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Maundy Thursday

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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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