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Maundy Thursday

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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This evening is special. Maundy Thursday. The lead-in to what we call the Triduum; consisting of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The root word of Maundy is the same as ‘mandate’. Mandate Thursday. The day in which Jesus gave us a mandate to love. After all it is John’s Gospel. John’s message is one of love and so we must hold that in mind as we go through all of today’s liturgies. And we have just heard John’s version of the meal that was had prior to the betrayal. In this gospel we get a different side of the story and perhaps combined with the synoptic gospels – a more complete telling of Jesus’s last night. It’s the focal point of our worship and the foundation of what Christianity used as its starting point to gather the body of Christ together. But this is the only day of the year you’re guaranteed to hear John’s version of Jesus’s last night not with the bread and wine, but with the washing of feet.
So keep in mind as we progress through this and every service where we celebrate Holy Eucharist, that if the only Gospel we had was John’s, people would be wearing sandals to church each Sunday in preparation to have their feet washed. Easy off, easy on. Instead of bread and wine we’d have warm water and fragrant soap. Instead of corporals and purificators on an altar we’d have sponges and towels on a dry sink. And perhaps instead of a communion rail we’d have a row of benches along-side a trench that carried the water to a drain. The Jewish custom of celebrating Passover with a meal would not have the slightest role in our services because it would now be a Christian service based on Love and spreading that Love by caring for each other. Instead we carry on with a worship service gleaned from what we Episcopalians cherish most: Food.
Today’s lectionary gives us a good overview of how Passover evolved into a liturgy of the Holy Eucharist. Along with John’s narrative we have the telling of the Passover, where the legacy of sacrificing a lamb saved the first born of the Hebrews. We have Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth, with an understanding that prior to this instruction, he is scolding them for turning the Holy Eucharist into a feast where only the upper echelon of society gets served, and the rest go hungry or beg for scraps. And sandwiched in between those two readings we find one of the Hallel psalms that’s known to all who speak Hebrew. The word ‘Hallel’ means praise. Add Yah onto it which means Lord, and you have Hallel-Yah, accurately interpreted as: “Praise the Lord!” Easily heard in our time as Halleluiah. Some of this small cluster of psalms are very often used in thanksgiving and worship services to show praise and honor to God. And they were also used during the Seder dinner at Passover.
So this Hallel psalm is particular to today’s readings. It allows us to say with a fair amount of certainty that Jesus recited this psalm on his last night. If you’ll humor me for a moment imagine a group of ten, twenty or so people gathered in a large living area, maybe the size of the chapel. They’re spread out across the floor or leaning against a wall. There may be a table that the food was setting on, and around that table we might find Jesus preparing to bless the food. He begins reciting psalm 116; perhaps from memory or perhaps from a scroll. He starts out, “I love the LORD.” The people in the room turn their attention to Him, already knowing the words that come next. The scrolls were their book of common prayer and they knew them well. He continues to read and further down he says, “What shall I return to the LORD?” I’d like to think that at this point he knows what he is about to face. He knows that it is his life in this world that is about to be returned to the LORD. Maybe at this point his voice begins to quiver in anticipation of the next verse; “I will lift up the cup of salvation.” We can see him glance at the cup of wine in front of him. It is this very cup he will bless and from it an eternal sacrament will be born. We have to wonder then, how he manages to make it through the next few verses. Especially verse 15, “Precious … is the death of his faithful ones,” knowing it is He that is precious because of his imminent death. And, maybe also knowing the fate awaiting those who sit around the room with him.
We can see how he had already started planning to act on the next verse “O LORD, I am your servant” and he begins by preparing to break the bread to be passed out to all who are there. Yet he won’t stop until everyone has been fed, and not only fed, but washed up as well, by performing the humble act of washing the disciple’s feet. For the verse continues; “I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid.” You can’t be much lower than that on the rungs of the ladder of society; the child of your serving-maid. And so it remains as it is written, that he must show this group that their job is not to be served, but to serve others. Do not become like those Paul speaks of in Corinth. They are not to raise the cup and pass it around to an inner group of friends and cohorts. It is not a cup of luxury and perverted honor, but a cup of selflessness and humility that says “You have loosed my bonds.” I am a servant, yes, but a free servant because it is the LORD that I serve by serving others in His name.
Yet there is still more, still something deeper than the psalmist goes. Because you see, as if it weren’t enough to be set up to be murdered, it must also be a sacrifice. A sacrifice in thanksgiving. He offers Himself willingly with Love! Just as he lifts up the bread and wine and asks us to re-member this every time we share communion with our sisters and brothers in Christ, we are asked to receive it with Love and give it in Love to re-member with Him again and again and again. That is what it is all about. Re-membering in the Love that he gave his disciples. Re-membering in the Love that they grew in and passed on to others long after he was gone from their sight. Re-membering in the Love that he continues to give us and the love that we have grown in, and that we pass on to everyone, including those we do not know. At different times Jesus talked in different ways, using different styles of teaching. He used metaphors, analogies, and parables but when he wanted to truly get the point across he did so by being a living example.
We come together to share in having our feet washed once a year. Whether you think that as a good thing or a bad thing, you have the Gospel writers to praise or blame because they are the ones who used the meal a majority of the times. Having your feet washed by someone can be a transformative experience. Many have done it in the past and many more will do it today and in the future. It is purely by personal choice and nobody will be judged in any way. But if you’ve never participated in this. If you’ve never allowed another to humble themselves by kneeling before you to wash your feet, then I ask you to consider it. They say that Holy Communion is in two forms, the two elements of bread and wine, the body and blood; but now is the chance to receive in a third kind: The humility of being served in the name of The LORD by someone who is humbling themselves by serving in the name of The LORD. Amen.

