We didn’t film this sermon for Maundy Thursday, but you’re welcome to read the text of David’s sermon here!
I’ve often wondered why the best times I’ve had church in my life have so rarely been on Sunday mornings sitting in a pew. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone here that, when you’re a pastor, you’re not really necessarily in the most “worshipful” headspace when you’re leading others – you’re thinking about the next thing to come in worship, and it’s hard to be as moved by the words that you spent the week writing – though I will admit to getting a bit choked up once in a while.
But even when I’ve been a worshiper, I’ve so often found that the best church often happens in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. I’ve had great church around the campfire, in the bar, at restaurants, and at friends’ houses. Sometimes, it’s been intentional – with a service planned and everything. Other times, it’s been something that arises spontaneously, when the Holy Spirit just chooses a moment and says, “Yes; right now, I am here, and you need to feel my presence.”
Those are really special moments. I hope you all have had or will have those moments in your lives, because it’s truly a special thing. I’m also not saying that Sunday mornings are worthless, because they’re not – they’re a weekly time to reconnect with God, to slow ourselves down and intentionally take time that could be spent doing something for ourselves and instead do something for God. Instead, what I’m saying is this: church on a Sunday morning is a discipline; it’s something we do to do it. And we can’t expect that really excellent, rare, “special” kind of church every single Sunday – because even if we did get it every week, it would become routine, too, and we wouldn’t care as much.
But I think Maundy Thursday is a really interesting service, because it’s a time to remember one of those special circumstances when Jesus and the disciples had “church,” without having church.
Remember first of all that there was no such thing as a church in Jesus’ day. That didn’t come until after Jesus ascended into heaven. After all, when he was on earth, his followers took the word “follower” literally – they literally just “followed” him around. But after he was no longer on earth, people discerned a need for Christian worship. During his life, though, we know that Jesus and his disciples regularly did attend services. We know this because Jesus mentions it, and we have multiple stories of him actually being in worship – reading the scroll of Isaiah, turning over the tables in the Temple, being left behind as a 12-year-old, etc. He worshiped, that’s for sure, and it’s where many of his conflicts with religious authorities came about.
Yet, while Jesus and the disciples attended services all the time, you have to imagine that they, like we, didn’t always see every service as Spirit-filled. Sometimes, you know… it was just… normal. Nothing special.
But Maundy Thursday, well – that was another story. On Jesus’ end of things, of course, he knew that this was the last meal he was going to have with the disciples. Or if not the last meal ever, that it was one of the last ones. He could tell that the time was coming that he would be arrested, and he knew he would probably be put to death. So there was some pressure on Jesus that night; but instead of folding under pressure, he stepped up to the plate in a big, big way.
This final night is filled with three major events. Jesus does three things that are still important to us today, and they all come on this night. They are three commandments, three tasks, three things to do – and they all still resonate strongly with us.
The first thing he does is something we read about in our reading from John – that’s footwashing. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. We’re not going to do a footwashing this year, but we did last year, if you’ll remember.
Anyway, in the ancient world, footwashing was a powerful symbol. You have to remember that there weren’t exactly paved roads – everywhere people walked was dusty. It was common, therefore, to have people’s feet washed when they entered a home. If you were wealthy, a servant would do the washing. If you didn’t have a servant, whoever was of lowest status would do the washing – like a child, or a woman. But usually, it was the guest who did the footwashing. The host was being gracious to allow you in; in return, you washed their feet. Plus, chances are that the host was of higher social status than the guests – after all, they were able to provide a meal.
Of course, what makes Jesus’ footwashing so different is that he inverts all of these things. He is the one of highest status of all, yet he insists on washing feet. He is hosting the meal, yet he insists on putting himself in the lowest of places. Jesus here is showing us just how far God goes to meet us. God wants to come find us, wherever we are. It’s not our job to find God, as if God is some Easter egg hidden for us to find. We are the Easter eggs, and God is searching for us – with the good news that we are found!
But while Jesus is willing to cross these social divides to show us true hospitality and God’s love for us, that’s not all he did. That night, he also gave us the sacrament of Communion. He taught us that the bread and cup were his body and blood, broken and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. We, of course, remember this every month, and will again later tonight when we share in the sacrament. But of course, again, Jesus was not just giving us a way to have a meal with other Christians.
The sacrament itself is a means of grace – a way of knowing that God loves us and cares for us. It is something visible, something tangible, something tactile. We can see it, smell it, taste it. And as our senses are excited, we are reminded that this is a sign of the grace God provides. That without our deserving it, Jesus was willing to come to earth and live among us. He was even willing to suffer and die at our own hands, just to show us how much we are loved. And then he asks us to share in this meal of remembrance – commands it, in fact. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he says.
And that’s where we have to remember the name of this day – “Maundy Thursday.” The word “Maundy” is a corruption of the Latin word “Mandatum,” which is related to the word “Mandate,” which means “commandment.” In other words, this day is “Commandment Thursday.” It’s the day when Jesus gives us multiple commands – to remember the hospitality he showed in washing feet by showing that same hospitality to others; to remember the grace of God that we see in the Sacrament of Communion as we share in the New Covenant, the new promise, God gives us. But there’s one more commandment given that day.
The first two we’ve seen have been commandments that have a physical component. There’s something to see, to touch. But the final commandment that Jesus gives is, in some ways, the most difficult. In others, it’s the most important.
Our passage from John comes from the “Farewell Discourse,” in which Jesus is giving his last words to the disciples before he’s crucified. And in those words, he chooses one last commandment to give them: “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.” So when Jesus has a chance to sum everything up, it’s not the signs or symbols he goes with – it’s love for one another.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? Jesus is about to go to his death, simply because he loves us. So he reminds us of that, telling us to love one another as he loves us. Imagine if we really did it – imagine if we truly loved one another as Jesus loved us. That would be a sign that we were all his disciples. If we were truly willing to lay down our lives for one another, to go any distance, cross any barrier, climb up on any cross. We would be recognized for that trait.
So I have a simple challenge for you this Holy Week. As you sit in church tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday, think about just how much Jesus loves you, and think about how you can show that love for someone else. That’s it – one other person. Pick someone who needs to see God’s love in you. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe you’re bold enough to show love to an enemy. Maybe someone you haven’t talked to in too long. But show someone you love them. And I don’t mean someone you’re obligated to love – not a family member. But really go out there and show the love of Jesus.
When we do that, we’ve found a true way to honor Jesus, not just on Maundy Thursday, and not just by obeying his Commandment – but by honoring the life he led, and the death he died. When we honor him, we become true Christians. The word “Christian” means “little Christ.” May we all have the courage to honor our Lord and Savior every day, becoming “little Christs” by loving one another as he loved us. Amen.