Sermons by Katherine Ragsdale

Occasional Sermons by Episcopal priest, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale.

Location: Massachusetts

you can always google me at "Katherine Ragsdale" OR "Katherine Hancock Ragsdale"

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Maundy Thursday/Purim, 2005

Maundy Thursday, 2005
St. David’s, Pepperell (MA)
Katherine Hancock Ragsdale

By an interesting coincidence, this year Purim and Maundy Thursday fall on the same day. You may remember that we’ve celebrated Purim here the last few years (and will again, though belatedly, in a few weeks). We’ve been doing it ever since a few of my Rabbi friends and colleagues convinced me we were missing out on a good thing.

Purim is one of the particularly fun Jewish holy days. There are special foods, sweet treats, associated with it. Children, maybe children of all ages, dress up in costume and come to the synagogue to hear the reading of the Book of Esther – also known as the scroll or the Megillah. The entire book is read, giving us the phrase, “the whole Megillah.”

People cheer the heroes and boo the villains and have a grand old time telling the story of how Esther and her uncle Mordecai outfoxed Haman and saved the Jews in Persia from extermination, even turning the table on their enemy. It’s great fun and we’ve enjoyed sharing the tradition here at St. David’s.

But it’s also serious. Before the happy climax of the story, when the tables are turned, it looks likely that Esther’s people will be utterly destroyed by the malice of another. The mighty will salve their egos at the expense of a host of the innocent. The only chance they have requires that Esther take a terrible risk. Esther, who was not known to be Jewish, who was a wife of the king and so probably could have “passed” and survived the massacre, Esther is called upon to risk execution in order to, maybe, save her people. And she does it. She says to her uncle, “Though I well may die in this endeavor, I will do it. Give me three days to spend with my friends to prepare myself for this and you gather all the Jews in the land to pray for me and for the success of our plan, and then I will do this, even though it lead to my death.”

And Mordecai said to Esther, “Who knows but that you were born for just such a time as this?”

“Who knows but that you were born for just such a time as this?”

Tonight, on Purim, we celebrate Maundy Thursday. Our celebration has three foci:

1) We Celebrate the Last Supper. Jesus, who was about to die to save his people,
gathered with his friends, his chosen family, for one last meal, one last time together. Every time we gather at the altar to break bread together we remember and re-create that moment. On this night, though, on Maundy Thursday, we take special note, and we give thanks, that, before dying for us, Jesus left us this memory; this tradition; this communion with all who have gone before us and all who will follow after us; this unfathomable sustenance for our own journeys.

We are invited, tonight and always, to bring to this altar our hope and our heartbreak, our vision and our fear, all that we have and all that we are, to be strengthened for our own work and to listen for the whisper of a voice saying to us, “Who knows but that you were born for just such a time as this?”

2) We remember and honor Jesus’ commandment to us. “Maundy” comes from the
Latin “mandatum” which means “commandment or mandate.” At that last supper Jesus gathered with his companions and began to wash their feet. Peter (isn’t it always Peter?) protested. It was not right that their friend, their teacher, their Rabbi, their leader and Lord should perform a task usually reserved to the most menial of servants.

And Jesus said – there is no shame in service. Service can be, should be, an act and expression of love. This is my commandment (mandate) to you – that you love one another as I have loved you. Love pays no attention to relative status as it washes or massages tired feet, binds wounds, lifts burdens …

And I wonder, did Peter, as his getting it wrong, once again, provided an opportunity for Jesus to teach us all, did Peter hear, “Who knows but that you may have been born for just such a time as this?”

3) Finally, our liturgy moves to the stripping of the altar in preparation for the horror
of tomorrow, Good Friday. Like the disciples, we are invited to watch and wait with Jesus as he prepares himself for what he must face. We go with him into prayer. We know something, perhaps, just a little, of what it means to pray his prayer of that night, “Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass me by. But, thy will, not mine, be done.”

How often have we, in far less dire circumstances, but still with fervor, with passion, prayed the same thing – or at least the first half of it: “let this pass me by.”

How often have we been called to spend ourselves, to risk some small bit of ourselves (our prosperity, or prestige, or popularity), or even all of ourselves – our lives or all we live for? How often have we been called to use our gifts without counting the cost? How often have we quickly shut our eyes and ears to the need around us and the call to us? And, when the call creeps past our defenses and into our consciousness, how often have we prayed, “Let this cup pass me by?”

Jesus, too prayed: “Let this cup pass me by; but, not my will, but Thine, be done.”

Did he, perhaps, in that dark night of despair, hear a familiar voice saying, “Who knows but that you were born for just such a time as this?”

Tonight we come to the altar to be sustained by the food we are offered and by communion with a great community of saints.

We wash, and are washed, to remember the ways we are bound one to another in love manifested by service. Love and service given and love and service received – neither always easy.

We watch with Jesus through just a few moments of his agony of waiting, trying to claim for ourselves some small measure of the courage and love that makes such self-sacrifice, such self-fulfillment, possible.

And we learn to listen so that when our moment comes we will be able to hear and recognize the voice that whispers to us, "Who knows but that we were born for just such a time as this?"

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