Sermon–Maundy Thursday April 18, 2019


Maundy Thursday–April 18, 2019

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

Things are not going well at the church in Corinth, not well at all! As Paul says right before the reading tonight:  “So when you get together in one place [for your communion service]….One person goes hungry while another is drunk.” I Corinthians 11 CEB 

That’s why Paul next recounts how Jesus intends the Last Supper to be and then says something a bit strange—that when we eat this meal as Jesus teaches us:  “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

How does a meal proclaim Jesus’ death? I think he means this: The crucifixion of Jesus, as Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, creates, a new reality among human beings.

Listen to what he says: 14” For Christ himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new human being in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility….So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

Paul is saying that on Good Friday Jesus takes our hatred, violence, and vindictiveness into himself creating a new human community at peace with itself and with God.

So when the church in Corinth or in Chelmsford is living as a community that manifests this universal community with God and neighbor, we are proclaiming that Christ’s death is transforming our church here and now.

On the other hand, when a church is moving away from wholeness into fracture, splitting along economic, racial, ethnic, or sexual lines, or is caught up in a good old fashioned power struggle between people who are the same, then the church does not reflect the radical healing that fell on the world on Good Friday.

It’s interesting to consider there are four accounts of the institution of the Last Supper in the New Testament: in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in 1 Corinthians, which is the one closest in time to the Last Supper.

But interestingly, in John’s gospel the last supper does not have Jesus preforming the actions of Eucharist: taking, blessing, breaking, giving of bread and wine. In John Jesus has a lot to say about him being the bread of life but it doesn’t happen at the Last Supper but earlier in his ministry chapter 6.

I don’t know why that is, but here’s one thought: maybe John notices in his church that it is perfectly possible to do Holy Communion decently and in order without actually manifesting signs of Jesus’ death.

A church that eats the Eucharist in peace and harmony only because everyone is exactly the same is not manifesting the peace of God, but only the proverb that “birds of a feather flock together.”

Therefore, John highlights another action, foot-washing, that is harder to fake and which costs our ego something to do it.

And John presents the foot-washing in a strange, paradoxical way: John writes: “And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table,–and what? Has a mini-transfiguration and begins shining with the glory of God? Or proclaims himself Lord of heaven and earth to put the disciples in their place?

John is saying that Jesus hears God say basically what the Father says to the elder son, who is upset over the return of the prodigal son: “Son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

“Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, Jesus takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet.

The One who has come from God and is going to God becomes a servant of human beings.

The thing that keeps us from breaking bread with those we aren’t like, the poor, the sick, the marginal, is the same thing that fills us with disgust at the thought of washing feet. The tiny ego wants to avoids anything that threatens to diminish its story of always being right, clean, and in control.

Oh, sure, maybe if we were like the Pope who when he washes feet gets his picture spread all over the internet praising him for his humility. Maybe then we’d be all in.

Eucharist and foot-washing are symbolic actions which Jesus calls his us to practice in church in order to train ourselves to live in the power of the cross outside church.

We remember the proverb we learned in school: Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Or in other words: Staying inside the box of our comfort zone will keep us outside the box of our growth and transformation being poured into our hearts by Christ Crucified.