Sermon for Maundy Thursday + April 18, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
That we have a luncheon after both our Noon Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday services, has me thinking today about the connection between these two holy days that bookend our passage through Lent.
Six weeks ago we began our Lenten journey with the ashes of Ash Wednesday. We remembered that we are dust, and to dust, we shall return. On this day, on this Maundy Thursday as we begin keeping the feast of the Great Three Days, our annual passage from death to life, the theme of this day is love. This is the day we gather around the great mandatum, the mandate Jesus gave his disciples “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should have love for one another.” John 13:34
What insights do we learn, if we hold these two themes together: Ash Wednesday mortality with the Maundy Thursday command to love?
Many of you know my family experienced a tragedy several weeks back. The son of my dad’s cousin was killed in raging flood waters in Nebraska. The bridge he was on collapsed as he attempted to help a stranded neighbor.
My parents went to the funeral, and my Mom told me she had never seen so many people at a wake or funeral. In the time of a tragic death, there was abounding love as people cared for and served the grieving family.
It does seem, that death often brings out the best in people. Not always, but many times, in the face of tragedy, there seems to be an ability to set aside, even if temporarily, the cares and concerns of life and divisions that divide people and families at other times of the year, in order to tend to the hurting and the wounded.
What if, we received the command from Jesus to love one another, as we might love at a time of death or tragedy?
What if we didn’t wait until death, or accident, or tragedy to start loving each other intentionally, and thoughtfully, and prayerfully, but loved each other already in those ways?
What if we set aside our pretenses of health, and vitality, and power, and simply loved each other as the fragile, broken, mortal, humans that we are?
What if we found our ability to love another, united the shared truth that each of must face: we are mortal, we will die, we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Jesus gave this commandment to love as he faced his own death. Think about how powerful that is. As he prepared himself, and his disciples, for the crucifixion, Jesus commanded love.
Jesus did NOT prepare the disciples for revenge. He did NOT give orders for a fight. He gave them NO hit list of religious leaders who should be taken out for of their role in his execution. We might expect those things from a leader of Empire.
But, as the revelation of the Kingdom of God, Jesus commanded love. Facing his own death, it was love on Jesus’s mind. And on this night he handed down two powerful ways to love: the washing of feet and the sharing of a meal.
If you attended our Animate: Practices series, you may remember poet and author Enuma Okoro. Okoro shared her experience of wrestling with the question about where she should love and serve her neighbors. Specifically, she struggled with whether or not to accept an opportunity to work with street people in another country.
On the one hand, her whole life had been preparing her for that moment. But on the other, she had a nagging doubt. Eventually, in her doubt she discerned God calling her to stay put. She discerned she was being called to love and serve those, not around the world, but right in her own community.
In a way, we can see that the call to wash each other’s feet, is a call to be in intimate relationship with those who already exist in our lives. What if we were thoughtful and intentional, in our discipleship, about washing the feet of those in our own lives who are suffering, who are hurting, and are dying?
What if, in seeing each other under the same condemnation of death, we learned to find ways to wash one another, and anoint one another, with love? What if we practiced loving one another, so we might be a community prepared to love those around us?
The other mark of love tonight is Jesus sharing a meal with his disciples, and eating with Judas, the very disciple who would betray him.
Again, if you attended our Animate: Practices series, you would have been challenged to eat with someone you normally don’t eat with. In response, one of our participants asked, how might we as Trinity Church find ways to eat with members of the Korean Church that worship here at Noon in Christ Chapel?
When I was home at Christmastime, a friend of my parent’s died. My parents spoke with the widow who said her refrigerator was packed with food delivered to her house by people who loved her. What if we found ways to eat with one another, and in that breaking of the bread, we were fed and nourished to go out and feed each other?
In light of today’s reflection, what are the ways we might eat with the dying? What are the ways we might eat with each other, recognizing our own mortality? What if we lavished food upon those dying of hunger, as we lavish food upon our loved ones at the time of death?
Friends in Christ, remembering we are dust, and to dust we shall return, receiving the commandment to love as Jesus loved, may our love for one another, and for the world, be renewed today.
Alive in Jesus Christ, who washes us and feeds us with his eternal grace, may we wash and feed the dying world with mercy, healing, and love.