Maundy Thursday Sermon
Scripture: John 13:1-7, 31-35
Someone blogging about Holy Week wrote this… “Holy Week is not about pursuing happiness… Holy Week is about surviving with a broken heart, and cherishing that brokenness, so that your life is transformed by it.” And here we are on Maundy Thursday- called Maundy for the Latin word mandatum- meaning commandment. We remember the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples- and the new commandment that he gave them- to love one another. And we realize that this commandment is for us here today as well. We, who come with our wounds and brokenness and suffering, and hope to be transformed… But as we are transformed we never truly let go of those wounds- but instead they become the scars that make us who we are. Jesus’ disciples experienced this in his death.
There’s a beautiful hymn that speaks to cherishing that brokenness, “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts, living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ.”
In Holy Week we acknowledge the suffering that Jesus endured and the painful grief of his disciples. As we think about this last supper where Jesus washed his disciples feet and gave them a new commandment we realize that he is about to die. This intimate meal and time that he shares with his disciples is shadowed by Jesus’ impending death. And Jesus understands this. And maybe the disciples do too- even if only subconsciously. They pay special attention to his teaching. They wonder about some of the strange things that Jesus says. They sensed the holiness of the moment as they spent this special time with Jesus. And for the rest of their lives- they will remember it as significant. In fact it will take on even more meaning after Jesus dies. It will be a source of inspiration for them as they begin their ministry.
In my life I experienced a Holy Last Supper of sorts. It was for my nephew Drew. He was just 11 months old when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was a rare and aggressive form of cancer. And despite months of surgeries, chemo, and procedures- the cancer spread throughout his body. After my brother and sister-in-law decided to stop treatment- the children’s hospital connected them with a group that granted wishes to cancer patients and their families- similar to the Make a Wish Foundation- which does this for older children. At first Ben and Annie hoped to take Drew on a trip- some place warm. His favorite activity was going for walks and they hoped it would bring him some comfort- but the doctors said he wasn’t able to travel. So instead they decided to host a dinner in Drew’s honor for their immediate families. So we all gathered together with our special guest of honor. There were pictures taken, and memories shared, and laughter and smiles over Drew. We feasted on a delicious meal and clinked our glasses. It was a very special and intimate time that we shared together. Drew was still with us, so we feasted and celebrated his beautiful spirit. Still the shadow of his illness was present. When the evening ended the bitterness settled in and the goodbyes were heart wrenching. It was the last time I saw little Drew. And I will always hold that evening in my heart. It reminds me of what a precious gift each day is- and how blessed my family was to have Drew in our lives, even for a short time.
Looking back I wonder if the disciples felt similar. Jesus was with them in his ministry for a short time- only three years. And yet he forever changed their lives and the course of history. And in that last night together Jesus gave them a new commandment that really embodied the whole of his ministry and the time they had spent together- love. Before he shares this commandment with them he gives an illustration. As any great teacher knows, the best way to teach others is to model the lesson yourself. And Jesus, God in flesh, stoops low to wash the feet of the disciples. Their tired, achy, dirty feet… He becomes the slave- to show how much he truly loves them. And he shows them how to love each other. This is how you are to love others, by kneeling before them in service. Jesus allows the disciples to feel with their hands and feet this message of love. They are able to taste and see God’s goodness in the meal they share together.
In Jesus’ last hours with his disciples- he shares this message of love. It’s quite remarkable really. Jesus does go into a rather lengthy good-bye speech. But it’s interesting to note what he does NOT do. Jesus doesn’t give them a list of instructions. He doesn’t create a hierarchy of leadership- or name one person as his successor. He doesn’t give them rules about how to live together or how they will go forward in their mission. He tells them to love one another just as he loved them.
It doesn’t seem very practical- really. I know moms who leave the house the house for an evening with longer instruction lists than what Jesus gives to his disciples. And yet even with all of its impracticality- it makes an impression on the disciples. They will always remember this evening with Jesus- and understand how truly precious it was. It becomes their calling and their identity. “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.”
And this command of love is our call too- it is our identity as Christians. When we lose a loved one or experience a time of suffering in our lives- it never leaves us. It becomes woven into the fabric of who we are. And as Christians, the disciples’ memory of the Last Supper and the New Commandment become our memories too. They become our suffering, and our passion, our brokenness. And during Holy Week, we hold that suffering of Jesus deep in our hearts. It becomes a living testament of God’s love for us. It transforms us, into people who love deeply. In Christ we survive with our broken hearts. We cherish them because it means that we have truly loved others. And we are transformed by the love of God that we know through the cross. Amen.