Friday, April 02, 2010

Sermon: Maundy Thursday Year C

I see looking out over the vast throng that many of you were here on Sunday.
I talked about, if you can cast your mind way way back,
how Jesus took up his human nature in such a way
that he perfectly showed God's nature
as a Being who pours himself out,
who does not cling or hold on to himself
but rather pours himself out into creation and into his Son,
Jesus, to redeem the world.

Now, that's a very pie in the sky theological idea,
one that Paul drove home to the Philippians
so that they wouldn't just think about it,
they would live it.
If you're wondering where Paul might have gotten the idea
that Jesus,
who was in his nature and essence God,
became in his essence and nature a bond servant or a slave,
he got it from the gospel we just heard read.
Now, its likely that Paul did not have this text in hand,
nor that he had read it in its form here
when he wrote his letter to the Philippians,
but he certainly would have heard this story,
possibly word for word.

I want you to put your bookmark both in John 13 and in Luke 22.
I was not sure which text we would have before us tonight
and so I took the liberty of writing two sermons
and I'm going to preach them both now.

Luke and John are describing the same event--
that last supper which was celebrated and eaten
during the Jewish Passover.

Passover is the English word for Pesach
from which we get Paschal.
The passover was celebrated and eaten by the Israelites in Egypt
on the night before they fled Egypt,
going over the Red Sea on dry land into the Sinai Desert.
The meal was eaten standing up and in a hurry
so as to be able to leave Egypt right away.
The meal consisted of lamb--
a lamb without spot or blemish,
a year old.
The lamb was killed and roasted
and the blood of the lamb was smeared
over the posts and lintel
of every door
of every Israelite
so that when the Angel of Death came to take the first born
out of all of the land of Egypt,
the tenth, final and most devastating plague,
the Angel would see the blood and pass over.

I read a really interesting blog every day written by a young Jewish woman living in Israel. To get ready for Pesech, or Passover, she has to deep clean her house on a level I can only dream of, and she has to wash all the clothes and scrub every pocket and corner and inch of her house getting rid of, can anyone guess?
Leaven, or yeast. Right.
The people had to also eat unleavened bread.
Jesus likens leaven to the false teaching of the Pharisees--
a little bit goes through the whole batch
and grows and grows and grows.
It is like sin--a little bit goes a long long way.
The people were covered with the blood of the lamb--
the Angel Passed Over--
and when they went into the promised land
they were supposed to be holy, blameless to the Lord.

So Jesus,
the perfect spotless lamb,
the only person ever to be holy and blameless to the Lord,
the perfect Israelite,
sits down to eat the passover with his friends.
And let's be honest,
all that fancy theological stuff we talked about on Sunday,
they weren't there.
They weren't overwhelmed by the divine nature of Jesus
and the human nature of Jesus
together perfectly in the one person of Jesus.
They weren't awe struck over how much he loved them
and how he had already done so much for them by being born
in the first place.
They were arguing over who was the greatest--
you can see in Luke 22:24.

If you've spent some time in the gospel of John,
you will know that besides doing the shocking thing
of washing the disciples' feet
John 13:4-5,
Jesus took the opportunity to preach a fairly long sermon
over the course of this meal.
The vine and the branches stuff in John 15
happens during the passover meal,
the I and the Father are one bits,
the love me as I have loved you.

I thought it rather helpful this last Sunday,
when all the children's Sunday School was downstairs
remembering this special meal together--
there were about 20 of us--
and it was quite an expanse between the top of the table,
where Jesus,
played by Joe Osgood,
was sitting,
and the bottom of the table where many of the disciples were sitting and talking to each other.
Once or twice Joe yelled out,
'I have something to say!'
and the crowd would sort of quiet,
although there was always some murmuring going on,
'one of you will betray me!'
he shouted down the table and a general uproar ensued--
who? me?
It helped me picture how a 'dispute could rise up amongst them'.
In a dinner that long,
with that many people,
its very much apparent how all the attendants could continue on
in their own little worlds,
thinking about their own little concerns
and their own little problems,
never noticing that so many things were going on.
I'm just going to quickly list just
some of the things that were happening.

One: The Passover Lamb, the true Passover Lamb, Jesus, was sitting there with them.

Two: He is also holy and blameless, the thing that Israel was supposed to be. He is standing in for Israel, doing what Israel never did.

