A sermon for Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12:14, (5-10), 11-14, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Psalm 116:1, 10-17
We are a people who generally like traditions; really old traditions. Like 4th-century traditions. Well most of the time, tonight I’m glad we have the traditions we have. In the 4th century, we would have begun at two this afternoon, with Eucharist in a church at the site of the true cross. At 4 pm we would move to the courtyard, the site of the crucifixion for a second celebration, and then prayers at Jesus’ tomb. Then we scoot home for a quick dinner before heading off to a meeting on the Mount of Olives, for hymn singing, reading, prayers and Gospel readings until 11 pm; then we would listen to Gospel passages of what Jesus said to his disciples in the very cave we were in. At midnight we would go to Imbomon, the site of the Ascension, for another service until cock-crow; then process down the mountain to Gethsemane for prayers, hymns, lections at the various stations. At daybreak, we would return to the site of the crucifixion to hear the Gospel account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Then we would go home until it is time to go to the first Good Friday service (Hatchett 228).
I’m glad we’ve less to do; maybe we will have some energy to direct toward gleaning what the readings have to share with us this evening. By the time I actually got to writing, I’d come to think that the gleanings are not so such from the words, as they are from the context. The reading from Exodus is the detailed instructions about the Passover sacrifice before the angel of death passes through Egypt taking the life of all the first born. The homes whose door post is properly marked will be spared. The final verse tells us this will be a remembrance for Israel, forever. This story may be about the first ritual established for Israel. It emphasizes God’s desire for Israel to remember what happened, indicating the divine desire for an eternal relationship.
The first verse Psalm 116 refers to one or more times that God has done something for the Psalmist. The Psalmist wants to repay God’s devotion and comes to the decision the way to go is to live the way God is calling the Psalmist to live. The decision honors and respects their relationship. The division is effecting how they gather for The Lord’s Supper. It may be helpful to understand that the word Paul uses for ‘Eucharist’ means thanksgiving. Its cultural context comes for a patronage social system in which you gave thanks to your benefactor. There was also a religious tradition of giving thanks to your local god. (Sakenfeld). At least some of the Corinthians are not remembering the relationship Jesus calls all followers to have with each other. Some, mostly wealthy families arrive early, eat their dinner meaning the late arrivals, seemingly the poorer, without sufficient food, go hungry. This dining habit is adding to the division in the community. Paul will not stand for this behavior. In describing the origins of the Lord’s Supper, he quotes Jesus “do this in remembrance of me.” He also notes Jesus’ gift is for “you” ~ all Jesus’ followers. Again we can see Paul’s and Jesus’ concern for relationships, between Jesus and the Corinthian Church, but also between the members of the church. If their relationship with each other is corrupt, so is their divine relationship (Gaventa and Petersen).
John’s account of the last supper is about foot washing, which has a long history. It is an act of hospitality for a host to provide water and a servant for guests to wash their feet (Gaventa and Petersen). We see it in Genesis. There is a cultic sacrificial discipline for priests to wash their feet before approaching the altar as an act of spiritual purification, that implies the importance of the relationship between God and the priest making the sacrifice, and I suspect between God and the person offering the sacrifice (Sakenfeld).
Jesus combines all three. He is the host, by washing the disciples’ feet he acts as the servant, and in his role as the priest, he is tending to the disciples’ spiritual life (Harrelson). Jesus’ use of the term ‘hour’ indicates his imminent return to The Father. The next sentence tells of Jesus love for his disciples, which his motivation for all his actions. Jesus has modeled how the disciples are to treat each other, and how they are to treat everyone else. He has also cleared the way for them to be at one with him and God, as he and God are one (Gaventa and Petersen). Jesus’ desire is for all disciples, including us, to be in the fullest relationship with God.
In tonight’s gathering, I invite us to listen to Paul’s cry for a community that lives in divine relationship with each other. I invite us to open ourselves to Jesus’ hospitality by allowing him to serve us and to cleanse the way to the fullest relationship with our creator God. Finally, I hope we see how it’s all about relationships. There are only a few days left in this Lenten season of penitential fasting. May we delve into how Jesus accepts us as we are and offers us a way to be who we are called to be. May we delve into our own duplicity in the tomorrow’s tragedy so that it may be cleansed. May we delve into our own behaviors towards people in, around and beyond the church. How do we relate to them? How do we offer them hospitality? How do we serve them? How do we invite them into Jesus’ hosting, serving, and cleansing presence?
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayerbook. HarperSanFrancisco, 1980.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.