreshadows the preparation of his body which will come after the Cross.
Jesus anoints the feet of the disciples and foreshadows just what the life of faith might mean. It will mean humble service – and it will mean their own suffering too – and it will mean being living sacrifices for one another and for the sake of Christ. The washing of their feet is as much an act of preparation as it is an act of service. Perhaps it is also an act of thanksgiving for what is to come of following him.
Priests, in their ministry, prepare sacrifices. On this very night our Great High Priest prepares his disciples. Each of these followers except one will be martyred.
Paul was beheaded. Andrew and Peter crucified. Thomas run through with four spears. Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. Bartholomew lost in Southern Arabia. James clubbed to death in Syria. Simon sacrificed to the sun god in Persia. Matthias, chosen to replace Judas is burned to death. John, the writer of Revelation, is thought to have died of old age though not before he was boiled in oil and lived through it. And our own patron, Saint Philip, was put to death in Asia Minor by a Roman consul after Philip converted the consul’s wife to Christianity.
Each of these whose feet were washed by Jesus found themselves testifying by blood, fire, and sword to the faith they denied on this very night when they were first given this Bread and this Wine – when they were served by a kneeling Lord.
Each of those whose feet are washed tonight are disciples too – friends, sinners, and saints alike who testify by love. We wash those who sacrifice themselves caring for ailing loved ones, those who visit prisoners, care for widows and orphans, those who have gone to war and those who have fought for peace. We wash the feet of those who have carried crosses and those who mourn.
Tonight we priests prepare each of you for service and witness.
Each of those first, washed disciples went out into the world and shared this same meal – this same holy mystery with those who would listen. The seeds planted on that night – the meal shared – would become more than a miracle of Bread and Wine transformed. The feeding of the five thousand was multiplied time after time as one meal, the one shared this very night, became another and then another as disciples went and said, “take, eat” as they did this in remembrance.
And community after community. Believer after believer. Friend after friend. Son after mother. Daughter after grandmother. King after priest. Beggar after queen. Foe after orphan. Widow after slave. Teacher after student. Disciple after betrayer. Generation after generation. Day after day. Week after week. Century after century.
One Millennia upon another – for two thousand years – from generation to generation the Bread and Cup has been passed from the hands of sinners and saints alike down to this very Altar. Out of Love that night were we brought together not as strangers but as friends – we who have all been so very lost now find our home here because on this night, this very night, one man turned to his friends and said, “take, eat.”
So we take this bread and we are washed and we become a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.
This Kingdom of Love was born of Bread and Wine that night for Jesus would leave these common men and women transformed by love – just as much as that food and drink became something more – something set aside for holy purpose. For the Holy Spirit was sent upon them and they went out into the world and said, “This is my Body, given for you” and they would be taken and broken for the sake of the Gospel – and for our sake.
Tonight we break bread because tomorrow a body will be broken. Tonight we are fed and washed for holy service – tonight we who are many eat this bread and drink this cup because we are one body anointed, marked, and made whole to be given for the sake of the world.
Tonight we too become the gifts of God for the people of God.
Maryann Younger said:
Would you ever consider a guest post? I’ve written an OpEd for my Church in Society class on getting past our walls and steeples and am looking for a home for it. I’d be most happy if you’d consider taking a look at it.
Many thanks, and blessings on your continued work.