Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2001
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 'This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.'
John Chapter 13:1-17, 31b-35
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus replied, "You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand." "No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." "Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!" Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them." You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. "My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
On Maundy Thursday we remember several important events in the ministry of Jesus, which all occurred on this special day.
- Maundy Thursday is the night of the final meal that Jesus had with his disciples when he lifted up the bread and the wine and established a new sacrament in his name
- It is the night in which he washed his disciples feet
- It is also the night of Gethesame—the night of anguish of soul as he faced his betrayal and fast approaching death.
The events of the last days have prepared us well for this moment. We read in John 12:1-11 two weeks ago
'So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.'
Then last week in the New Testament Reading from Luke 19:28-40 we read
'Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!" "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'
Yes we know that there was tremendous envy and jealousy of Jesus. Nevertheless it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus was determined to upset the Jewish authorities. As he entered into Jerusalem on that donkey and the Pharisees asked him to stop the people from shouting their praises, it was almost guaranteed to anger them when he said that if the followers ceased their shouting the stones would take up the cry
There was great resentment of Jesus and jealousy of what he was doing and now on this festival of the Passover, when lambs are slaughtered, it seems a likely time also for Jesus' death.
Jesus chooses this moment to demonstrate the height and depth and breadth of his devotion. While they are having a meal, he gets up from the table and washes their feet. The act is shocking in its simplicity, its sensuality, its spirituality. There can be no mistaking it for anything but a demonstration of the deepest, purest, most unselfish affection.
We have surely lost the cultural significance of washing feet, the significance of it was that it was a tangible and practical act of humility and love.
And so how we do respond ?
Resist the act of love Of course we can feel extremely resistant to this act of humility by Jesus. Like the cross itself it can be seen as scandalous. We do not want a God who is less than all-powerful. The spectacle of a kneeling God is devastating. No! Let God be seated on a throne, holding all the symbols of power; let us be the ones to kneel. No wonder Peter is horrified when he sees Emmanuel crouching at his feet.
Feel unworthy When we come before God we can rightly feel that there is in us an unworthiness to accept the act of God's love. Sometimes we reinforce this as a church and tell people that they really are unworthy! I had a difficult task to frame the wording of our Easter advertisement for church which went out in the press this week. It was of course advertising an Easter Communion service and some people feel that the church puts up barriers as to who can receive, which sometimes it does! I decided in the end to include the wording 'if you are reading this notice you are invited.'
Love bade me welcome
George Herbert (1593-1633)
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
In the presence of God's love, who does not feel "guilty of dust and sin"? Peter's protest that he needs a complete bath is his way of saying that he is unworthy of Jesus' devotion. Surely he had not bargained for this. Peter had hoped to be in the parade, following the spiritual leader; he did not anticipate that his own life would be turned upside down.
Love has a much different effect on Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. He has determined to betray Jesus to his killers. Who knows what motivates Judas? In The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese pictures Judas as betraying Jesus out of friendship; Judas is ordered by Jesus to hand him over to the authorities, that through the crucifixion the kingdom might come. However, the comment of Jesus, "You are not all clean," leads to the more likely supposition that guilt and shame, projected outward upon Jesus, lead Judas to his betrayal.