Maundy Thursday Sermon

Scripture Passage: John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 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.’
(Selected verses of Gospel John of the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

Sermon: No Greater Love (Maundy Thursday--The day of the New Commandment)

As we observe social distancing instructions in order to keep each other safe, I have been thinking about Dr. A. a lot. As a medical doctor it is not feasible for her to keep distance from her patients. She does not have the luxury to turn away from the sick in order to keep her and her family safe. It’s impossible for her to remain at a distance at birth Giving injections and putting stethoscope to listen to heart beats are full of risks, too. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for her to lose a patient whom she looked after with great care for so many years.

As I think about what she has to do I think about millions of doctors who are tending and caring for the sick, especially those who are treating patients with this deathly disease. Exhausted, worried for others, and refusing to lose to death, those Italian doctors do their best to warn us as they struggle. To save few more, those Spanish doctors plead to us to keep apart.

Then there are others whom we know so well whether they are working in seniors homes, in hospitals as support staff, truck drivers or grocery clerks. They feel the weight of this pandemic on their shoulders. They do their best to meet people’s immediate needs.

I am deeply saddened to remember the doctor in that Bobcaygeon nursing home where so many elderly people died discussing how terrible it is for all who work there and how those workers would be treated for PTST eventually. I pray for them on your behalf giving thanks and asking God to keep them safe and strong everyday.

From history we learn that there are always people who rise up to the challenges of keeping life flourishing in all human societies. As death descends on humanity, our neighbours of all backgrounds step up and fight against death. In attempt to protect life some face certain death. We are beneficiaries of their courage, integrity, strength and will. Many do in the names of religions. Many do as secularists and atheists for the sake of humanity. All of them do so that the humanity can continue in life and flourish.

Neuro-scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists have done many researches to figure out why there are these people who willingly save others while risking their lives. They tried to get to the source of this altruism. Everyone wants to know why.

As Christians we worry less about why. Instead we begin our lives by confessing that it is our calling to lay down our lives for others. We do not concern ourselves over whether our brains are able to secrete more or less dopamine—happiness chemical, whether helping others flourish makes us fill better, or whether we subconsciously have calculated that doing good will make our communities stronger.

Christians, even ones who are questionable Christians, begin in life with the understanding that the true source of human life is God’s love. For us, God created the world in love: God so loved the world that eventually God showed how this love ought to be among us in Christ. In a nutshell, this love is why we give thanks to God for our lives. This is why Dr. A. gets up three in the morning to receive another baby in spite of her fatigue. This is why Ms. D. cleans up after the elderly who can no longer look after themselves. This is why we are free to serve one another without condition.

For us, then, this simple understanding of life’s origin is found through Jesus’ last supper gathering. There,God’s love for the world was crystalized as Jesus girded himself with a towel and began washing his disciples feet—doing the work of a slave. In this act of serving others God displays love in a small way that can easily be missed, but without it life does not flourish.

Without getting into overly theologizing Jesus’ action of serving the disciples like a slave, we need to fully experience this small ignoble gesture as the essence of God’s love and why we, very regular Christians, are continuing to do altruistic and selfless deeds persistently and with resolve without too much worries.

Two small things are important to note. The first is that Jesus got up during supper. (13:2). The second is that Jesus cleaned even the feet of the disciple who would betray him.

What’s so significant about Jesus getting up during supper? Usually washing of feet would have been done when they entered a house. In a well to do house, a slave would bring out water to wash feet of guests as they entered. It appears that in this house no one washed their feet. They were soon seated and they began their supper. Jesus must have waited to see if anyone would care about cleanliness. Seeing no one, Jesus took upon himself the task of washing feet of those who were at the table. This job which should have been done by the lowest among them all was left to Jesus. He stooped to that low position of slave and served the needs of his disciples.

As we read elsewhere, cleansing rituals were very important in Jewish tradition. That was why Pharisees always went after Jesus. Being unclean was seen as being in sin. When Jesus got up during supper to wash their feet, Jesus was saying that through this washing they were made clean—or their sins forgiven. No longer sinful they could sit at his table and have supper with him as his guests.

Remember how Jesus insisted that he came for sinners—he spent lots of time eating with sinners and being with prostitutes. Jesus declared to them that God’s reign (kingdom) was for them when they repented. Sitting at his table signified the arrival of God’s reign—sitting with him at meals would have meant that they were forgiven as was the case with Zacchaeus.

When during supper Jesus rose and washed their feet, we can observe Jesus’ proclamation of God’s reign being realized and sins forgiven. Of course, this understanding naturally leads us to see the importance of the giving of new commandment. No wonder we call it “mandate” and this last supper day, Maundy Thursday.

The second thing was that Judas who would soon betray him was present for washing and for the instruction to do the same among the disciples. If washing/forgiving was to be done among the disciples, Judas was included. He was part of the discipleship and was to partake in washing/forgiving each other. The Gospel John went into painful detail noting that Satan entered into Judas and that he would soon betray Jesus. From this, are we to think that Judas’ action was not his own and that he ought not be held accountable? Should he not be culpable because Satan was the instigator? Regardless, the instruction to all his disciples including Judas was to serve one another as he served them. Without casting out, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, too. Does this mean that we are to care for and love even ones who hurt us and are among us?

After all the new commandment to love one another as he loved was given to the disciples and through them to the world. Love that was unconditionally available to Judas at the table directs us to reach out to the entire world and serve them so that in God’s love they may flourish.

Every year on Maundy Thursday we come to his table to sit confessing our love for God and for each other. In worship we remember God’s love that was served through Christ. After being filled we go out into the world to serve the world so that the world may come to experience this love of God and flourish in life. It is no wonder, then, Christians like Dr. A., Ms. D and multitude of the faithful are doing their best to bring life in the face of death brought on by COVID 19. Serving others is their declaration of love of others. No wonder we find in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

May God bless all creation as Christians go forth into the world to bring this unconditional love that leads all to life!