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Maundy Thursday, 17.4.03, St Markís
Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14
Ps 116.1,2, 12-19:
John 13.1-17, 31b-25 (1517 words)
Summary: The sacraments of baptism and eucharist free us to love and serve.
Tonight is about the sacraments, the Eucharist and also baptism.
Tonight is about loving and serving.
Tonight we proclaim that the true meaning and function and power of the sacraments lies in freeing us and empowering us to love and to serve in Christ.
Tonight is Maundy Thursday, which means Command Thursday, for on this night according to the witness of St Paul and St John, Jesus gave to his disciples three commands.
In our reading from 1 Corinthians we have heard St Paul handing on the tradition of the Last Supper as he has received it, and it has the command to "do this in remembrance of me", once over the breaking and sharing of the bread and the second time over the drinking of the cup. It is in obedience to that command that we have gathered here tonight to celebrate and to partake together of the Holy Communion.
The second and third commands of tonight are given in the 13th chapter of St Johnís Gospel. The first one, which we heard in the gospel and have acted out is: "If I then your lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anotherís feet." In the first century AD this was the job of a slave, a bondservant. It is the mark of the depth of humble service to which we are called. It is the mark of the true following of him who, as the Servant of the Lord, has gone in the way of the cross for our sakes that we might follow him in that selfsame way.
The other command comes later in our reading, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (13.34-35).
And in this same chapter in which we have the footwashing and the commands to wash one anotherís feet and to love one another, in between the footwashing and the commands we have the words, "If I do not wash you, you have no part of me." This appears to be a somewhat later addition to the nucleus of the chapter, and it is an allusion to baptism. Just as in St Markís Gospel the raising up of Simon Peterís mother-in-law is followed by her serving them, so here in John 13 the necessity of baptism is followed by the necessity of serving and loving.
And so we have baptism and the eucharist, and three commands: do this in remembrance of me, wash one anotherís feet as I have washed yours, love one another as I have loved you. When we look to see what St Paul and St John would have us understand by these five things: these two sacraments and three commands, we shall see that they are really only one thing. We can put it like this.
We are to love one another as God has loved us in Christ, and we are able, we are enabled to love one another fully and deeply and without reservation only because we are already held and sustained by Godís love in Christ, a love into which we were incorporated when we were baptized into Christ, and in which we are continually renewed when we gather around the Lordís Table to make eucharist, to remember Jesus and to receive and to share together the broken bread and the poured out cup.
Let us look more closely at the opening of tonightís gospel. "Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." This phrase, "to the end", eis telos in the Greek, we might better translate as he loved them "all the way" or "completely".
And the last word from the cross in St Johnís gospel is based on this same Greek word, telos, The word is tetelestai, "it has been completed", and what has been completed is the showing forth of the love of God in Christ. Jesusí dying on the cross shows forth the complete and perfected love of God.
Let us think for a moment of Genesis 3. When Adam and Eve fall away from paying full attention to God, then they begin to become alienated from one another, and they no longer remain completely open and vulnerable to one another, for they make aprons of leaves to cover themselves from each otherís sight, and they hide from God when he walks in the garden. When God asks them why they have hidden from him, and why they have, in effect, hidden from each other by making aprons, they answer, "Because we were afraid."
The author of the first letter of John, meditating on the first four chapters of Genesis, tells us that "Perfect love casts out fear."
So in Johnís Gospel, chapter 20, when the disciples on the first day, on Easter Day, are gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews, they are hiding in the same fear, alienation and estrangement that is common to all men and women as witnessed to by Genesis 3.
Thus it is as perfected love, the very incarnation of the love of God, that Jesus, the raised and exalted Lord, comes to them and casts out their fear. He says to them, "Peace be with you", -- that is, may Godís good order be in your lives. As the Father has sent him, so now he sends them out of their hiding. Just as in Genesis 2.7 God made the generic man, Adam, a living being by breathing into his form the breath of life, do now Jesus breathes Holy Spirit into his disciples. He breathes into them the living presence and power of God that they may be truly human and humane.
It is as renewed human beings that he sends them forth with the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry to pronounce to men and women the forgiveness of their sins. It is as human beings made new that they, and we, are freed and enabled to love one another as he has loved us.
If we compare the accounts of the Last Supper as found in the gospels with what we have heard it in 1 Corinthians in this eveningís reading, we find St Paulís account has the additional words, "This is my body which is given for you".
The phrase, "which is given for you", is simply huper humůn, "for your sakes". "This is my body for your sakes".
What St Paul means is this: we are the Body of Christ who live in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the power that God alone can supply. As Jesus has given his Body for us, so now we, as members of his Body are to give ourselves for others. The proclaiming of the Lordís death until he comes when we make eucharist is the showing forth of his self-giving love in order that he may come in our midst right now and finally and completely at the end. The sign that he has come in our midst right now is shown in the love that we are enabled to give to one another. This is why St Paul castigates those Corinthians who gobble down their food and do not wait to share it with the latecomers. He tells them that such behaviour indicates that they did not even intend to celebrate the Lordís Supper, the Eucharist. This is because the Eucharist is completely concerned with showing forth Godís self-giving love in Christ in order that we may show forth that same love to our neighbour, beginning with the person next to us in the pew and at the altar rail tonight.
Thus there is but one command on this Maundy Thursday: that we love one another in the same way that God has loved us in Christ, and by the power of that self-same love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
We wear white tonight: white for joy: joy that the life of love, the life of self-giving loving service is now open to us by a strength and power that is not out own.
Let us remember Jesus; let us proclaim his death, the giving of his body for us that he may come in our midst now and at the end.
Let us raise our hands to receive the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life, and the Cup of his Blood, the True Vine, so that, as members of him who is the man for others we, too, may live for others to the glory of our God and Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus may we truly keep today as "Command Day", Maundy Thursday.