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
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Maundy Thursday, 2022- C: The third cup
En el nombre de Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.
On this holy night, we remember the ritual, the Passover seder meal, that our forebears in the faith, the Jewish people, created. This ritual meal, which bears witness to the story of the deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage to redemption, isn't just a story of what happened once. It's also a story of what is happening now, eternally, because of who God is and how the world is - until that final time when all people and all creation are fully and completely reconciled to God.
A good deal of the focus at a Jewish seder supper is on the children who are asked: "What makes this night different from all other nights?" The question is meant to spark the children’s curiosity and encourage them to ask questions. This, combined with participation in ritual, is how Jewish children are taught about their faith and their identity as children of God.
Held in the Spring, the seder supper signals rebirth and renewal, and 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."
This matters to us because each Sunday when we share Holy Communion, we are lifting up the third of the four cups, which Jesus claimed himself to be at his last Passover. To understand this let’s look at the meaning and 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." We cannot save ourselves or anyone else. Only God can save. Freedom from whatever or whoever holds us bound on earth is always a gift from God.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 our salvation. But that is impossible. Redemption is a gift from God. We can't and don't have to earn it.
The third cup is the cup of REDEMPTION. God says, "I will redeem." It is this cup that Jesus takes, blesses, and gives to his friends saying, "This cup is the New Covenant in my blood…" as often as you drink it, do this to remember me.
That is familiar to us. What may not be is the cultural context of it. 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. Sound familiar?
At dinner with his friends, Jesus claims himself to be the 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 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.
The fourth cup is the cup of HOPE. God says, "I will take." The Jewish people understood this to be the cup of Elijah, for whom an empty seat is kept at the seder table. When Elijah returns and takes his place in that seat, it will signal the coming of the Messiah, the complete fulfillment of God's promises to them.
While our narrative as Christians begins in the story of our Jewish forbears, for us the fourth cup, our hope, has been fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ. Therefore, we journey now in the already-but-not-yet time: the new age inaugurated by Jesus which is fulfilled at his Second Coming – a concept we will delve into more deeply at another time.
Washing feet is and always has been a difficult and humbling experience on both sides of the basin as Peter so aptly illustrates for us. But Jesus’ warning to Peter, and therefore to us, is clear: you must humble yourself and receive this gift I give, or you will not be able to give it to others in my name.
I hope we all take this very seriously. Jesus is mandating that we do now as he did then: humble ourselves, which is what the posture of kneeling represents, wrap the symbol of a servant around our waist, and do the "dirty work" of tenderly caring for the most unappealing realities of the human condition (which for some people includes feet!), bringing refreshment, dignity, and tender loving care to the lowest of the low.
One of the besetting sins of modern Christian culture is that many of us will tenderly and even sacrificially give to those in need, but we have a lot of trouble receiving the same from someone else. There’s a little Peter in all of us. As Jesus said, “servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
It's our turn now to do them. I, therefore, invite you to come forward and have your foot washed, and further still, to stay and wash the foot of the person after you in line – whoever that is. By this humble action God is glorified and we witness the truth that we love one another in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.