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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Maundy Thursday, Holy Week, Year ABC, 2018

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Infinite, intimate God; this night you kneel before your friends and wash our feet. Bound together in your love, trembling, we drink your cup and watch."

New Zealand Prayer Book

"Oneness in love is the language of intimacy. It applies to our relation with God and Christ (and to their relationship). It is to apply also to our relationships with each other in community."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Easter 5," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Fortunately, this passage actually has TWO new commandments: 1) Love one another as I have loved you. And, 2) Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Christ-like-love is the goal. Forgiveness is the salve that heals brokenness and makes love possible once again."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 13:31-35, David Ewart, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


With joy, O God of salvation, the assembly of your holy people begins the three day pasch, in which Christ manifests the gospel in his own flesh and blood.  Stir our hearts by the example of this Savior, who welcomed to his table even those who would betray, deny and desert him, the Lord who knew their weaknesses yet bend down to wash their feet. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 13:1-35
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Much like the place of Maundy Thursday as the beginning of Christian Passover or the doorway into the Triduum, our passage is the beginning through which the disciple walks into the important teachings in following chapters which then lead directly into the crucifixion.  This passage is a doorway in John's Gospel for the disciple to follow Jesus to the cross, through the grave and to Easter.

Meister des Hausbuches,
Jesus Washes the Feet of the Apostles 
Most scholars including Raymond Browne see that our passage falls into three distinct sections.  The action in 1-5, the interpretation to the disciples, and the further interpretation to those who read the Gospel and believe.

Section One: The Action
13Now 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

We see a clear Johanine understanding that Jesus is returning to the Father. We might remember the earlier teachings on John wherein I talked about how Jesus clearly is the incarnate word come to dwell in the world.  Furthermore, we see the very deep roots of our orthodox faith which understands that it is Jesus' loving of the disciples that brings them into the family of God.  Despite the work of those that would destroy the community and creatures of God, Jesus will be victorious. He washes their feet. This may be a sign of baptism. What is clear is that Jesus serves the disciples and loves them as if they were his own to care for and tend.  This is the first and essential piece of the Gospel; and it is radical.  Jesus serves his followers.

The Second Section: First Interpretation
We shall remember that this is "Commandment day", this is the meaning of Maundy. Here we have the essential ingredient to all of Christian teachings about discipleship.  While avoiding words that are liturgically connected with baptism Jesus offers this very basic exercise of cleaning and washing.  Jesus is enacting a sign of hospitality. It is a welcoming into the company of God's family, formally in baptism, here signified with the tenderness of a mother or father.  Jesus is uniting all of creation and all of humanity with God. We are being adopted into Christ's household as a person might be brought into one's own home (Genesis 18:4  1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:4422:27).  This is the way our community is to be like. Within the covenant community which claims Christ we are to accept the freely given grace of our Lord and share it with others by repeating the act of loving embrace to others.

We know that the outward washing of the body does not cleanse the soul, but it is clear that this love and care is to be a hallmark of the inward grace.  It is the hallmark of Jesus' ministry and it is to be the hallmark of our own lives lived in the wake of Jesus' ministry. The hospitality of God is to be echoed by all who come after him. 1 Peter 2:21, the author writes: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps”.

The Third Section: The Second Interpretation Here it is as if Jesus stops focusing upon his disciples and steps out of the Gospel in order to focus on the reader.  When we welcome, when we open ourselves up to those who have been sent by Christ into the world we too become part of the family.  While certainly Jesus is to be betrayed, nevertheless we are to act in accordance to the witness we have been given. We are to “love one another”.  This is the basic sign of ones salvation and knowledge of God and his Son Jesus.  We witness in this text the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the emblems of a self-giving God.  We are to love and keep his commandments.  While we often will spend our time in the pulpit on this Holy night speaking of love, it is important to recognize the reality that forgiveness is also part and parcel of the life lived in Christ.

And in a miraculous way, beyond all that pulls at our church, all that works to destroy and condemn us, all that we do to one another in word and action, in our most broken and most divided, it is tonight, this holy night that we pause, and remember to love and forgive. We pause and put down our destruction and remind ourselves of the service and hospitality of our God. We remind ourselves that it is his grace and love which unites us one to another and into the family of God. It is his love which binds us forever. And so, it is on this night that we are challenged to be a better people, a loving people, a hospitable people, a kind people. This is our work should we choose to follow.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, though didst not come to the world to be served, but also surely not to be admired or in that sense to be worshiped. Thou was the way and the truth - and it was followers only thou dist demand.  Arouse us therefore if we have dozed away into the delusion, save us from the error of wishing to admire thee instead of being wiling to follow thee and to resemble thee." Soren Kierkegaard

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 11:23-26

This section of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians is dealing with accusations by fellow members of the community that others are abusing the Lord's Supper.  Our theologians have pulled out of the text for us to read on this Holy Thursday the passages that deal with the tradition of the "supper" itself; and Paul's interpretation of Jesus' actions at the Last Supper.

The first followers of Jesus have already formed a tradition and this tradition is given to the Corinthians from Paul.  He provides the words that have been given to him and the meaning that these remembrances are to remind the follower of the first supper and the grace they receive by continuing the tradition.  The elements are offered with the same words we use in our liturgy today.  Thanks is offered, blessings made and the gives are shared.  The bread is broken, literally, and shared.  This is a very different tradition than the Aramaic formula in the Passover tradition. (Joseph Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, Yale Press, 438).  Like the washing of feet in tonight's Gospel from John, it is very clear that these things are done, broken, and given to those gathered - the faithful.

Fitzmyer reminds us (443) that the "new covenant" that is mentions is a reference to Jeremiah 31:31-34.

