Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sermon: Maundy Thursday - 2018

29 March 2018

Text: John 13:1-15, 34-35 (Ex 12:1-14, 1 Cor 11:23-32)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” 

And when we love our fellow Christians the way our Lord loves us, the world will know that we are disciples of Jesus.

Of course, there are many different kinds of love: that between parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, love of friends, love of country, even the kind of love that Jesus commands us to have for our enemies.

But on this Maundy Thursday, Jesus mandates that we disciples of Jesus love one another, even as He has loved us.  This is part of our task to evangelize the world. In a sense, it is a mark of the Church that we love other Christians, that we see and treat one another as brothers and sisters.  We may not like each other sometimes, but Jesus doesn’t command us to like each other, but rather to love one another.

Jesus isn’t ordering us to conjure up a feeling or to display emotion.  That isn’t what love is.  Jesus isn’t commanding us to be nice, because that too is not the meaning of the word “love.”  In this specific Greek usage of the word translated “love,” Jesus is commanding us to put others ahead of ourselves, to, in a sense, become the slave of other members of the Church.  We are to serve.  And in case this is something that could get lost in translation, our Blessed Lord shows us what He means by love: He washes the feet of the disciples. 

This was shocking, even to the point of scandal.  Jesus is their Master.  And yet He is doing the work that the lowliest slave would have performed.  Our Lord’s actions were so radical and controversial, that Peter initially refused to obey the Lord’s instructions.  But He changed His mind when Jesus said to refuse the Lord’s washing is to refuse salvation.  The Lord cleanses His disciples with water, not only an act of humble service, but also as an allusion to the “washing of regeneration” that He will later command the disciples to carry out among all the nations as a way to make disciples. 

“Do you understand what I have done to you?” He asks.  “You call Me Teacher and Lord,” He says, “and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

This kind of love, dear friends, is not a thought in the mind or a feeling in the heart.  Rather it is commitment in action, in service, in humility.  It is not seeing any task as beneath our dignity, nor any of our brothers and sisters as unworthy of our service.  We are, as it were, to get our hands dirty.  This is hardly what the world has in mind when it views everything through the lens of sexuality, and trumpeting the slogan, “love wins.”

Love indeed wins, dear friends, but the kind of love that wins is the love that Jesus has for us, the love that we are commanded to imitate.  It is the love of God humbling Himself to be born of the virgin Mary, to breathe our “poisoned air” (in the words of the hymn), to become covered in dirt, and yes also with tears and sweat and blood – all out of love for each one of us for whom He died.  Love wins because Jesus, out of love, offers Himself as the sacrifice, and He even shares that sacrificial body and blood with us in another way: in the Holy and Mystical Meal that the Lord shared with His beloved disciples on that Maundy Thursday.

In fact, the Christians would from this point forward gather around the Lord’s body and blood each week, and they would also share another meal with each other, which was called the “love feast,” a kind of potluck in which all Christians: rich, poor, free, slave, young, old, Jew, and Gentile would sit together at table, as brothers and sisters, and would feast together, even as the Lord calls us to feast on His sacrificial flesh and blood in the greatest love feast known as the Holy Eucharist.

St. Paul delivers to us what He received from the Lord, that on the “night when He was betrayed,” He took bread; He took wine; He said, “Take, eat;” He said, “Take, drink.”  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Another way that we share the love of Christ as His disciples is to keep the feast of Passover, that is, the Feast of His body and blood.  As a congregation, we ensure that the body and blood of Christ – as well as the proclamation of the Gospel in the very Word of God – are made available every Sunday and usually every Wednesday, as well as on other feast days.  For in this Holy Supper, the love of Jesus is made manifest for us poor miserable sinners, a salvific gift that we eat and drink, a participation, that is, a fellowship in the one all atoning sacrifice of the cross through a miracle that transcends space and time.  We love our neighbor by supporting this ministry and by upholding this holy place where Jesus continues to wash us and serve us; a place where disciples are made, where sins are forgiven, where the love of God is made manifest in word and in deed.

We also serve our neighbors by not handing out the Holy Supper to anyone and everyone.  For “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  Just as a doctor loves and serves his patients by refraining from prescribing a drug that might cause an allergic reaction, we are careful and discerning about giving the body and blood of Christ to those whom we don’t know, for as St. Paul warns the Corinthian Christians, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

We love our neighbors in various ways according to our vocations.  Pastors love their neighbors by preaching and carefully administering the sacraments.  Hearers of the Word love their neighbors by their careful attention and by supporting each other by their presence.  We all love our brothers and sisters in Christ by our prayers, our visits, our help with things that need done, our offerings, our labor, and by carrying out the tasks that the Lord has called us to do.  In the words of a litany: “those who bring offerings, those who do good works in this congregation, those who toil, those who sing, and all the people here present who await from the Lord great and abundant mercy.” 

The Lord commands us to love one another.  We do this by serving each other, even as the Lord serves us.  We serve in many and various ways, but our service is to be offered willingly, humbly, and without expectation of repayment.  When we serve our brother, we serve our Lord.  And let us not forget that our Lord serves us, and in His service to us, we find our salvation, we are enabled to love because He has first loved us.  He loves us right here and right now, pouring out His mercy upon us in His Word and in the Holy Supper.  His mercies never depart from His beloved.  His service to us never lapses. 

On this day, we remember His love for us, His command to love one another, and most of all, we participate in this miraculous meal “in remembrance” of Him.

As our Lord promises: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Beane,

I love reading your blog as you have much to say that I agree with. However, being a Catholic and seeing the pictures that you post, it seems disingenuous that you, a Lutheran, post pictures that are clearly Catholic such as the one posted in your Maundy Thursday entry.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Michael:

I don't see anything in the picture that would make it un-Lutheran. If it had people praying to the Blessed Virgin or something to do with the pope, I probably would not have used this picture.

In fact, this picture really resembles my congregation more than it does most Roman Catholic parishes, where Communion is typically taken in a single-file line standing up, with the host placed in the hand from a layman (male or female) instead of the pastor. I know that some RC churches have restored the communion rail, but that's usually the exception rather than the rule (our practice is overwhelmingly to have the communion rail and to commune while kneeling, and to take the Holy Sacrament from the pastor).

We have the advantage of escaping some of the Vatican II liturgical changes (though sadly some of them seeped through to us as well).

But I'm glad you liked the sermon!

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Also, Roman Catholic hymnals typically include a lot of Lutheran music, such as "A Mighty Fotress" by Martin Luther. Our local RC parish often plays it on the carillon.

I don't find it disingenuous, but rather a genuine expression of catholicity.

The same goes for the Roman Catholic adoption of the Lutheran practices of speaking the Words of Institution aloud and the Mass in the vernacular (practiced by Lutherans in the 16th century and adopted by Rome in the 20th) and the use of confessional booths (which originated in German Lutheran churches and later copied in Roman churches).

Both Lutherans and Roman Catholics today make use of icons, which come from the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Again, this is part of what it means to confess "one holy catholic and apostolic church."

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Fortress, not 'fotress.' I don't think 'fotress' is a word, but that's kind of how we say it in New Orleans. Lol.