Maundy Thursday, 2002
Maundy Thursday, 2002
St. David’s, Pepperell
(as best as can be pieced together from notes)
So much is going on tonight. So many things are packed into this service. We’re in the midst of Passiontide. As we enter the spirit of the season, commemorating our history, we gather to wait with our Lord whose crucifixion we know is soon to come. We remember his command to love and service and we remember, and re-enact, the Last Supper he shared with his disciples and, through the Church’s sacraments, with us.
Every time we gather together to make Eucharist we re-enact and commemorate the Last Supper. But we especially on Maundy Thursday are we called to remember where this tradition comes from and what it means for us – what it calls us to.
On this last night before the Crucifixion Jesus gathered with his friends, as Jews still do today and have done this week, to celebrate the Passover. The Passover meal was a time of remembering. When God visited Egypt with the final plague, the death of each firstborn, in order to encourage Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go, he "passed over" the houses of the Jews, sparing their children and leaving them free to make their exodus. And they were told to remember this mighty act. Each year since the fall of the temple and the diaspora Jews have gathered wherever they may be to eat a seder meal together and to remember who and whose they are.
So, too, we gather. Every Sunday we gather to recreate that meal and remember who and whose we are. The trick, then, is to remember what it is we’re supposed to be remembering. And that’s where Maundy Thursday comes in. On this night we take special care to commemorate that Last Supper and to remember what it is we are called to remember every week, every day, every moment of our lives.
It’s too easy, and too tempting, to think that what we are called to remember, and to do, is to come to this table regularly. But on this night we remember that, when his friends had gathered, Jesus began to wash their feet. And, when Peter protested that such service was beneath his Lord and Master, Jesus said that any who would lead ( and any who would follow Jesus) must serve – and must love. Remember how I have served you, he told them. And remember how I have loved you.
He doesn’t say – remember to eat and drink regularly. He says whenever you do, do it in remembrance of me. Remember how I loved you and served you and follow my example. Whenever you do this. By "this" does he mean "celebrate the Passover" (an annual event)? Or does he mean "at every meal’? Or "whenever you happen to gather for any purpose"?
It’s not clear. He doesn’t really say. And so over the years the Church has tried to figure out how often to do this commemoration. And I think the question we need to ask is not "how often must we do this to satisfy Jesus’ commandment" (because he didn’t say), but "how often must we do it in order to satisfy our own hunger?" We need regular sustenance to keep away the gnawing of doubt, despair, and sin. We need regular sustenance to give us the strength to do the things Jesus did clearly command us to do – to remember to love through service.
A lot of rules around all this have developed over the centuries. We’re not told by Jesus, "do this every week." We’re guided to that by our own need and hunger and by the advice of a Church which has noticed how very much the people of God need that regular sustenance. We’re not told by Jesus to be careful not to spill the wine and to treat the elements with respect. We have come to do that out of our love for the one we remember whenever we re-enact this feast.
What we are told – what matters most – is to love one another. And our ability to do that is rooted in the love Jesus first showed us – the love he teaches us, the love for him that we nurture in ourselves every time we gather like this.
Tonight we are invited to wait and watch. We watch to learn how to love. We wait because we do love. We wait with Jesus because we have come to know him and love him and because it’s all there is left to do. We love him because he has taught us how – because he first loved us.
Remember what we have been ordered to do. But, tonight, wait and watch –to fit us for the task.