Sermon: Maundy Thursday Year A
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
April 9, 2020
Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will work with each other, we will work side by side.
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride,
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
This is a hymn written in the 1960s by a Catholic priest, Peter Scholtes, inspired by today’s Gospel: “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.”
Today is Thursday in Holy Week, often called Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the word “mandate,” meaning command. Jesus gives us a new commandment. This is not an idea, or a suggestion; it is one of the strongest commandments Jesus gives his disciples. He commanded them to love each other. He did not only command them through words, but also through example.
As he celebrated the Passover Seder with his disciples in what we call “The Last Supper,” Jesus gives the bread and wine new meaning. He teaches them to receive the bread as his body, which will be broken, and the wine as his blood that will be shed.
Jesus proves his love by his intentional sacrifices. As we prayed in this evening’s collect, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood. The Apostle Paul writes to the people in Corinth, “The Lord Jesus on the 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 broken 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.’”
Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, we hear these words of institution in the Eucharist: Take. Bless. Break. Give. Eat. These are the actions of Holy Communion, mentioned in the synoptic gospels and testified to by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.
Jesus takes some very basic things of life that are used every day, gives them new meaning, and in turn, gives us life and strength. The bread: he blesses the God-given thing, breaks it open, then he gives it to the people. Think about this. For the bread to be shared, it has to be broken.
For Jesus to be shared, he has to be broken. He loves us; he is willing to be broken so he can share himself with us, so he would be in communion with us, so then we could be in communion with each other.
After the Passover meal, Jesus goes even further with his example of sacrifice. He takes off his robe, wraps a towel around himself and kneels at the feet of the disciples to wash their feet, performing the task of a servant.
In households in ancient times, the servant would wash the feet of the family when they came into the house. The reason was that they mostly wore sandals, and they walked everywhere on dirt roads.
The same still holds true in some third world countries. When I served in East Africa, we walked everywhere. Yes, some people had cars, but for the most part we walked, and mostly on dirt roads. I came to understand the need for foot washing. When we came home in the evening, we took our shoes off and left them outside the door, where the children would clean and polish them for us to wear the next day. We rinsed off our feet and put on clean flip flops to go into the house.
Wealthy people had servants and the servants or the people’s children washed their feet. This was not a religious ritual—it was a good cleanliness practice. This is why Jesus says to Peter that one who has bathed needs only to have his feet washed.
Many churches like the annual ritual of washing each other’s feet for Maundy Thursday, but I personally think it is merely an annual symbolic ritual or action. The challenge for us, if we want to serve each other in humility as did Jesus, is to find a way to serve one another in a way that makes sense today, in our culture. Not in an ancient or third world hygienic practice once a year. Rather, a practice that is needful and meaningful TODAY, HERE, NOW.
Jesus’ actions are very earthy in both of these actions. He takes everyday elements like bread and wine and makes them Holy Sacrament to nourish us spiritually and physically. He performs the role of a servant, washing dirty feet. And then instructs his disciples, and by extension us, to go and do likewise.
In this past month, we as a people in this country, and very definitely in the state of New York, are feeling very broken. We are cooped up in what seems like solitary confinement. We feel fear, loneliness, illness, and frustration. Some are suffering terrible financial strain. The politics of our country has become an even greater frustration in the midst of this crisis.
“How long Lord, how long?” We cry out to God.
But what if we take this time of our own brokenness and intentionally use it to seek ways to love as Jesus loved. To sacrifice for others as he sacrificed. Certainly people in the essential services are sacrificing. They are isolated from family members, becoming sick themselves, and some have died.
What can we do? How can we make use of our brokenness so that Jesus can use us in ways we never dreamed possible? How can we use our brokenness to learn to love each other the way he commanded us—mandate!
Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed his disciples’ feet. How can we humbly, lovingly, sacrificially serve others in our day and age? What if we found the modern day equivalent to foot washing today? And then serve with love, humility, and genuine care for one another.
Friends, let’s not gloss over this year’s Maundy Thursday service as merely the pathway to Good Friday and ultimately Resurrection Sunday.
Let’s find our own brokenness and use it for God’s people, and for God’s purposes, and for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord….” (sing)