Good Evening St. Stephen’s and all our friends!
Let’s pray together; Lord, You came not to be served but to serve. You tell us to live our lives by becoming least and last in order for others to know that they are loved. As we “virtually” gather around the table with You this night, and hear Your words of body and blood given for us, and imagine You on your knees washing our feet, we lean in and listen to Your command to love one another, and our emotions overwhelm us. We know that we are unworthy of Your Love, and we hesitate to receive your grace but yet You pour it out on us anyway. So, as we “virtually” eat the bread, drink the cup, feel the water on our feet, and hear Your voice, we pray only to be grateful. Amen
The most common question you may be asked during Holy Week is about this very night, the Thursday before Easter. Most people get Palm Sunday, and Good Friday, and Easter, but tonight, Maundy Thursday, is unclear to a lot of folks. And I think the one question people want to know the answer to, is this: what does “Maundy” mean? It’s a good question. Who uses the term “maundy” ? For some, it might just sound like a Church service where we know we should want to go to it, but we have little or no idea why. But before I talk about what that word means, I want to go to that story we read from the Gospel. In it Jesus has gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s gathered His twelve disciples there at the table. And He knows what is going to happen. He knows that by the end of the night one of them will betray Him to the authorities. One will deny Him three times, (think how often we have denied Him). And all of them will leave Him in His hour of greatest pain. And yet, here He is. Breaking the bread and pouring the cup. Eating with them. Blessing them. Getting down on His knees and washing their feet, showing them His love and grace and compassion, in a time when we might have deserved His wrath.
JOHN 13:1-35 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. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then 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. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus 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.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After 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? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” 21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.
25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when He had dipped the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why He said this to Him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the money, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little 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.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
WOW!, In a world where we are surrounded by messages of retaliation, or vengeance, or an eye for an eye. THIS a different message. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He’d lived a life of peace and love for all, He had healed the sick, raised the dead, and freed the captives. He brought hope and life to those who needed it the most.
And in the end, He knew that no one would appreciate it. He was about to be killed. Because in the end, the goodness, and the kindness, and the compassion He brought were more of a threat to Rome, and the “religious establishment” of His day, than any weapon or any army. He so radically upset the status quo to the point that they decided their only choice was to kill Him.
But think about this; on this night, He wasn’t trying to run away. He wasn’t preparing for a battle. He wasn’t planning His revenge. Instead He was with the ones He loved most. The ones who loved Him, but who weren’t perfect. Just like you and me, they were the ones who knew who He was, and what He had done, and who would be the witnesses to His life after he was gone. (Are we truly being His witnesses?)
Anyway, this is it!, this is where that word “maundy” comes in. Because what do you do if you’re Jesus? What do you do if you know you are not going to be around much longer, and you have to tell the people you love the most, the ones who followed you, the ones who sometimes make big mistakes, how to keep moving in the right direction and keep the faith after you’re gone?
The word “maundy” comes from a Latin word: mandatum. And mandatum means “mandate” or “commandment”. And when we talk about “Maundy Thursday” we’re talking about “mandate Thursday”. We’re talking about the night that Christ told his disciples exactly what He expected of them, AND US.
Listen, if you read a book or watch a movie with a similar plot, you might think the lead character right about now would be saying something like “avenge my death”, or “make sure there’s payback”, or “don’t let them get away with this”. But this isn’t just any other story. This is a story that turns everything upside down! The mandate, the mandatory thing Jesus tells us to do in this passage is this:
“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.”
I know what you’re thinking, it probably wouldn’t do well at the box office, or on Netflix. It wouldn’t get Nielsen ratings. The story wouldn’t go to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. But it is a story that goes way beyond all of those things. Because it’s the beginning of a story about what happens when the world does its worst. The world is full of violence, and hatred, and fear, and yet love wins out anyway. It’s a story of LOVE ITSELF….. that was rejected, killed and buried, and yet was still too strong to stay in the ground! That’s AWESOME!
In conclusion, it’s not my job to rename any Christian Holy day. But if it was, I might change the name of Maundy Thursday. I might change it from this word that few folks really know or understand, to something like “Love One Another Thursday”, or “The Most Important Thing Christ Really Wanted Us to Know Thursday”, or, “Love For Dummies”.
I think that would be great. Listen, this is a message we all need to hear. We don’t need to hide it behind words few really understand. We don’t need to just check it off as another night in Holy week, or another feeling of guilt if we don’t go. We need to hear that this is how Christ said other people would know us: by how we love one another. Maybe it would help us remember? Maybe it would help us remember not just what this night is called, but maybe it would help us remember what it means to actually be a Christian. And maybe if we always had that reminder, if we always had that commandment to love in our heads, Christ’s dream for us would really come true. Maybe we wouldn’t be known as Christ’s disciples by the fact we put a fish sticker on our car. Or wore a cross around our necks, (even though I want to wear a cross). Maybe we wouldn’t be known by what we believed. Maybe we wouldn’t be known for who we voted for, or against. Maybe we wouldn’t be known by the mistakes we make. Maybe instead we would just be known by the one thing Jesus wanted us to be known for: by how we love.
On Easter morning we will be celebrating “virtual” Communion together, and you’ll hear me repeat the words that Christ used as He broke bread and gave it to His disciples for the first time, on this same night 2000 years ago. I’ll say again to you that “on the night Jesus Christ was betrayed He took bread, and blessed it, and gave it to His disciples.” You will hear me make reference to those words of His every time we observe the Last Supper, and if you are like me, you are uplifted by that.
But what if you heard this too?
“On the night Jesus Christ was betrayed He turned to His disciples and said, “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.”
I don’t say that very often in a Worship service, but maybe I should. Not in so many words. But I think we try to say it in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. It’s no coincidence Christ said these things on the final night with His disciples. The last word you say to someone is often the one you want to “stick”, the one you want to “sink in”…. I know that you know what I mean here……right?
So, I guess what I am suggesting to you is this, let’s not forget. Between this Maundy Thursday and the one next year, let’s not forget what the mandate is. It’s so simple, and yet it demands our whole lives and our whole attention, and certainly in life the Church, we can give Jesus Christ nothing less! So, tonight as we remember the bread and the cup, as simple as it seems on the outside, we know that we are choosing no less than to feast upon Christ’s love for us, and to bring that feast to others. If every Christian would do that, no one would ever have to ask us who we follow. By our love, they would already know. Amen.
(Whatever you feel this night when we traditionally leave the Church in darkness and in silence)
Insert that here………… …………………………..….thinking this:
“Lord Jesus…………as your grateful servants, we leave this hallowed place, to serve and to love”pastorron