Sermon–Maundy Thursday–March 29, 2018


Maundy Thursday

March 29, 2018

William Bradbury

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

You know the old story: a woman gets on her knees every night and prays: “Dear Lord, please let me win the lottery.” Night after night she perseveres in her prayer, until she finally says, “Okay Lord, why have you failed to answer my prayer?” And God replies: “First you have to buy a ticket.”

Have you ever given any thought to what you’d do, if say, you bought a ticket and won 100 million dollars?

Would you quit your job, buy a mansion, and an expensive car? Take a trip around the world?

Or would you do like a nurse who won last year and said she was going to go to work the next day and live her life?

Thinking about it in the abstract must be very different from dealing with the real thing. But this we know: how we act will reveal our true character.

John tells us tonight that Jesus knows the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God.”

Yet what does Jesus do with this knowledge of unsurpassed wealth and wholeness? He gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself… and begins to wash the disciples’ feet”. He has all things from God and is going to God and yet Jesus acts like a first century slave washing his master’s feet.

This recalls that hymn in Philippians 2, maybe composed just ten years after Jesus death and resurrection, that says: “though Christ was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God, as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

How Jesus acts on his last night is how he acted on his first day when he proclaims the Kingdom and heals the sick and welcomes the outcast.

His whole life reveals a consistent character and it is the teaching of the Church that in revealing his character Jesus is also revealing the character of God, his Abba.

In looking at Jesus with the eyes of faith, we are looking through a window into the very heart and nature of God.

In John 5:19 Jesus tells us why this is so. He says, “the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”

Therefore, how do we respond to this amazing revelation that the true nature of the living God is constantly being revealed in Jesus?

First, of course, we respond by dismantling all our false images of God that don’t match the God we meet in Jesus. If our image is of the god almighty that is beyond human pain, sitting on the far side of the cosmos, then we have to let go of this distant, unfeeling God.

If our image is of a god who is impossible to please and only present in judgment and condemnation, then we have to let go of this condemning god.

If our image is of an all-successful god who calls us to power and glory, then we have to let go of this celebrity god.

This is the place the Episcopal Church is most tempted. Back in the late 1970s a book critical of the wealth and elitism of the Episcopal Church was titled The Power of their Glory.   A mentor of mine was listed in the index.

All three (and many other) false images of god—the distant, angry, celebrity god–have at various time deformed the church so that its members stop working for the well-being of the people Jesus serves and, instead become a force for ill-being of the last, the least, and the lost.

The deconstruction of our false images of god takes a lifetime, because their power resides deep in our souls, but every time we see Jesus act like a slave, another brick is pulled out of the false image.

Of course the question gets real when Jesus slides the bucket and kneels at our feet.

Peter, speaking for us all, gives a response that is visceral and honest: “Lord, You will never wash my feet.” He is saying, No one must ever see and touch the smelly places in his life, because that would puncture the illusion that he is better that the broken people Jesus serves.

But Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

So Peter says to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

Now Peter wants a baptism of total immersion so Jesus will transform his character.

In washing his feet Jesus gently lures Peter to move from being grounded in self to being grounded in the true God revealed in Christ.

We know that in just a few hours Peter’s character will be revealed again when he denies even knowing Jesus.

Peter is filled with remorse and maybe he gives up on himself for a while, but after four days the Risen Christ restores Peter by three times asking, “Peter, do you love me?”

And each time Peter responds, “Yes, Lord you know I love you”, and Jesus says, “feed my sheep.”

Here Peter finds his true character and vocation. Now he is not concerned with protecting himself by buying lottery tickets and praying to get rich.

Now, he finds his true life, like his master, with a towel around his waist and a bucket in his hand.