For tonight’s Maundy Thursday worship service at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Greene, Iowa, I did a three part sermon focusing on the ideas of Remembering, Repenting, and Re-membering.
Our Maundy Thursday service for April 13, 2017 looked like this: Confession & individual absolution, Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 followed by a sermon moment, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, offering, 1 Corinthians 11:17-26 followed by a sermon moment, and the gospel reading from John 13:1-17, 31b-35, followed by a sermon moment. Then we shared in the Lord’s Supper, and concluded the service by stripping the altar while hearing Psalm 22 read.
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 – Remembering
Christianity is about story. Everything we do as Christians and as church revolves around a particular story, a story told in the Bible, a story still being written. Every time we gather as church, we read together from Scripture, seeking to understand more of God’s story.
Sometimes we hear the story through readings, often we tell the story through songs and music, sometimes we encounter the story through tangible things like water, bread, and water.
During Holy Week, as we approach Easter, we return to the story of God’s faithfulness to God’s people.
When Jesus and his disciples gathered in an upper room for the last supper, the first communion celebration, they weren’t just having a meal together. They were gathering to celebrate the Passover. They were remembering what God had done for their ancestors.
Knowing God was faithful even in the darkest times (like when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt) helps us to trust God today in our own times of trouble.
In the Passover story, God tells the Israelites that each family is to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on their door so that on the night when the firstborn sons of their Egyptian captors are killed, the angel of death will see the blood and pass over their house.
For God’s people, this is such an important event that it resets their calendar. This first Passover establishes the first month of the year for you, they’re told. And every year, they are to remember what happened, to eat the Passover meal and share the story of how God protected them, how God spared them from death. This is part of our story too, because we too have been spared from death. The Lamb of God has sacrificed himself for us to give us life.
When Jesus and the disciples gathered to remember the Passover story, Jesus announced to them that what had been just bread and wine would now, when received in faith, be his own body and blood. We share his body and blood in remembrance of God’s faithfulness, in remembrance of the cross.
Tonight, throughout this Holy Week, and as often as we gather, remember that this is your story too.
Living as a Christian is about finding your place in God’s story, recognizing that God’s love is for you, that it’s not something abstract or outdated, but that God’s love is given and shed for you.
As you just heard, it’s your sins that are forgiven. The Lamb of God has been poured out for you. Tonight, we remember our story.
1 Corinthians 11:17-26 – Repenting
We humans have an amazing ability to mess stuff up, don’t we? Jesus takes a meal about remembering God’s faithfulness, about remembering what God has done for us, and he adds the promise that he will be present in it, and we find ways to mess it up.
In the church in Corinth, the people have heard the instructions from Jesus to share a meal together in memory of him, and some of them have forgotten the part about sharing together and gotten stuck on the meal part. The rich have plenty of food and drink to enjoy, and the poorer members don’t have anything.
That might be how the world handles food, where those of us who are rich enjoy what we have and others—our sisters and brothers in Christ—survive on tiny rations, but that’s not what Christ’s table is like. That’s something we need to repent of and work to fix, not something to carry into worship.
The Lord’s supper, this communion feast, is intended to be a glimpse of heaven, a foretaste of the feast to come, a meal where all are welcomed by Jesus, our host.
The Corinthians have turned this sacrament, this beautiful, sacred gift, into just another meal. Sometimes I think we’ve gone too far the other way.
It can be hard to see communion as a meal at all, the way we celebrate it with little styrafoamy wafers and tiny sips of wine. It would probably help our understanding of communion if we had real bread every time like we do tonight. Thanks, Betty! Maybe sometimes the way we celebrate communion should look a little more like a real community meal around a table.
Nevertheless, as Paul shares with the Corinthian church the words of institution, the story of how Jesus began this central ritual of faith, he tells them that although their words might recall the story of Jesus’ death, their actions miss the point of Jesus’ death.
The cross changes things. The communion table isn’t a place for division. The cross breaks down the boundaries we build up. The cross calls everyone who truly sees it to follow the model of Jesus, the one who humbled himself, who gave up his very life for others.
So Paul calls on the Corinthians—and on us—to repent, to behave differently, to behave as a church, as a genuinely loving community. Being the body of Christ means including everyone as children of God.
The kingdom of God is not divided up into haves and have-nots, into the rich and the poor. Jesus didn’t die so rich people (and that includes us living in the wealthiest country in the world) could have yet another opportunity to gorge on a fancy dinner. Jesus died for the reconciliation of the world.
As we gather around Christ’s table tonight, may this holy meal we taste truly be food for us to fuel our service to the world in Jesus’ name.
May we repent of our own selfishness and greed, and instead, seek reconciliation and peace with our neighbors. We enact that hope now by greeting one another with the words: “God’s peace be with you.”
Sharing of the Peace
John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Re-membering
Hearing John’s story of Jesus humbly washing the disciples’ feet at the last supper, it’s easy to see why Paul was so upset at the Corinthian church. What actually happened at the last supper was basically the exact opposite of what was going on in that church.
They were dividing themselves and ignoring others in their community; Jesus was serving everyone present.
They were exalting themselves over others; Jesus was humbling himself to be a servant.
They were focusing only on words; Jesus was demonstrating love through actions.
Remember, washing feet is a servant’s job. It’s something no one wants to do, but in a world where you wear sandals and walk on dirty, dusty roads, it has to be done, so the lowest ranking person in the room gets to do it.
Except, of course, when Jesus is around, because in the middle of this meal, not at the beginning when foot washing usually happens, he gets up, takes off his robe, puts on a towel, and starts washing his followers’ feet.
That’s not what’s supposed to happen. The teacher never washes the servants’ feet. And if you look at Peter’s reaction, he actually gets upset at this idea. He doesn’t want to see Jesus embarrass himself.
But by washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus shows us how Christian community is supposed to work. Those who want to be followers of Jesus are to love one another. Christians are supposed to serve one another, to wash each other’s feet.
We don’t often literally wash one another’s feet, although that can be a profound experience, but we do seek to follow Jesus’ command: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Our job as Christians is to find ways to love others, and not just in easy situations where there are tax benefits, or memorial plaques at stake.
This is a call to share the kind of love that startles and surprises, in the middle of the meal, loving in situations where no one expects it. Jesus washes the feet of the one he knows will betray him. We’re called to love those who don’t think they deserve love, to serve those who won’t serve us back, because that’s what Jesus does for us.
Washing the feet of another person means recognizing them as someone worthy of our service. It means looking at our enemies, or at the people we despise, and seeing them as children of God, people Jesus considered worthy not only of having their feet washed, but as worth dying for.
When we claim to be members of Christ’s body, this is the task we claim. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Hymn #126 Where Charity & Love Prevail