This is a somber night for Christian believers, the family of God, and quite honestly too much for some to bear. I acknowledge that you who are here tonight have found the strength to face the darkness, rather than avoid it. And I am glad that we are together in community as we observe this night. The liturgy and the scripture readings are heavy and dark, actually the heaviest and darkest of all year.
We remember the last day of Jesus’ life on earth, his pain and his suffering, the cruelty and betrayal he experienced, and we identify with the fear and shock of his closest friends and followers. How difficult it must have been for them to witness the agony of Jesus and how difficult it is still for those who love him to accept his pain.
The liturgy, scripture and music are enough to contemplate tonight so I will be brief. I want to focus for a moment on the psalm spoken each year on both Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, psalm 22. In our prayer book psalms are titled in Latin using words from the first verse and those brief words are enough to bring to mind the entire psalm. The 22nd psalm is titled “Deus, Deus, meus”. My God, my God.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Maundy Thursday and, liturgically, it can be approached in one of two ways. It can be observed by washing each other’s feet, as Christ did to his disciples, which is the way that we follow the “new commandment” that He gives us to love one another. “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me,” Jesus says. In this sense, Maundy Thursday takes on the shape of preparation. Jesus is demonstrating, one last time, the form of life which his disciples should assume from here on out because he is with them only a little while longer. Maundy Thursday thus becomes forward-looking, and though the disciples do not yet know what exactly awaits them and their Lord (though they’ve received dozens of hints by now), they have received the example of what they should do, of how they should live, beyond the cross, beyond the resurrection.
The other theme of observance for Maundy Thursday is that of the institution of the Eucharist. And in this sense, The Triduum, the three-day succession of liturgies which solemnize the Passion of our Lord, begins with an ending. We don’t get to look ahead. We have not even reached the cross and the tomb yet, nor do we concern ourselves with what is beyond them. This theme of Maundy Thursday demands that we pause, hold ourselves in the moment, and contemplate the fact that the Eucharist -- the very center of our lives together and the means by which we partake of God -- was instituted on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. How can this be? How can the means of our participation in Christ be inseparable from Judas’ betrayal? From our betrayal?
Assist us mercifully with thy help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby thou hast given us life and immortality, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
"That we may enter with joy." Today is our entrance into the center of Christianity, and I want to suggest that this entrance has three aspects. There’s a threefold entry happening here, which means that there is a threefold entry available to you right now, if you make room for it.
Jesus’ entry, the church’s entry, and your entry, into death in order to be brought to new life. Three entries, beginning right now.
There’s a definite moment in many stories when the sense of inevitability sets in.
That moment when the plot commits itself to a certain trajectory and you just know
it when you see it, even if you don’t know where the story is ultimately headed.
The window of possibility narrows down and the story orients itself in a particular
It’s like in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo finally reaches Rivendell bearing the
One Ring, believing that his part to play has been fulfilled. His mind drifts back to
his home in the Shire. And from what you know at that point, you’d be forgiven
for believing that too. But then you do a quick flip check and realize that you still
have about 700 or so pages to go. There must be more to this story. Among the
elves at Rivendell, in perceived safety, Frodo and his companions discover another
dark layer of meaning about this unassuming ring which will alter their courses
dramatically. Frodo begins to see the ring working its discord already amongst the
fellowship before it has even been officially formed -- the ring corrupts even the
question of what to do with it -- and he puts himself forward as the one to resume
the journey, carrying the Ring all the way to Mordor to cast it back into the flames
from which it came.
Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your people, kindle in us the fire of your love, send forth your breath and we shall be made whole, and you shall renew the face the of the earth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning. I am so glad to have the opportunity to be here with you today. When we told our kids that we were coming, our youngest asked “why?” My wife, Katie, told him that you had invited me to preach as part of your anniversary celebration. He said, “Really? We’re going to Illinois just so dad can talk? He does that every week!?!” Then he changed gears and asked me if there was a priest of the year award?
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Bradley Pace. I am the rector of St. John’s in Lafayette, Indiana. Katie and I attended Emmanuel when we were grad students here in the early 2000s. It is always a great joy to return. I cannot express to you how much this church community means to Katie and me. We think of you often and reminisce about our time here. I am glad to see that you are in such good hands with Mother Beth and the rest of the talented and caring leadership at Emmanuel.
There are so many ways that we can talk about the meaning of Jesus’s death, so many ways to talk about the meaning of the cross. The early Church never settled on one way of thinking or talking about Jesus’ death. Even the catholic Churches—the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Churches—have never settled on a single understanding. Of course the danger of trying to determine a single way of understanding the cross and Jesus’ death—the danger of coming up with a single theory of what the cross means—is that we will almost certainly miss something incredibly important. Perhaps here the Creed says more or less all that needs to be said—he died “for us and our salvation.” But of course we go on to say more. We say that Jesus’ death on the cross forgives sin, that it defeats the evil powers that rebel against God, that it destroys death. We say, as Rowan Williams describes it, that it is “a ransom, paid to our kidnappers; it is a punishment that we deserve, voluntarily borne by another, who is innocent; it is…a triumphant nailing up of a cancelled invoice” as Rowan Williams describes it. We use words like redemption and atonement, liberation and deliverance, all of which could be taken literally or figuratively. In the Bible, we get a series of rich metaphors. The connections to the Passover and to the Exodus story run throughout. Jesus is called the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He alludes to his death on the cross saying that he stands like the green tree that is set ablaze before the great conflagration when the dry branches are consumed. He describes himself as the mother hen who covers her chicks with her wings, giving her own life to protect them. In today’s Gospel, Jesus references an odd story from the book of Numbers. He says, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” In that story, part of the larger Exodus narrative, God is angry at the Israelites and sends poisonous snakes to punish them. When the people cry out, God tells Moses to place a bronze serpent on a pole, so that the people who are bitten might look at it and live.
At times the journey of Lent can seem disheartening. The mood is somber; the music often in a minor key, the purple is everywhere to remind us of our need for repentance. Outside the church we are anxious for spring and sunshine and signs of new life. Sometimes death is so much in our thoughts during this season, and we so want it to be over!
Yet even in the midst of all of this darkness and sober, seriousness we have the Eucharist to remind us that God is with us in, and loves us through all seasons and all times. The comfort to be found in taking the journey that is Lent, is a deep and lasting comfort, entering our souls in the very middle of the pain and disquiet. During Lent we practice skills and habits that we can draw on to aid us when we are in crisis at any time in our lives.
As we reflect on the love God has for us and how he calls us to love him in return, we often look to scripture for help. Today’s lessons in particular have caused me to think about how we view God; what are God’s attributes; who is He?
How might you and I describe God?