Thursday, April 21, 2011
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Have you ever wondered what the word “Maundy” means? I know I did before I came to seminary, and someone asked me that question just a few weeks ago. “Maundy” comes from the old Latin word “mandatum,” which has also provided another word in English—mandate. Mandatum means command. During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Remembering Jesus, remembering the Lord’s Supper, means remembering this commandment, as well. Remembering means loving one another. It means acting out that love—God’s love for us—in everything we say and do.
“Do this in remembrance of me.” “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.”
In both our first and second readings, remembrance is a strong theme. We are commanded to remember what God has done, both in the Exodus that freed the people of Israel from slavery and in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to remember? Does remembering just mean to take ten minutes during Communion every Sunday morning to think about Jesus, before going back to our everyday lives? Does it mean putting a few lines in our prayers and songs about God setting people free? I don’t think so. I think it means more than that.
For the Jews—and remember, Jesus and his disciples, everyone present at the Last Supper, were Jewish—remembering isn’t just a matter of thought. Remembering is something you do, it’s how you act. Remembering is how you respond to things that have happened. Remembering means responding to God’s love and to all the things God has done for us. Remembering means proclaiming the truth of what has happened for all the world to see and hear. Remembering is how the past becomes a present reality. Remembering is a way of life.
When God tells the Hebrew people to remember the Passover, the Exodus hasn’t happened yet—they were still in bondage, waiting for God’s saving actions. And on the night of the first Passover, God bought their freedom in blood and pain and set in motion the actions that brought them out of slavery and into the freedom of the Promised Land. So every year they celebrate the Passover and remember that God freed them, that God promised them new life and God kept that promise, that the God they worship is the God who brought them out of freedom and is still keeping promises to them. The Exodus isn’t just something that happened three thousand years ago to their ancestors. The Exodus is something that happens now, to them.
As Christians, we should understand that, because the Supper of Our Lord isn’t just something that happened two thousand years ago to twelve guys in Jerusalem, it’s something that is happening, now, to us. In the night in which our Lord Jesus was betrayed, the crucifixion hadn’t happened yet, the resurrection hadn’t happened yet. The whole world was still in bondage to sin, waiting for God’s saving actions. And on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and told them to remember him. He was betrayed, he was crucified, and in his sacrifice God bought our freedom from sin with Jesus blood and pain. Through Christ’s death and resurrection we are brought from slavery into freedom, from death into life, from brokenness into wholeness, from isolation into relationship with God and with one another.
So on Maundy Thursday, and every Sunday throughout the year, and at other occasions, we celebrate Communion and remember that God has freed us, that God has promised us new life and God has keep that promise. We remember that the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery, the God who sets people free, is the God who has set us free, as well. We remember that the God who promised freedom to the people of Israel, the God who promised us his love before we even knew him, is still keeping those promises today. The Last Supper isn’t just something that happened two thousand years ago. The Last Supper is something that is happening here, to us and to all of God’s people, tonight and every time we come together to celebrate Communion. Christ is truly present with us now, in bread and wine, just as he said he would. When we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we know that Christ is in them, just as he said he was. Christ comes to us in bread and wine, something we can feel, taste, smell. When we come together around the Lord’s Table, we know that we gather together with all Christians of every time and every place, those who have gone before us and those who will come after us.
Remembering Jesus isn’t just thinking about him every now and then. Remembering affects everything we do and say. Remembering is taking Christ’s presence here in this meal and in our lives seriously. Remembering means taking Jesus’ last commandment seriously, too. Love one another as Jesus has loved us.
Jesus showed us what that meant when he washed his disciples’ feet. Think about that, for a minute. You know how much sweat and dirt builds up on your feet over the course of a summer day when you’re wearing sandals? Think about how much worse it must be, how much more filthy, when the only paved roads are just cobblestone—and even those are few and far between. When even many indoor floors are made of packed dirt. When your only mode of transportation is your own two feet. When you’re in a desert area so there’s very little rainfall to wet everything down and everything is dry and dusty. Think about just how gross those feet must have been. Think about how nice it must feel to have had them cleaned.
Washing those feet couldn’t have been pleasant. It’s not something anybody would want to do, normally. But Jesus didn’t do it because he had to, he did it because he loved them, and because he wanted to show them what love is. Love isn’t just thinking nice thoughts about someone. Love is helping someone even when it’s not nice, or pleasant, or fun. Love is being willing to serve not because you have to, or because you’re not worth anything better, but because you want to.
That’s how Jesus wants us to love one another. That’s how Jesus wants us to remember him, and that’s how he wants us to show the world that we are his. Jesus wants us to remember him by putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak—by loving one another as God has loved us, and putting that love into action. Jesus wants us to remember him by knowing that when we share this meal, and when we put his love into action, he is there with us. When we gather together for worship and communion, we proclaim our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, who died that we might have life and have it abundantly. When we are sent out into the world to share God’s love through serving one another and all of God’s creation, we proclaim our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, who gave his life for us because he loves us, and wants us to truly love one another.