Maundy Thursday 29 March 2018
(Exodus 12:1-14 Psalm 116 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31-35)
“The Gift and Grace of Love!”
On St. Patrick’s Day, I did what I have been doing since I was a little boy—I planted peas. My Dad would say, “Mike, today is St. Patrick Day, so we have to plant peas in the garden.” So two weeks ago, on a beautiful Saturday morning, I dug up a little corner of my garden, which was still in hibernation mode from the winter, and planted peas. When I was a child they were simply called “sugar peas.” This year I planted the “super sugar snap peas.” I suspect the new name is supposed to create a heightened level of anticipation as to how big and how delicious can expect they will be!
Four days later we had a foot of snow! On the first day of Spring, as I watched the snow get deeper and deeper, I thought about those peas in the ground, safely protected from the blizzard taking place only inches above them, but also knowing that if they were going to come to maturity in 58 days as the seed catalog says, there would be lots of work taking place beneath the soil between now and then.
It is that work of being broken open and new life coming forth, even with a foot of snow burdening us down, that I think of as the inner work of Lent.
On these past six Wednesdays of Lent, we have been gifted with Words of Relentless Hope on our Journey to the Cross. We heard words aching, yet tender with vulnerability as members of our congregation related both pain and hope from difficult situations in their lives. We heard words that have seized our attention and tugged at our hearts. We have heard what I call “the language of the inner workings of Lent,” stories that have helped us make a map through the wilderness days of Lent, and hopefully a map through the wilderness days of our lives.
But tonight the language intensifies. Our readings take on an urgent edge as our scripture texts trace a path through a helplessness that begins with the original Passover event in Egypt, and ends on the night before Passover with Jesus gathered for a meal with his closest friends.
That first Passover was one filled with fear and panic. We hear this terror in the cacophony of words: “Take a lamb without blemish!” “Take some of the blood!” “Put it on the doorposts!” “Roast it over the fire with head, legs, and inner organs!” “Burn the leftovers by morning!” “Eat it with loins girded, sandals on, staff in hand!” “Eat quickly!” “I am coming to strike down every firstborn!” “I will execute judgment!”
Enveloped by the panic of that ancient scene as the backdrop, we now move to these three days of horror, calling us to draw upon the relentless hope that is ours.
On this Maundy Thursday we are now drawn to a new Passover table, in the company of Jesus and the disciples as Jesus begins to speak to them His final words. The disciples do not understand everything Jesus has to say, and do not comprehend fully the import of what He is telling them, but his words will scorch themselves into their hearts. These are the words that will return to the disciples later, in that bewildering time known as “the early life of the Church.” These are the words that will comfort them and also stir their relentless hope and courage for the path that waits for them still.
As this night unfolds, we realize that the word at the center of Jesus’ vocabulary is “love.” In John’s Gospel, we are hearing the very beginning what is known as the “Farewell Discourse,” — every word in this speech is pregnant with meaning and significance: love and consolation, hope and expectation.
Jesus speaks the word “love” thirty-one times in this farewell speech. In these final hours before his death, the word will ring repeatedly, an intoxicating echo of the moment we heard on the First Sunday of Lent when Jesus rose out of the Jordon River, the waters of baptism dripping from him, and heard himself named “Beloved”, immediately before being driven into the wilderness. On this night Jesus gives this word—love—to his friends, passing along to them the love He received at a moment He needed it most, before being driven out to where the wild things are!
Perhaps more than anything else Jesus could do on this evening, as He breaks open his own heart to his friends at the table, He does not begin with spoken words but rather, with a towel, a basin, water, washing feet, drenching them with yet another echo of his baptism and of his being named “Beloved.” Jesus has opened his heart: the heart of God, Word made flesh—and offers it to you and to me!
This love—the love of the soon-to-be-broken-Jesus— is an extraordinary gift and grace. And this gift and grace is given to be passed along, to live this word of servant love, to give flesh to this word of love into the world.
The inner work of Lent, now winding down, takes on new, deeper meaning on this holy night. Know you are Beloved. Share this love. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,” [1 Cor. 11:25]…..you become this love to one another as I have become this love for you” (Jn. 15:12]. Amen.