I had the privilege to preach the Maundy Thursday sermon at my church.
(Readings are after the sermon)
For over 3000 years, the Passover holiday has been ‘the’ major holiday of the Jewish year. In our reading from Exodus we read that it was established to be celebrated as the Jewish New Year according to the law of Moses. But Passover was more than just the beginning of the new year. Passover in the time of the Incarnation was a holiday that spanned an entire week, with special foods, religious observances and services. It was a combination of our celebrations of Christmas, New Year, and Easter all combined in the same holiday. Passover was and is a holiday whose practices mostly are centered around the family – which just demonstrates the devotion of Jesus’ disciples to their teacher; rather than celebrating this holiday with their families they celebrated it together with him.
It is thought that Jesus’ ministry lasted about 3 years. So, this last Passover celebration with his disciples would have been the third time they traveled to Jerusalem for the holiday. There was something different about this Passover though, there had been that strange triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which we commemorate on Palm Sunday. Other people coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, seemed to recognize Jesus as their leader. I would imagine that Jesus and his disciples mostly kept a low profile. For these past three years, Jesus had been traveling, teaching, healing people and sometimes verbally sparing with the local Jewish religious leaders. I am sure that among Jesus’ disciples, his recent public popularity would have been both gratifying and unsettling at the same time.
I imagine that preparations for their Passover celebration would have been welcomed, especially this time, as a familiar and routine event among the disciples. Everyone would have had their specific tasks to perform for the Passover meal; bread, wine, and a kid lamb or goat would need to purchased. A room would need to be rented, and remember every Jewish family in all the surrounding countryside would be traveling to Jerusalem so that the priests could sacrifice their offering at the temple. The city would be filled with people all trying to find a place for their celebration if they had no family living in the city.
What is so interesting about this account in the gospel of John is how surprised the disciples are by how Jesus behaves. Jesus is not celebrating just another Passover as he has done with them in the past.
And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
We can tell from Simon Peter’s reaction that this foot washing thing was something new. Jesus is his teacher; his superior: it is just not right that that Jesus should wash Simon Peter’s feet.
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
How many of us are like Simon Peter? He is the kind of guy who always just says the first thing that pops into his head. We have Simon Peter to thank for pointing out to us how unusual this situation is. Jesus has explained that even though they do not understand; he is giving them his example to follow. Jesus had talked about the first being last and the last first before – the idea of the servant leader – but Simon Peter and the other disciples still needed Jesus to perform this act of humble service – so that in the years thereafter – in reflection of everything Jesus had said and done: they would finally understand the importance of humility.
This humbling of oneself is an essential part of being a Christian – something many of us forget.
When we are humble, we realize our limitations, we acknowledge our faults.
When we are humble, we remember the mistakes we have made and we can be truly penitent.
When we are humble, our focus is not on ourselves, our focus is on the needs of others.
And so it is when we are humble, we are able to love in a self-less way.
This day is called Holy or Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from a latin word which means commandment. In the last part of our lesson from John, Jesus gives this commandment to his disciples and to all of us;
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 sounds very familiar. Both in the Gospels of Mathew and Mark, Jesus was quoted as saying that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. But among the members of the church, we are commanded to take this love to a higher level; to love one another as He; Christ Jesus loves us.
With forgiveness to all.
As God loves us.
Jesus Christ commands us all to love one another as He has loved us. Fortunately, Jesus has also given us a discipline to help us to feel this divine love for one another; The practice of humility. Only by being willing to become humble ourselves, by putting others needs before our needs, by thinking of others before thinking of ourselves; can we become capable of loving each other with Godly love.
10 years ago, I would not have written this sermon. 10 years ago, if I had heard this sermon, I would have thought it was a soft-headed, foolish dream. Unrealistic. You see, I knew all about churches. I grew up in a Baptist Church in Ohio. I attended 7th grade at a Christian school where my mother was a teacher. I had learned the content of the bible – but there was something missing. My Christian education was incomplete. I was just like Simon Peter, who had lived with Jesus Christ for 3 years, yet still did not understand about humility and the importance of love. The apostle Paul wrote about me in the letter we know as 1st Corinthians:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
10 years ago, I was not nearly as accomplished in language, or knowledge, or faith as Paul describes here – spiritually, I was nothing.
9 years ago, I met someone, and we decided to get married. I started going to church again. I found out that I didn’t know all there was to know about churches. There are some churches that understand. Maybe the members don’t necessarily understand in an academic way what I’ve been speaking about today – instead they understand it in their hearts, and they express it in how they love each other. In this church, I see as though through a glass darkly, just a distorted and dim vision of what the kingdom of God is like. This vision, as incomplete as it is, gives me hope and it encourages me to pray for the humility to try to love as Jesus loves me.
As we participate in the act of washing one another’s hands – let us follow Jesus’ example, in humility, one to another, and love one another as He loves us.
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to 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. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 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.”