Deacon Pete

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Palm Sunday

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Jesus Christ is Lord!  Can you say it with me?  Jesus Christ is Lord!  These four words formed the first Christian Creed.  In the first few centuries of Christianity there was no need to create lengthy statements of faith such as the ones we have today.  We have the Creeds of the Apostles, Nicaea and St. Athanasius and we have more loosely subjective statement-like creeds from Councils such as those of Chalcedon. The Apostle’s Creed is used in the prayer book in short liturgies and services such as Morning Prayer.  We are all more than familiar with the Nicene Creed we will recite immediately after waking up from this homily.  And maybe a few of the brave souls who venture deep into the back pages of the prayer book will know the extremely long creed of St. Athanasius.  People fought fiercely in trying to convince others what was to be included in the Creeds.  The words used were deliberate in one thing; trying to define the Trinity and the natures of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

In the nursery years of this new born religion called Christianity, as I said when I began, the creed was as simple as you could get – four words – Jesus Christ is Lord.  It was in hymns, it was in letters written between Christians, it was a central theme of Paul’s epistles like the one we read today, and how much better off might we be with avoiding splits and factions between our sisters and brothers in Christ in other denominations if we used nothing more than those four words?  Some of the best mission statements of organizations in the world aren’t ten sentence paragraphs that make you pull out the dictionary after every five words.  They are simple and direct.  I overheard a conversation one day last week that I’ve forgotten where or who said it, but they were commenting on a very successful business that recited their mission statement every day.  It was short and sweet and something like “The people come first.”  The people come first; no wonder they are successful.  Forget about focusing on profits, or on shareholders, or on who sits in the corner office, they focus on the people and how they treat and handle them and the rest falls into place.  This is exactly what the first Christians did.  They knew that by focusing on Christ as Lord, all things will fall into place.

Now don’t get me wrong on one thing.  I’m not saying that no work is involved in either case.  Simply making the statement “Jesus Christ is Lord” over and over won’t guarantee you a seat next to St. Peter in heaven.  That’s reserved for me.  By claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, we then understand that it’s our duty and responsibility to put his teachings and directions into action.  We must be what He has asked us to become; faithful followers of the Word.  With this congregation we shouldn’t have to ask “what is there to do?”  There are plenty of opportunities to feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, cure the sick and visit those in prison.  What Paul is telling us here in this short, beautiful hymn, is that there is no need to come up with complex theologies for a world that hurts as much as it does.  All we have to do is turn on our TVs – or these days look at our cell phones – to see how much that’s true.  But when you know that what matters is our reaction to them, and we move to help bring about comfort, caring and hope for them, then we are living into what we were made to be.

In a commentary of this epistle by the renowned theologian William Barclay, he states the same thing about this creedal statement by saying, “… Christianity consists less in the mind’s understanding than it does in the heart’s love.”  When you consider this and Paul’s continuing accounts of how love is the greatest gift, and our love is for God and our love for others comes through Christ, we should have to go no further in developing another creed that says all we need to know.  And when we say “Jesus Christ is Lord” we place ourselves among the very souls who surrounded Jesus on the road to Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” We wave our palm branches in the air and lay them and our coats on the road to keep the dust and dirt from raising up and dirtying the one riding on the donkey.  At least for now we’re claiming he is our king.  He will ride into the Holy City and be the one who prophets spoke of.  We at least have a chance to look back and see what was to happen next.  His teachings and directions weren’t followed except by a handful of the faithful.

I’ll leave the rest of this week’s readings for the sermons on their respective days.  The reading of the passion on Palm Sunday was added because in short:  not many people were attending the entire Holy Week Services, especially on Good Friday so it wasn’t being heard.  What is Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday?  If we’re going to celebrate something we should understand the reasons.  And so the reading of the passion was added to today’s service.  For those who immerse themselves into the transformative power of lent, today is a day to feast and a day to look with hope and high expectations on the future.  Our king is nearing His journey’s end and we will all be saved, just not in the way we would expect.  So now as we near the time where we proclaim the Nicene Creed let us remind ourselves that this started out with the simplest of statements.  Four words were all that were needed in the time when Paul was trying to fix parts of churches that were broken.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Yet those four words said today are still as strong as any four paragraph letter of understanding.  In a short while we’ll be reciting a part of the Eucharistic Prayer with the response, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest” As you can see these words were used by both the prophets of the Old Testament and the Gospel writers of the New Testament.  As we say these words, I ask you to take your palms and hold them lovingly.  Let them be your testament and creed to what this day, Palm Sunday, is all about.  The confirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Amen.    

Peace and Blessings

Deacon Pete