Three: That he was in the form of a servant, he took on the lowest possible most disgusting most humiliating task of the meal, that is the washing of the feet.

Four: That as the Passover Lamb, the true sacrifice for sin, he has made his own body the means by which we come into the Promised Land, that is, eternal peace with God. That is, his blood poured out, for those who accept him, for those who trust in him, covers the post and lintel of your heart. When the angel of death passes by, he sees the blood of Jesus and passes by you, you are safe with God.

Now, can anyone tell me, in the Old Testament,
were the people of Israel allowed to eat anything with blood in it? Right, absolutely not.
When they killed any animal,
for a sacrifice or just to eat,
they were supposed to pour the blood out onto the ground
and eat the animal without any blood in it at all.
No blood sausage, well, no sausage, no blood cakes, none.
So, if the people of Israel really did follow this law,
they would have gone through their whole lives
eating various animals
but not the blood,
because, said God,
the blood is the life of the animal.

when Jesus holds up the cup and says,
'This is my blood, poured out for you, drink it'
his disciples,
besides being shocked out of their minds,
should have seen that he was going to be their life.
His body, the manna that came down from heaven,
his blood, both the guard against death over their heart,
and the life that would sustain them.

The fact that they are arguing about who is the greatest
magnifies how completely they did not get any of this.
One way you can know that the Bible is true
is that their complete lack of getting it is recorded
and preserved here for us.
If they wanted to make something like this up,
they would have added in that they were
1. paying attention and
2. getting it completely.

So, we're about to do all the things that Jesus just did--
we're about to wash feet, a sign of humility,
because Jesus told us to.
We're about to eat the bread and and drink the wine of communion as he told us to.
And I wouldn't be surprised if many of us might not get it,
or only understand part of it.
And, so you are not left up to the imaginations of your own hearts, I thought I'd list some ways you might miss the moment.

One way you might miss all that is going on here is if you have never been to church before. You may have heard Jesus' name and know that he was an awfully good person and that's it. If that's you this evening then there's only one thing for you to take away--
and that's that Jesus came to earth to take the burden of your sin,
to die in your place,
to offer you himself in exchange for you.
Its not a fair exchange,
but he loves you,
and he will give himself to you
if you give yourself to him.
If you've never done that before
and you don't even know what I'm talking about, please don't leave the building tonight without grabbing hold of me, or Matt or Ife or Carrie, she's up here in the front, and we can tell you more.

The second way you might miss it
is by being here for your whole life.
Familiarity, as the saying goes, can breed contempt.
The disciples' had been there for every word Jesus had spoken,
and here,
at the critical moment,
they have no idea what he is talking about.
If you've been here for years and years
hearing all the words
but never understanding them
or giving yourself to Jesus,
you have missed the point.

The third way is the problem Peter fell into. If you look at John vs. 6-9. First he's incredulous, then he says no, then he wants a bath. What is he doing? He's trying to control Jesus. He's trying to tell Jesus what to do and manage the whole event. It looks pious, but its a sign of both insecurity and pride--two sides of the same coin. Either way he's instead of giving himself to Jesus out of obedience and love he's keeping all the attention and focus and trying to manage the moment.

Fourth, you might miss what's going on by making a list of all the other people you think should hear this. No, take a good hard look at yourself.

In a moment we're going to get out some water,
and towels and you are all welcome to come up and have your feet washed.
You don't have to, please don't freak out.
But I have a word of caution.
When you come up,
let your body action of coming forward,
taking off your shoe,
putting your foot in the water,
let that body action reflect an action of the heart and mind
to let Jesus have access to all those things you're hiding from him. Are you angry?
Are you hurt?
Are you proud?
Are you ashamed?
Are you guilty?
Are you lazy?
Is there something you're not dealing with?
When you come up you need to give that thing to Jesus.
And then,
when you come forward for communion,
and you open your hands,
let that action of your body,
coming forward,
opening your hands,
let that also be an action of your heart and mind to take Jesus,
to cling to him,
to trust in him,
to love him.
So first,
even if you don't actually come forward for your feet to be washed, give yourself to Jesus--everything.
And then, when you come for communion, grasp hold of him.


Dr. Alice said...

A beautiful sermon. You evoke the scene in the upper room so well. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

don't know how to post this other than this way.