Maundy Thursday by The Rev. Corbet Clark

Maundy Thursday image

Lessons:

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Psalm 116:1, 10-17


What’s the deal with Judas Iscariot? I’ve been thinking a lot about Judas this week.
He’s a major player in the Holy Week drama, but we usually hear little about him, except to condemn him for his selling out Jesus to the Jewish and Roman authorities.

And we know little about why he did that. The gospels can’t agree on his motive:
Mark says nothing about motive, Matthew says he did it for money, and John’s gospel
says he was induced by Satan.

Over time there’s been speculation that he might have been sympathetic to the
Jewish radicals who wanted to attack Rome with violence and was therefore frustrated when Jesus didn’t choose that path. But we just don’t know. Nor do we know why afterwards, he apparently regretted what he had done.

But here’s another question: If Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, as
John’s gospel suggests, why didn’t he try to stop him, or why didn’t he try to find a
different place to hide? John says it’s because it was all part of God’s plan but
that doesn’t really explain much.

Here’s how I’ve come to think of it: I believe that in creating humans in God’s image,
God has given us the great gift of freedom of choice, of being able to know what the
right path is, and being free to choose it or not. It’s the freedom that Adam and Eve
exercise in the Garden, and it’s the same freedom that all the actors in the Holy Week
drama have.

It is a measure of God’s love and respect for us that God invites us to follow God,
tries to show us the way but does not force us to follow. God wants our actions to be
freely chosen, based on our conscience. In allowing Judas to do what he does, Jesus
respects the human dignity even of someone who he knows means him harm.

The last days of Jesus are a swirl of different people making different choices in
response to him: the crowd in Jerusalem, which acclaims him on Sunday and cries for
his execution on Friday; his disciples, who abandon him and later realize that all is not
lost; his women followers, who are faithful throughout; the Jewish leaders, divided over
how best to deal with him; and Pilate, who releases one condemned prisoner and
executes another.

We might see Jesus as strangely passive in this drama, in allowing people to act
against him, but we might also see him as according everyone the chance to choose
their own path, and trusting that God will see it right in the end.

The human heart is mysterious: In Holy Week we observe faith and fear, hope and
despair, hatred and love, life and death, and we know that these all part of our lives, too.

Jesus is not the master manipulator, forcing others to do his will. He is teacher and
model, inviting people to follow his path of love and sacrificial service to others.

Every year in Holy Week we have the opportunity to respond anew to that invitation to choose faith over fear, hope over despair, love over hate, and new life over death.

Amen

Maundy Thursday by The Rev. Ken Powell

Lessons:
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

 

 

May the Holy Spirit guide us ever further into the wisdom and love revealed in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Dear friends in Christ, tonight we find ourselves, once again, on the familiar and well-marked path of Jesus’ final days on his journey to the cross and resurrection. As grateful followers in the Way of Christ we hope to glean some new kernel of insight to renew and sustain us on our own journey to the God who has called each of us from beyond time to this time and place.

In the sacred days of this Holy Week we have already marked the passage of Jesus and the disciples on Palm Sunday into the crucible of Jerusalem under Roman rule and Jewish intrigue. Monday echoed with the uproar and clatter of the money-changers tables overturning in the Temple. Wednesday Jesus was anointed in Bethany and Judas agreed to betray him to those “looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him…” And so with these and a multitude of other memories and hopes and fears swirling around in their heads the disciples gathered with their Lord and Teacher for what Jesus knew would be their Last Supper together on this night.

In that respect, John’s Gospel account initially presents a familiar narrative. But have you noticed that in agreement with the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Paul’s epistle refers to the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Eucharist, “on the night before Jesus suffered” while John’s gospel makes no mention of the event at all?

