Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2017

13th Apr 2017


Maundy Thursday

2017

 

Let us also go (with him), that we may die with him.  John 11.16.

 

On this Maundy Thursday night we experience the final events of Jesus’ life as a ministry in the raw. Nothing can disguise the fact that what at first looks like an ordinary domestic scene; the scene of the Last Supper, is fraught with tension. The very name ‘Last Supper’ sounds ominous, and it is. It foretells an ending; a death; Jesus’ death, but not yet. It foretells the betrayal by Judas. It takes place in a room that has, Luke mysteriously tells us, already been prepared. The supper itself is preceded by foot washing and then the words of Jesus over the bread and wine ‘This is my body’; ‘This is my blood’. Jesus’ words and gestures all point to a future for which the disciples are unprepared, for they, despite Peter’s pleas, are to desert Jesus in his greatest hour of need. Jesus’ words are also foreboding, because they speak from the point view of a world which will never be the same again. Everything in this Gospel reading is both as it should be and yet it is ominous, and then there is in the Maundy Thursday liturgy the sense of disorientation and then reorientation as tonight’s we witness tonight’s solemn celebration (yes, celebration) of the Holy Eucharist. The altar hangings are of white and they surpass the purpled hues of Lent and Passiontide. For even in the midst of his own harrowing Passion, Christ gives us the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the gift of Himself. This evening’s liturgy is therefore in part, one of thankfulness for this inestimable gift. The celebration of the Eucharist tonight is followed by the stripping of the Church and putting out of lights, and this speaks to us speaks to us of Christ’s final self-emptying and the accompanying sense of loss and a dereliction.

 

The reorientation that we undergo tonight is the one that takes us from the strange and temporary safety of the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus sweats blood and suffers the agony of his destiny the falling away of the disciples and his betrayal by Judas. The sharing of the supper, with its foot-washing and eating, is soon overshadowed as Jesus prepares to accept his own death in the agony of the Garden and a renewed trust in the Father’s will in the matter of his own going unto death. There is in John’s Gospel the confident assertion that all these apparently disconnected and ominous signs form one single Gospel narrative, the narrative of Passion which is understood as the manifest expression of the Father’s will. For John The Father “had given all things into Jesus’ hands, for Jesus had come from God and was going (back) to God’ (John 13.3a). We are bidden to witness these things and to watch and wait through the hours ‘til midnight when the church is plunged into total darkness as we enter upon Good Friday.

 

How can it be possible for us to reconcile the terribleness and randomness of human fate, and our fate in particular, with God the Father, who knows it all before it comes to be? How can it be possible that the love of God in Jesus Christ reveals itself as simply and as intimately as in the washing of feet? Can we bear to allow God to get that close to us? Can we bear to accept that God loves us at such close range and so intimately? The washing of the feet is done as Jesus comes to heal the neglected, the shameful, the barricaded and the lost parts of our nature. Just as the suffering servant Jesus humbles himself and is ready to serve us, so we are to learn to serve one another. Jesus pours the cleansing waters of his healing over those parts of our human nature that may have become ingrown and hardened and fatalistic or cynical. Tonight he beckons you and me into his necessary Passion, which will be for our soul’s salvation.

 

All things, on this Maundy Thursday evening, orientate us towards both the cost and the purpose of Christ’s sacrificial love. But equally, they invite us to accept the awkward fact that Jesus wishes to serve us and our needs before ever we rush to serve him. At the heart of human confusion, the love of God remains, immoveable, unshakeable, purposeful and everlasting. This is what makes sense of the chaos of Maundy Thursday.

 

But for now, for tonight, all this must be put on hold. It will be enough to echo the words of doubting Thomas,

 

 

Let us also go (with him), that we may die with him.  John 11.16.