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
It is Paul's, and the new Christian movement's, understanding that Jesus and this meal is fulfillment of this ancient prophecy and promise.  For Paul the rehearsal of these things by those who follow Jesus - was essential.

In the last verse we have Pauline material which makes clear his understanding.  Fitzmyer says it well:

The active sharing of the bread and the cup is a way not only of expressing one's belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and of commemorating the Last Supper, but also of announcing to others what the death of Jesus has achieved for all Christian believers.  The act of sharing is not only memory and recollection, but above all, proclamation, based on the Passover event of old...this double aspect of the Eucharist, remembrance and proclamation, is not to be neglected....there is no worship without remembering, and there is no liturgical remembering without proclamatory narrative. (444)

Therefore, the remembering and rehearsing of this ancient meal is not simply something God is doing but it is essentially something the one who follows this God does in order to remind themselves of the Gospel narrative.

Chosen on this night of Holy Thursday as our reading, it is has special meaning.  The congregation rehearses and retells our sacred story.  For the preacher it is an opportunity to make the connection between our weekly remembrances and the first supper of passion week.

Some Thoughts on Exodus 12:1-14

Moses has attempted to convince the Egyptian Pharaoh to let God’s people go. The Pharaoh’s heart hardened, he has refused. Again and again, God has sent signs, portents, and plagues to reveal that God intends to raise God’s people from Egypt.

The passage that is appointed for the Maundy Thursday liturgy is about the Passover of course. That moment when the people of Israel consume a goat and mark their doors in order to be spared from the last and terrible slaughter of Egyptians. Stanley Hauerwas once told me, “God is getting over God’s tendency to violence.” Regardless of how you read this horrific story, it is of paramount importance for following this last of the plagues the Egyptians allow the people of God to go free. By the blood of the sacrifice, painted upon their door mantle, they are freed…they are delivered…they are passed over by death and have life, they pass over from slavery into freedom. The story which is the “Passover” has another meaning too: God’s compassion spares.

Now, there are two very important arguments here. The Gospel narratives place Jesus’ last supper and death near the time of Passover. The first argument that is made (and I fear has won out in our present time) is that Jesus’ last meal was the remembrance meal of the Passover called the Seder. This is celebrated by many religious Jews today. J. Jeremias in his text The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 1966, has influenced a generation of people that this is in fact the case. The argument is based upon a “conjecture” found in the text that there was an older Palestinian calendar for Passover that is now lost. Though this cannot be found anywhere or referenced specifically.

It is clear that the authors of the New Testament saw Jesus’ death and resurrection as a metaphor for the Passover. The Passover, if you will, prefigured the resurrection of Jesus. This can be seen emerging theologically in the middle of the second century in the work of Irenaeus of Lyons.

However, there is a second case made for a different root for the liturgy we now recognize as the Eucharist, and that in fact Jesus’ last supper was not the Seder but the Chabûrah or Feast of Friends. C. Kucharek on the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, L. Mitchell in his book The Meaning of Ritual both track the Chabûrah as a major link in the tradition. Their research taps into the ancient texts of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and The Didache - two early Christian texts. The biggest proponent of this tradition in the Episcopal Church is our very own Gregory Dix, who in The Shape of Liturgy, places Jesus’ death before Passover. And, that the Chabûrah was a feast kept between rabbis and their followers. (I take all of this from my longtime friendship with Richard Fabian and his work on liturgy and the Eucharist at St. Gregory of Nyssa.)

I say all of this because people will be quick to draw a direct lineage between the Seder, Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, and the modern-day Eucharist. What seems important is that rather than appropriating a perfectly good liturgy of our religious ancestors we might ought to see that what Jesus was doing in his feast with friends was an essential breaking of the specialized meal for the religious to a meal for all people. Friends here being redefined not by those who are given any particular religion by virtue of birth or by nurture of family. Friends instead are those whom God loves in Christ Jesus. Friends are those bound by love and for whom new families are structured out of their participation in a table meant for all people and not a few. This is accentuated when we take into account the nature of customary seating. Jesus was most definitely killed for eating with sinners. At the final supper, he sits with John on one side and Judas on the other – my friend John Peterson is quick to point out. Jesus places his greatest follower – the one whom he loved and his greatest detractor on both his left and right.

If we keep this in mind and return to the text and how it is used in the New Testament we see something very interesting. While there is reference to the looming Passover, there is no direct reference to this passage. This passage, the Passover passage, is used differently.

Luke uses the text, refers to the text, as a charge to Jesus’ followers to be ready. In Luke 12 Jesus tells them to be ready. His time is approaching when he will no longer be with them and they must be ready and be on the move. (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 203) Again, Luke seems to nod in the direction of our passage from Exodus when in Acts the tradition of Jesus as being key and not passages of laws including but not limited to keeping the Passover. (Hays, 220) Finally, in John’s Gospel, often called the “book of signs” the idea that Jesus’ legs were not broken so like the pure lamb was seen as a sign of the sacrifice.

We can spend a lot of time on the kind of food served at the meal or the meaning of the meal itself. When we do so we miss, most often the fact, that it is not the meal nor the lamb that was slain in Egypt that is our deliverance. Rather that all of those stories prefigure the unique person of Jesus who will be our final deliverance. God in Christ Jesus shall bring all of us to the table of friends (where both the good and the bad shall be seated), and from the table we shall all go united in Love with haste into the world to proclaim a story of deliverance. We are delivered. We know the work of Jesus because we know the old old story of God’s deliverance of a people from death into life, from slavery into freedom.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

Sermon Maundy Thursday Year B, March 29, 2018, St. Mark's, Bellaire

The Passover of God

Maundy Thursday sermon preached at Trinity Church, Galveston 2011.

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