This shift in the narratives focus cannot be an accident or unintentional omission. John’s gospel was the last of the gospels to be composed and the Eucharist had already been received as a fundamental tradition of the church. Neither does it imply a departure from or a rejection of that tradition. It does imply, however, that the author of John’s gospel was careful to record, and perhaps recover another event of that last meal together- namely the washing of the disciples feet- that he evidently considered as essential and fundamental to the authentic life of the church as the Bread and Wine came to be. One wonders what the church might be today if the foot washing were received not only as an example of humble service rendered to each other but as a sacrament- “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace”- by which we receive a blessing for what is done in Christ’s name with each other.

Fred Craddock, a wonderful man and influential preacher has commented that John did not accentuate the Passover meal because for him Jesus was the Passover, the paschal lamb of God whose blood was shed once and for all and by whom the Holy Spirit might “Passover” the sins of “his own who were in the world” to lead them out of slavery to sin and death  and into the freedom of eternal life in the spirit.

For John only what we learn from Jesus through the Cross and the Resurrection can exceed what Jesus taught as he “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around himself, poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciple’s feet and wipe them with the towel.”

There is something so simple, so direct, and so intimate about these gestures that we cannot be too surprised when a certain amount of discomfort arises when and if we are ever exposed to such an event. This is especially true if we lack familiarity or understanding of the intended purpose. It is more than a symbol or a sign. It is a relationship-and there are so many physical, emotional and psychological elements intertwined that one only moves into it with great care and sensitivity.

Let us explore then some of these elements that reveal themselves within the broad framework of Jesus’ life and work as they pertain to his example for us.

First, I should think is the basic fact of our need for human touch. As embodied souls we are free to fulfill that need for good or for ill in any manner that we choose but we see in the life of Jesus that the higher calling is for the touch that heals. In a culture that severely limited contact between the pure and impure Jesus touched everyone and everyone whom Jesus touched was healed.  As Henri Nouwen has expressed it “touch…speaks the wordless words of love…in friendship, touch often gives more life than words. A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friends arm resting on our shoulder, a friend’s fingers wiping away tears-these bring true consolation. These moments of touch are truly sacred. They restore, they reconcile, they reassure, they forgive, they heal. ..When we are touched with free, non-possessive love, it is God’s incarnate love that touches us and God’s power that heals us.”

One might think that as witnesses of so many healings the disciples would have welcomed Jesus’ touch for themselves, and perhaps some of them did, but not all.  The problem is that to receive what Jesus is offering we have to make room for it somehow…to set aside or look through or beyond our expectations…the ones that we may have learned from experience or been told to expect…that touch is dangerous, invasive, sexual, aggressive, or inappropriate…all of which can be true but none of which apply to the touch that Jesus offered. No doubt some of the disciples thought it was inappropriate for Jesus to wash their feet. It would have made sense to them to wash his feet as a sign of respect both as the host of the meal and as their Teacher but this wasn’t about social convention or spiritual rank. So what was it about?

The obvious answer is that it is about hospitality that a host would offer to his guests who had traveled some distance on dusty roads, most commonly on foot, as a sign of welcome, comfort and respect. This service would ordinarily be rendered by a servant or a slave…which is the role that Jesus appeared to be assuming to the disciple’s great shock and consternation.

One can only imagine what a slave may have been thinking under compulsion as he or she washed the feet of their master and the privileged guests but we know Jesus had something else in mind …something grander, deeper, freer. Peter may have felt that it was beneath Christ’s dignity to be seen as a slave but what Peter couldn’t understand was that Jesus was free in every circumstance to offer himself in a love which Peter could not yet receive because Peter was still enslaved to his own way of thinking and feeling and acting, still bound by the norms and conditions of his society and experience.

So, at best the obvious answer is only a partial answer. As everyone can attest for themselves any service rendered with even the purist intention can quickly deteriorate into pride or manipulation or resentment if it is not rooted in a deep humility and gratitude for what is also received in the giving. As C.S. Lewis once famously said “humility results not so much from thinking less of ourselves but of thinking of ourselves less.”  It is a fine point and everything turns on it.

