April 6, 2023
Maundy Thursday - April 6, 2023
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14; Psa. 116:1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11:23-26 John 12:1-7, 31b-35
From the Gospel according to John, “Jesus said …, ‘servants are not greater than their master ... If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Maundy Thursday scripture lessons present us with three different images. Our Old Testament reading describes the Passover meal – exactly what is to be eaten and how it is to be consumed. St. Paul, in our New Testament lesson, tells of what transpired at the Last Supper. And our Gospel reading says our Lord humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples and then offered a new commandment – a Mandatum from where we get the word Maundy. And that commandment is to love one another. Three very different lessons and yet, each very much contains the same message about God’s own self and how we, as God’s people, are destined and urged to live.
Now, imagine for a moment – in fact, I suggest that we close our eyes and dream for a moment – go head – go ahead and dream about what this world could or might be like if every time Christians gathered for worship the focal point of the service was not the Holy Eucharist, but rather, stooping to wash the feet of everyone present. Everyone: whether known to us or stranger. Imagine that. Picture it. Dream it. You know, if such were our focus and action week after week, I believe this world and certainly the reputation and witness of the Christian Church would be turned upside down.
See, Jesus told his gathered disciples, “Servants are not greater than their master.” Now that is nothing new. I cannot imagine a servant thinking themselves as greater than their master. Anyone who has ever worked for someone else knows all too well that the master is in charge, and we’d best do whatever she or he tells us to do. But Jesus is making a point here about the role of a servant from the perspective of life in God’s kingdom. For years now, Jesus has urged his followers to envision a new creation: the very kingdom of God. God’s kingdom turns the world’s entire social order upside down. He has said that in God’s kingdom, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. He has said that those who desire to be greatest must become servant of all. He has taught us to pray saying, “thy kingdom come” and then urged his followers to make that prayer more than a dream, to put it into action. In tonight’s gospel story, Jesus tells his disciples that in God’s kingdom, where everyone serves each other, servants are greater than their masters and the humble and meek truly inherit the earth. Jesus says, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
Moses and Aaron were directed by God to create the Passover meal: a meal that is still celebrated in every Jewish household today. In fact, this very evening, the congregation at the Temple of High Country will gather for their Seder. This Passover meal is symbolically presented in our Eucharistic sacrifice. Remember in each gathering we proclaim, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” Here, in Exodus, God tells Moses and Aaron to paint doorposts and lintels with the shed blood of a lamb. Then God says something amazing! God says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” In other words, God, the creator of the universe, is willing to become like a servant: God will obey the shed blood and pass over those households, sparing them God’s wrath. The whole concept of God as a servant is a rather astounding, if not humbling, idea. This does not mean that we dare presume ourselves as more important than, or above God, or that God has to do our bidding, but rather, it tells us that God’s people are better identified by their service in this world than by striving to be above or more important than others.
St. Paul tells the Corinthian Church about that night when Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and offered it as his own body and blood. The Messiah, the promised Lamb of God, the redeemer of the world, becomes a servant offering his body and blood on our behalf as an eternal sacrifice. Once more, God is described as a servant. Once again, completely and without condition, God offers of God’s own self in order to redeem the world.
Our Gospel lesson takes the role of a servant that much deeper. Jesus bows down, kneels before his disciples, and washes their feet. Now, some protest that this is beneath him and yet, our Lord demonstrates that washing each other’s feet is a practical example of our roles as servants in this world, in God’s kingdom. Jesus says that washing another person’s feet demonstrates our love for the other in our midst: our complete and unconditional love for the stranger and the familiar. All people are to be served as Christ in our midst. But serving in itself is not the heart of this story. No. This story goes far deeper.
Jesus asks his followers to embrace a new commandment: A new commandment to love one another. Now, the reality is, this is not a new commandment. Love for God and each other is the basis of the Hebrew faith and is echoed throughout the Old Testament. No, the newness of this commandment is found in the words to love “as I have loved you.” Jesus, who stoops to wash the feet of others. Jesus, who dares to welcome and then sit down beside and eat with sinners. Jesus, who heals those believed unworthy of the promises of God, calls his followers, calls us, to love as he has loved: love without hesitation, love without condition, love without end.
And so, on this Maundy Thursday evening, we, too, gather to wash each other’s feet, to share in the Holy Communion and proclaim that Christ is our Passover sacrificed for us. But none of these sacramental acts – as beautiful as they are - mean anything unless we serve and love each other, our community, and our neighbor as deeply, as sacrificially, and as compassionately as Christ has served and loved the world: Loved and served you and me.
Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’” May God grant us the grace to not only understand and grasp these things, but do them and be them in this world. For in so doing, God’s kingdom will no longer be a dream, no longer something imagined or hoped for, but ours and the whole world’s reality right now, and forevermore. Oh God, let it be so. Amen.