Preached from the Pulpit of Good Shepherd Church on Maundy Thursday – April 2, 2015 by the Rev. Ellen L. Ekstrom:
In the Exsultet, there is a line, “This is the night,” where the deacon chants about the early hours of Easter Day when Christ bursts from the tomb.
It is this this deacon’s opinion that THIS is THE night.
This is the night when the master becomes the servant and a new fellowship is created. A new family is born. It begins with humility and love.
You and I know the sacredness of fellowship, especially that which share at the table every day. We need food to survive but the nourishment of our hearts and souls we receive when sitting down with our beloved families and friends I believe is far more important.
Long ago there was a dinner party like that. Friends gathered for the Passover Seder. We gather tonight. We gather every Sunday and every opportunity we can.
We call this night Maundy Thursday for the mandate Jesus gives us in The New Commandment – to love one another. At this supper, a family of friends became something more.
This is the evening of mandates that took everyone who followed Jesus one step closer to the astounding and profound act of love we know as the Crucifixion. Jesus took a sacred meal that was symbolic of the sufferings, trials and triumphs of the people of Israel and made it into something new. He took the Seder and made it a symbol of his own suffering and its power through God, his overwhelming love for God and us, to deliver us from sin and death.
It was during this meal Jesus presented two mandates to his followers.
The first is what we call the “New Commandment.” He 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.”
The second mandate was not only an expression of love, but an expression of ministry – service to one another in Christ’s name. Jesus, the Rabbi, becomes the servant and as we have heard this evening, washes the feet of his disciples. This act was, and is, an outward and visible sign of God’s love in Christ.
Peter was aghast, and wanted no part of it. Jesus said to him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.”
Unless I wash you, you have no share in me.
Let me serve you, so that you might serve God and one another. I do it because I love you. You will be with me in the Kingdom of Heaven if you do these things; Love the baker and love the tax collector, the scribe, the High Priest. Love the congressman, the fundamentalist, the social media mogul, the high school student, the person with issues.
This right action and the New Commandment were, like everything Jesus did, revolutionary. Someone hearing this and witnessing the event would have proclaimed Jesus mad. Forget about kings? Forget about emperors? Forget the Priests, the Pharisees and Saduccees, the merchant class? Love the slave as much as the master? Treat women as equals? Forget about Rome?
Giving unconditional love is revolutionary. People were and are conditioned by social class and gender, culture and bias. One just didn’t go to supper with tax collectors or deal with women who used expensive perfumed oil and tears to wash feet; you didn’t love someone just … because.
Do I need to say that we face social class, gender and culture bias today? No. You and I know it; we see it every day and experience it. We also are speaking out against it in Indiana, Arkansas, Africa and the Middle East. Yes, the barriers are coming down.
If we are so willing to break down the barriers of class and race, then we should also break down the barriers we’ve put up around our hearts and love. Simply love. Just as we are commanded to do.
When we wipe away a tear, bandage a physical wound, greet one another, give assistance, offer food and drink, patiently attend and listen, kneel down and wash someone’s feet, we show an outward sign of our willingness to live out the new commandment.
Jesus is kneeling before us, speaking to us. If you and I, all of us, wish to have a share in Jesus, we must be ready and willing to engage in Christ-like work. We have to put ourselves after those we serve. This evening, we are not simply memorializing archaic, ancient rituals in remembrance of historical events; we are making our actions acts of love, our responses to powerful mandates, our experience, our way of connecting our corporal life to Jesus and all who followed him then and now.
We are guests invited home for that final supper Jesus shared in the upper room. We are his friends and followers as we break the bread and share the one cup, and be servants to one another. It is, my friends, only what is being asked of us by Christ.
How can we refuse?