In a wonderful reflection on the life and person of Jesus, the Rev. James Martin speaks of the foot-washing as “an invitation to equality” and a recognition of the inherent God-given dignity of every human being. He quotes the New Testament scholar Sandra Schneider’s perception of Peter’s resistance as requiring of him “a radical reinterpretation of his own life-world, a genuine conversion of some kind which he was not prepared to undergo.”

Schneider believes “that in John’s Gospel the Foot Washing is more about the mutual service of friendship” than about “humble service”. “The message is not so much that the master has become the slave, but that all are on the same level. After Jesus has washed the disciple’s feet, he challenges them to do the same for each other and to see that all are equal friends in the kingdom; no one is above or below in any way.” As Jesus foretold-the day came when Peter understood and so, perhaps, shall we.

However you choose to participate tonight I hope you will have an eye and an ear for whatever circumstances that may arise in your life that call you to cross the threshold of discomfort  to love and serve each other as Jesus loved and served us for that is how the disciples of Jesus are known.

Maundy Thursday by The Rev. Martin Elfert

Lessons:

Exodus 12:1-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

 

One of the many talents of my friend Doug was his ability to sound like an FM Radio Announcer. He would drop his voice down half an octave and, somehow, broadening and richening it, before declaring:

Welcome to the drive at Five. We’ve got three hours of hits for you.

Sometimes, when Doug was in the mood, he would make his Radio Announcer lascivious or lecherous or unduly confessional, so that the Drive at Five would feature tearful confessions or angry accusations or other personal sharings with his audience that probably didn’t belong on the air. I remember one occasion when Doug and I were loading a show into a theatre (in those days, he and I were stagehands) and Doug started doing the Announcer Voice. And he got into that mysterious and wonderful territory that people who like telling jokes call “being on a roll,” so that absolutely everything Doug broadcast over his imaginary radio was uproariously funny. That day, the Drive at Five was brilliant.

Doug got on that roll near the end of a long day, sometime partway through the evening, a time when everyone was tired and short-tempered, closing in on exhaustion. As a consequence, the laughter that Doug’s Announcer brought into the room was so welcome. It was energizing and joyous and freeing. I was probably 34 years old at the time, more than a couple of decades too old to shout out, “Do it again!” or “More, more!” but I sure wanted to shout those things. Doug gave me the energy to make it to the day’s end. I went home smiling, looking forward to hearing the Drive at Five Announcer again.

Except I never did. At age 56, with little or no warning, Doug had a massive heart attack, one of those coronary disasters that lands in your life like a bomb. That heart attack stopped the blood that was moving around Doug’s body, well, in a heartbeat. The paramedics worked on him for more than an hour. But my guess is that Doug was dead before his body even hit the floor.

In the wake of his death I remember thinking, I want to hear the Radio Announcer voice one more time. Just once more. Or, if I can’t have that, I at least want the chance to go back and say, “thank you.” Thank you, Doug, for the laughter. I didn’t acknowledge it at the time, but it was a big deal. 

I’m grateful.

Our lives are full of Last Suppers. Of final moments with the people we love, final moments in the places that we love. Most of the time, these moments come and go and we don’t even notice. Nobody tells us that we are at the end of the story.

When I spoke to Doug for the last time, it didn’t so much as occur to me that I wouldn’t see him again in this life. The same is true for a dozen or more friends. For every friend who goes into a really obvious decline, whose dying is predictable and indisputable, there are another four, like Doug, whose death catches us of guard. The last time that I said goodbye or goodnight to Al or Cathy or Tom or Dusty or Mrs. Henderson or Zaida or John or Mrs. Edy, our farewells were so everyday, so offhand, so rushed; I yelled a quick “see you later,” and I ran out the door. Why didn’t someone tell me that I wouldn’t see them later? That, this time around, “later” wasn’t coming? I would have stopped. I would have said something more. I would have named the moment, honoured the moment. I would have honoured them.

