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Maundy Thursday March 28, 2024

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31-35


Tonight is about community.

About celebrating the community that was

and creating the community that will be,

 experiencing one last moment in the community of the present

before everything changes.

 

Jesus has worked hard to create a community,

calling his disciples

and teaching them all along the way,

 he has been the center of this group of people

as they have physically followed him

and he knows that everything is about to change,

that he will be taken from them

and though he will return

nothing will ever be the same.

 

 Jesus loves this community,

and he has a purpose for them in the coming future,

he needs them to remain a community

despite the upheaval they are about to experience

 

 and so on this night

 he lays the foundation for the community in the future. 

 

 The first thing he does

 is connect his disciples to the larger story,

the larger community to which they belong.

 

He does this by celebrating the Passover feast with them.

 The Passover is the festival

that reminds them of their long history with God,

 history that takes place as a community.

 

In our first reading

we heard God’s instructions for observing the Passover,

 the gathering by family or by households to eat together,

 to mark their door posts with the blood of the lamb

 so that the angel of death will pass over them

while judging the gods of Egypt and their followers,

 

 how this will save them

and then God will lead them to freedom,

and how they are to tell this story,

enact this feast, every year

 as a way to remember who they are and who God is.

 

So Jesus gathers with his disciples

 and over the meal they tell the story once again,

the story of the Israelites and their escape from Egypt,

only possible because of their God.

 

 ‘you are part of a larger community,’

Jesus is reminding them,

‘a community that has encountered great upheavals

and changes over the years

and yet returns to this story,

returns to this God.’

 

 Whatever else happens next,

this is always part of your story Jesus shows them,

they are bound together in this common narrative,

 one that they tell together.

 

 The community they have formed around Jesus

is rooted in this larger community and story.

 

And then Jesus takes this practice,

this meal of remembrance

 with which they are familiar,

this meal that connects them to their community and identity,

and he gives them a new meal practice,

 one that also will connect them

 to their community and identity,

 and most of all, to him and the future that he offers.

 

We heard Paul’s recalling the story of this gift to the Corinthians,

 how at the last meal with his disciples

 Jesus took bread, said a prayer of thanksgiving,

then broke it and distributed it to all the disciples

 saying “this is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

and then he took a cup of wine,

 gave thanks over it and gave it to them to drink saying

“this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

What Jesus knows

 is that on the cross his body will break,

his blood will be poured out,

for the forgiveness of the world,

 

 and in this meal,

in bread and wine,

he promises to be present with the community in the future

as they tell the story of what Jesus has done for them,

as he strengthens the bonds

of the community that shares the bread and wine,

one bread one body,

 as he forgives those who share in the meal

creating a clean slate for them to continue to live in an ever-widening community.

 

As part of that ever-widening community

 we continue to tell this story,

share this meal,

 

and Jesus continues to join us,

become one with us,

forgiving and sending us

just as he did the first disciples,

the community continues on.

 

But this meal is not the only thing

 we have Jesus offering the disciples

 on their last night together.

 

 The gospel writer John

has a different story about what Jesus does

with his disciples on their last night together

and instead of quibbling over which version is correct,

we hold them together

as both revealing the truth of Jesus’ love for his disciples

and the community he is about to leave behind

 

in John he gives them one last lesson

 on how to live in community together

and provides a new way to define the community in the future.

 

 Jesus starts out with an object lesson,

he gets up from the table,

takes off his outer robe

and ties a towel around himself

then begins to wash the disciples’ feet.

 

 This is a task normally reserved for servants,

and that is just what Jesus is showing his disciples,

 that no task is too lowly for them

 to perform for one another,

 

and lest we think that this could have been an act

 within the normal realm of possibility,

we have Peter’s protestations

to affirm how radical what Jesus is doing is,

but Peter relents and all are washed.

 

 Then in case they still didn’t get it Jesus spells it out for them:

“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. “

 

And then he condenses it down even further:

“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.”

 

This community that has previously defined itself

by gathering around Jesus

will now be defined by the Christ love

they live out among themselves and in the world,

 Christ love that looks like humble service.

 

And now Jesus has done everything he can

to prepare his disciples for the coming changes to their community,

he has connected them with the story of their history,

he has given them a new ritual and a new story to tell

 that will help them interpret what is about to happen,

 he has promised to be with them

 in a way that only he can,

 and he has given them specific instructions and examples

 on how they will live in community together in the future,

 how they and others will define themselves. 

 

Jesus does this for us too.

This Lent we have been thinking about community,

especially community in the midst of change.

 

 Part of our task right now

 as a congregation, and as a whole Church

is to acknowledge

 that the how we live together and in the world is changing.

 

The old ways of doing church no longer work,

no longer does culture make room for worship on Sunday mornings

 or Wednesday evenings,

no longer do people automatically value participating in a faith community

or think it’s important to raise their children in church,

and we grieve the way things were.

 

And Jesus comes to us,

and over a meal

 reminds us that we are connected to a community greater than ourselves,

a community that has undergone great upheaval in the past

 and reformed and continued on.

 

 And then he tells the story of what he has done for us and the world,

reminding us that he has promised to be with us

in bread and wine,

forgiving and renewing us

 to go out and live in humble service and love for one another in his name,

promising that he will be with us in community. Amen

 

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