Maundy Thursday Worship
April 21, 2011
When we last checked in on Johns’ Gospel, the week before Palm Sunday, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. Since then, Jesus has been back to the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, where Mary has anointed his feet with nard, and wiped them with her hair, as if she’s preparing his body for burial. I guess we all have our ways of showing love.
After the dinner, Jesus enters Jerusalem and John tells us, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.” (John 12:16)
All of the Gospels function in the same way. It is only in this one verse in chapter 12 that John gives us a glimpse through the curtain. The gospel accounts are remembrances of Jesus. They are written down only after he is gone. Because after the crucifixion and the resurrection, they saw things differently. The things he said and did were seen with new clarity. Once Jesus was glorified—John’s way to describe the resurrection—once he was glorified, THEN they remembered.
This is a night to remember.
Before we get to Good Friday and its horrible violence.
Before we get to Easter and its unfathomable Good News.
Tonight we remember.
We remember the trajectory of history that teaches us that God saves God’s people.
We remember that despite our human brokenness, our Judas-like betrayal, and our Peter-like resistance to receiving love and care—despite all of that, God acts in love for our salvation.
In our text this night, Jesus has come to Jerusalem for the Passover, the great celebration of the Jewish people, where they also remember God’s saving work in their lives. “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you,” God tells the Hebrew people as they prepare to flee Egypt.
The account of the Passover we read tonight from Exodus becomes the story that the Hebrew people tell each year. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated Passover again this week, much as they have done for thousands of years. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. Listen to Moses’ instructions to the people from later in the chapter:
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning.
For the LORD will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down.
You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. When you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance.
And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped.
What the people remember is not an easy story. There is death, and there is no celebration in death. But there is also deliverance from slavery, subjugation, and exile. In the Passover, we remember being the beneficiaries of grace, of death passing by our door because of the heart of God.
And Jesus’ disciples, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, remember their preparations for that last Passover supper with Jesus, and then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
John’s account of Jesus’ last days is slightly different than the other gospel accounts. In the other accounts, it is a Passover meal they share together. But in John, they are still preparing for Passover. Because of this, Jesus’ death occurs on the day of Passover and he becomes the sacrifice of the Lamb for the Passover.
When the disciples remember his death on Passover, when they remember his body, broken for them, they recognize that God is, once again, through the person of Jesus of Nazareth, delivering the people of God from the slavery of death. Jesus doesn’t replace the Passover celebration. Jesus embodies the Passover celebration, becoming the Lamb.
But on the night before, he still has things to teach them. He’s running out of time. His hour has come. And they still don’t see what he needs them to see. One of them is about to betray him. And so he does the most radical thing he can think of, to jar them to attention. He puts on an apron and gets down on the floor to wash his disciples’ feet.
Needless to say, this is the work of servants, not of teachers and saviors. He forces them to notice that in his kingdom, there is no room for hierarchies. If you won’t wash the feet of the least person in the room, if you can’t let God’s own son wash your feet, if you can’t accept or share that kind of love, then you haven’t understood anything Jesus has been saying to you.
Afterwards, when Jesus is de-briefing the experience with his disciples, he tells them that he has set them an example and they are to do as he has done. This experience becomes a part of what they remember as they go about their post-resurrection lives.
After he shows them what to do, he tells them what to do. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
If you were wondering why we call this night Maundy Thursday, by the way, it comes from these verses. It is from the Latin for “commandment”, mandatum. This is new commandment Thursday. Love one another.
Quite frankly, there are days when that alone is tough enough, because it is hard to love each other. But then Jesus tells them, “just as I have loved you”. So this isn’t just your garden variety “love your neighbors” commandment. Because Jesus doesn’t love us the way we love each other. Jesus loved us sacrificially, on a cross, humbly, as a servant king. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then walked headlong to his death on a cross.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Before you get up, running and screaming down the aisle and out the door….take heart!
Jesus knew his disciples weren’t going to do that on their own. He’s saying this to Judas too. He’s saying this to Peter, who’s getting ready to deny him 3 times in a day. He’s saying this to his disciples who will run away from the cross and hide in an upper room, in fear for their lives.
Jesus doesn’t stop with the instruction to love humbly and sacrificially. He continues the instruction to the disciples with these words:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:15-19)
The Spirit is given to the church so that the church will not be orphaned.
This is a night we remember.
We remember our connection to a story that goes back millennia to the plains of Egypt.
We remember how Jesus showed us how to live, how to love, and how to serve him by serving each other in humility.
We remember what he said to us, the new commandment with which he instructed us to live differently in this world.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.
In a few moments, we will gather around the Table, embodying the Love of God as we share in a meal. During the offering, you are also invited to come up to the front of the sanctuary, by the prayer center, and embody God’s love by washing each other’s feet. Our offering tonight is one of humility, service, and sharing. There will also be offering plates up front, if that is the best way for you tonight to embody God’s love.
Friends, let us now, together, remember, in body, in mind, and in deed, that God is active in the world, even now, bringing about our salvation. Thanks be to God.