I preached this sermon on Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017. Our Holy Week Preacher this year was the Rt. Rev’d Frank Griswold, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. His sermons for the week can be found here. This “Family Service,” geared towards children, took place before the principal Liturgy of the day.
Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today is Maundy Thursday. This day is so special we have a special worship service to mark it. Today is the day when Jesus had the Last Supper, in the Upper Room with his disciples.
We do three things in order to mark today: First the Celebrant, Mtr. Ezgi will wash your feet. As we just heard in the Gospel, Maundy Thursday is the day when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, before they all sat down to supper.
Have your parents ever told you, “Go wash your hands, it’s time for supper?” My parents did that all the time: no matter where I was in the house, when I heard the shout, “Blake, time to wash up!” I knew that we were about to eat. I always dropped my homework, or stopped practicing the piano, or put down my book, or stopped playing my game, and went straight to the bathroom to wash my hands. Dinner was important in my family. We almost always ate together, and washing our hands beforehand was a way to make sure we were germ-free before eating — but it also became the way I prepared myself mentally for enjoying the meal I was about to eat with my family.
The same is true for Jesus and his disciples, and even more so. He doesn’t just send them to wash on their own, he washes them himself. And not their hands, but their feet – when you wear sandals all day every day in a dusty climate, your feet quickly become the dirtiest part of your body. Dirty and smelly! Jesus washing his disciples’ feet was a way of saying just how important they were to him, and just how much he was looking forward to this meal together.
We wash each other’s feet to remind us of Jesus’ example, and to teach us that serving the people we love is one of the best ways we have to love them.
The next thing we do on Maundy Thursday is to have Holy Communion. We do this all the time in church, but on Maundy Thursday it’s especially meaningful because this is the night Jesus gave Communion to his disciples for the first time.
After he washed their feet, they all sat down to supper. It wasn’t just any normal supper, it was the Passover supper, when they celebrated the people of Israel leaving Egypt, led by Moses out of slavery. Jesus at supper with his disciples is celebrating a holiday meal, a festive meal, recalling God’s power to rescue and to save his people.
And when supper was over, Jesus told them all that this Passover meal wasn’t just about remembering something that happened long ago. He told them that he himself was going to his death, to be the Passover Lamb of God; and that every time his followers gathered around that table again, he would be with them in the Bread and the Wine. “This is my Body, This is my Blood.”
Tonight we celebrate that Jesus gave us this way to remember him, that Jesus gave us this way to be with him, long after he ascended into heaven.
The last thing we do tonight, after communion, is to strip to Altar. After that last supper, Jesus and his disciples stopped in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, before continuing on to where they were staying in Bethany. While he was there, Judas led the soldiers to arrest Jesus, and he was carried away to the High Priest and then to the Governor for trial. He was condemned to death, and the next day, tomorrow, he was crucified.
After communion tonight, we will strip the altar, we will take away all the decorations inside the church, to symbolize Jesus being taken away. It is a sad and somber moment: just as we are given the chief tokens of celebrating his presence, the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion, he is taken away from us in almost the same moment. And so we strip the altars bare.
Tomorrow we will remember his crucifixion, and Sunday we will celebrate his resurrection, when we will be glad that death itself cannot keep Jesus down.
But tonight, we do these three things for a very important reason: we wash feet, we celebrate communion, we strip the altar, to remember what Jesus did and what happened to him tonight so many years ago. But more than that, in doing these things we imitate his own life. We grow in his example. And most of all we learn that Jesus’s authority, the way Jesus is king, is not by force or by order, but by love.
Washing feet is an act of love. Sharing a meal is an act of love. Jesus goes to his death out of love for you and me. And so on this Maundy Thursday, we commit ourselves afresh to love one another as Jesus loves us: not counting the cost, not demanding our due, but loving as though nothing else in the world matters.
Because in truth, nothing else does matter but to love others as Jesus loves you. This Maundy Thursday, may you grow in his image, and find yourself more and more able to love, with his heart giving strength to your own.