This sermon was preached extemporaneously, therefore, it is in video only - there is no text available. Blessed Triduum to you all.
I'm cruising on the river of life, happy to trust the flow, enjoying the ride as I live into a new season of life and ministry as the Priest in Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, MO. I am also co-founder of the Partnership for Renewal, a church vitality nonprofit. You are most welcome to visit my blog anytime and enjoy the ride with me. Peace.
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Friday, April 2, 2021
Maundy Thursday, 2021: Mandate for servanthood
Lectionary: Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
En el nombre de Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.
It is often said that Episcopalians take the Bible too seriously to take it literally. Maundy Thursday is one of those nights it is important to go deeply into the Scripture and find the eternal truth and redemptive love within it.
Thankfully, our forebears in the faith, the Jewish people, created a ritual designed to do just that: the Passover seder meal, the origin of the Agape supper we share when we can gather in person. The seder meal traces the story of the deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage to redemption but isn’t just a story of what happened once. It’s also a story of what happens now, eternally, because of who God is and how the world is – until that final day when all people and all creation are fully and completely reconciled to God.
A great deal of focus during the seder meal is on the children who are asked this question: “What makes this night different from all other nights?” The question is meant to encourage the children to ask questions and spark their curiosity. This is how Jewish children are taught about their faith and their identity as children of God.
Held in the Spring, the seder meal signals rebirth and renewal - symbolized by the dipping of greens, usually parsley, into water that is salted to symbolize the tears of the people enslaved by the powers of the world. The story unfolds in four parts marked by four cups of wine consumed during the meal. Each of the cups represents how God has acted to save and is taken from the book of Exodus (6:6-7). These four acts are: “I will bring out, “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.”
It matters that we know this because each Sunday, when we bless and share our holy food of communion, we are lifting up the third of those four cups, just as Jesus did with his disciples at his last seder supper. The third cup is the cup Jesus claimed himself to be. To understand that, we need to know the meaning and cultural context of the four cups.
The first cup is the cup of SANCTIFICATION. God says: “I will bring you out.” To sanctify is to set someone or something apart as holy. This is where the people of God learn that they are “chosen” by God. God will bring them out from their slavery so that they can serve God, not a human master.
The second cup is the cup of DELIVERANCE. God says: “I will deliver.” Only God can save. We cannot save ourselves. The temptation most of us face is spending time and energy trying to do the right thing or to live the right way, in order to earn salvation. But that isn’t possible, because, as we know, redemption is a gift from God. We can’t and don’t earn it.
The third cup is the cup of REDEMPTION. God says, “I will redeem.” In the Jewish tradition the word redemption also means “avenger of blood” and it is, by definition, a family member. This family member acts to set their kin free from slavery, paying a ransom, or great price for that freedom. The traditional image is of a father sacrificing his firstborn son for the freedom of his entire family.
At dinner with his friends, Jesus claims himself to be this third cup. It is his blood, that is, his life that will be given for the redemption of all by the forgiveness of sin. Because he is the second person of the Trinity, fully God and fully human, Jesus is the Father who pays the price, the Son who is the price, and the family for whom that price is paid.
As Christians, we are partners with Christ in his continuing work of redemption. And Jesus made clear to us how to do our part, saying, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
The Messiah of God humbly served his community by getting on his knees before them and washing their feet. I hope we all take this very seriously and hear the symbolic language of this Bible story of servant ministry. Jesus is mandating that we do now do as he did then: get on our knees (a posture of servitude), wrap a towel around our waist (the symbol of a servant) and humbly do the “dirty work” of tenderly caring for the most unappealing realities of the human condition, bringing refreshment and dignity to the lowest of the low.
To make this crystal clear, Jesus put this new approach into the form of a commandment – a mandate (which is the root of the word ‘Maundy”): “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."
As the church, the body of Christ, we are in a position to lead the way to transformed understanding of leadership in the pattern and practice of Jesus, and the pandemic has opened wide a window of opportunity for us to do that. God give us the will to put into action what we believe in our faith.
I close with a prayer I wrote for Servant Leadership. Some of us have been praying this all year in the Compline for Servant Leadership my partner, Martin, and I developed:
Fill us, most merciful God, with the power of your Holy Spirit, and free us from any bonds that continue to restrict our freedom to fully love you, one another, and ourselves. Enter our dreams each night and show us your will for us as your church’s servant leaders in this time and place. Loosen our tongues to speak your truth. Strengthen our hearts to birth your love into reality no matter the cost; and make each of us to shine with the celestial light that is the mark of your saints in heaven and on earth; for the love of your Son, our savior, Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
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