Sermon Maundy Thursday
March 20, 2008
Grace Episcopal Church
The Rev. Debra Warwick-Sabino
Tonight’s service begins the ancient and holy tradition called the Triduum. The services are seen as a continuation - beginning tonight and ending late Saturday night at the Easter Vigil Service. The word Triduum “Three Days” . Tonight's service is Maundy Thursday - it’s the night we reflect on Christ’s new commandment to love one another. The name “Maundy” is derived from the Latin “mandatum” or commandment. This is Jesus last night with his disciples and as they sit at that table we now call the Last Supper, Jesus tells them “I give you a new commandment, just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This is also the night we celebrate the beginning of the sacrament of the Eucharist as we remember Jesus’ Last supper with his disciples.
All of the readings tonight are about meals, which got me thinking about how we gather to share meals ...
Family meals, where all are seated around the same table, seem to be a rare event in so many families due to the work and after-school activities. So many families consider themselves lucky to have weekend meals together and, at that, maybe only one. During the week fast food restaurants are often the places for a quick supper with the kids.
Think about what you bring with you when you come to the table- all those experiences you’ve had during the day- workday satisfactions and frustrations; school and playground achievements and failures; love and tensions between spouses and siblings; fatigue and high energies. Add to that being in a hurry so we can clean up, do homework, sports, play rehearsal, or housework and then to bed for not-enough sleep.
I remember another time that seems too long time ago - when as a child I’d spend summers at at my grandparents house. We ate together every night and it was at those meals that I heard the stories of the family, past and present. The pet bear my grandfather had and would take on a walk on a leash around the neighborhood in a Detroit suburb, the plane that he saved for and built and that my Uncle Stan crashed it ( I even learned some new words I brought home to share that summer!) - they never spoke again. At that table we became family, for we heard the same stories and ate the same food passed down from the "old country" - ok, England.
Even in a fast-food world, there are still have occasions for special meals. Easter, just a couple days away, may be such an occasion; birthdays, anniversaries
At some of these meals there are connections with today's scriptural meals. These special meals become occasions to set a table, light candles, have favorite foods and reconnect with others by the sharing of stories, past and present. Again the next generation hears the family stories, eats the family’s unique foods and so becomes more embedded and aware—"this is my family".
These celebrational meals help us appreciate today’s scriptural ones. The Exodus reading tells of the Passover meal. In some ways the first Passover meal had a lot in common with modern meals. It was an eat-and-run meal. Those eating are dressed and packed for travel. They must have brought different and deep emotions to the meal. They were worn out by their Egyptian slavery, yet they couldn’t acquire their own freedom by themselves. They must have been apprehensive; would God really be able to get them out? And once away from their slave masters, would they survive the long trek across the dessert? Suppose they perished in the desert or were caught by their pursuers? If they were caught, what punishment would they receive? Some at the meal would have had second thoughts about this venture and may have argued to stay put and live with "the devil we know." There would have also been those who were filled with excitement —God was coming to help them--- finally freedom! But this was not a once-only meal; the Jews are instructed to celebrate again;
The scripture ends with: This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Future generation s would eat this meal of lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The family story would be repeated. They would tell of past deliverance; but speak in the present tense, "Why is this night different from all others?" is one of the four questions that is asked by the youngest member of the family when Jews gather to recall the Passover meal -- I remember it well since my best friend was Jewish and we shared all our celebrations with each other. I was younger and since I was family I had to learn the four questions in Hebrew - and although it has been many, many years since I have asked those questions as the youngest member of a family I still know them -
Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?
What new slaveries, addictions, fears and dreams of liberation would succeeding generations bring to this table? If God could free their ancestors, trapped in a far-off slavery, then God could do it again and lead a new generation, step by step to freedom.
Paul reminds us of the new table story and meal being handed on to us. The story and meal are both past and present. We remember the life and death of the One who also provides this meal for us. What do we bring to this meal tonight?What modern slaveries tie us up or keep us imprisoned? What is our personal "Egypt," our place of captivity? We remember and are given courage; what God once did for us, God is doing again: helping us pass over from death to life; from despair to hope; from the darkness of our own making, to the new light that only God can provide.
When we gather for our "family" meal and tell the story of our new Passover in Jesus, John reminds us to make sure we tell the full story. In his account of the meal, with its Passover overtones, we hear who we are---- the story that links us to Jesus, it includes the washing of his disciples’ feet. The washing is a centerpiece of John’s narrative. There are Christian communities that use the towel, basin and pitcher of water as their symbols. Some churches have mosaics or paintings of these three items alone. No need to paint Jesus or his disciples into the scene, the symbols speak for themselves.
At formal meals the lowest slave would have been given the job of washing feet. Instead, Jesus takes the role of slave and washes his disciples’ feet. Just when the disciples were getting comfortable at a special meal, Jesus does something that really throws them off balance! Any strivings or ambitions to move up the discipleship ladder they might have had have just been turned on their ear. The "successful disciple," Jesus tells them, is one ready to take up pitcher, basin and towel to wash and dry feet. A person could lose one’s dignity washing feet! Exactly and they might gain another form of dignity, they might become knows as companions of Jesus.
In a moment you will all be invited here to have your feet washed by- when it is time please come forward in two lines, take off just one sock and shoe, and sit down in one of the chairs while we do the foot-washing. Let the story of the meal, the story of serving others, and the sharing of Christ’s body be part of your story. This is our family history.
Resources: Jude Siciliano, OP, Preacher’s Exchange web site
I read a poem called A Place Setting at the Lord’s Table by Gunilla Norris
As I lay the fork near the plate,
let me remember this is Your table, not mine.
As I set the water glasses down
and fold the napkins, let me be reminded
that every setting at this table
is Yours, not mine.
Each one who will partake of this meal
is a particular someone You love, a someone
You have made and whom You sustain.
In You nothing and no one is forgotten.
How vast and providential is the memory
with which You keep us all.
It is only we who forget You
and then one another.
It is we who starve each other
and exclude each other.
Give me new eyes.
When the glass is raised by my friend
let me see You drinking.
When the fork is lifted by my child,
let me recognize You eating.
You are the hidden joy which feeds
and keeps everything. You are the table,
the guest, the meal, and the commemoration.
Make in my person a place setting for You.
Remind me of my true nature
which is recalled only in You.