Last Suppers are not confined to something as absolute as the end of a life. They appear in other endings as well, in other kinds of death. I was remembering recently, for instance, when each of our three children were infants and Phoebe and I would bathe them in a tiny basin or even in the kitchen sink. It was a wondrous, beautiful time. A child in a sink – well, that’s a kind of miracle. And I’ll be darned if I can remember the last occasion when Phoebe and I bathed any of the kids in that fashion, if I can remember the moment when we noticed that the child in question was about to outgrow the sink. I suppose I was just too sleep-deprived, too stunned by the exhaustion of parenthood to notice. Part of me – a big part – wishes that I could go back and pay attention and say thanks.

What about other Last Suppers? What about the last time that my high school friends and I gathered at the neighbourhood field to play touch football, the joyous, youthful freedom of running together? What about the last time that I went on a big hike into the wilderness, the last time before my knees started hurting too much to allow me to go deep into the mountains? What about the last afternoon in my childhood friend’s basement, a basement in which I had spent more happy afternoons than I can count, pretending to be characters from Star Wars?

And what about you? When were your Last Suppers? The last time that you took a favourite walk along the beach or through the woods before, unexpectedly, your life shifted and you moved away. The last cup of coffee with a friend. The last time that you held a cherished pet in your lap. The last time that you and your spouse lay in bed together before the changes of life brought that to an end.

What else?

How many of your Last Suppers were you aware of at the time that they happened? How many of them were you able to name and, therefore, to celebrate and to mourn? How many Last Suppers are taking place in your life right now?

Maybe these are sad or unwelcome questions, questions that evoke melancholy or guilt or anxiety or regret. But I hope that they are also questions that invite you and me into freedom. Because as Jesus shows us today, naming that you are at a Last Supper can be an uncommon gift, both to yourself and to the people whom you love. A Last Supper is a rare and special opportunity to say thank you. It is a rare and special opportunity to say I love you. It is a rare and special opportunity to say: This is what I want you to hear, this is what I want you to see, this is what I want you to know before we are parted.

Jesus kneels before his friends. It won’t be long now before the soldiers will come for him. And he washes their feet.

Here’s the challenge. Most of us don’t name our Last Suppers not just because they tend to be unexpected but because we try pretty actively to deny or ignore them. I suspect that there is more than one thing going on in Peter’s head when he blurts out his refusal to Jesus, when he says You will never wash my feet! and then awkwardly tries to salvage the conversation, the way that we do sometimes, by saying Wash all of me! But I bet that one of the reasons that he tries to cut Jesus off is that permitting his teacher and his friend to wash his feet, to engage in this prophetic action, to give this embodied last will and testament, is to admit that Jesus’ death is coming soon. And so, much like you and I when we shut down an elderly relative who wants to talk about her funeral plans – O Mom! Don’t be silly. You’ll outlive us all! – Peter tries to stop Jesus from naming the moment.

But Jesus, being Jesus, won’t let Peter do that.

Name your Last Suppers. The Last Suppers that are in your life right now. Name even the possible Last Suppers, the people whom you love who may or may not be near the end of their lives. The moments in your lives that may or may not be near their conclusion. And then say the things that you need and want to say, do the things that you need and want to do. Seize the fleeting gift that is our time together.

We are here but for a moment. And then we are gone. Gone like Doug and his masterful radio voice. Gone like an infant, now too large to be washed in a sink. Gone like Jesus, pulled away from his friends by the soldiers.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

But that is still a few hours away. Right now, Jesus is here. Here, washing Peter’s feet. Here, washing our feet. As he kneels before us, Jesus says:

This is the end. This is the Last Supper. There is a beginning that will follow it. But the end has to happen first. So let’s name that. As I wash you, as the warm water wraps around your feet, as the dirt and the old skin of the day that is gone falls away, let’s name that ending. Let’s name that we are together. Let’s name that this adventure, this thing that I call the Kingdom, was always about friendship, always about service, always about transformation. Let’s name that we love one another.

We have shared so many meals. This is the last one. But here is the good news: from now on I will be with you always. I will be with you in prayer. I will be with you in love and compassion and justice. I will be with you in bread and in wine.

This is the Last Supper. But it is also the first.