Thursday, April 6, 2023

Maundy Thursday, 2023: Putting our lives where our beliefs are

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 del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

Do this in remembrance of me.

Did Jesus actually say those words which we repeat every Sunday in our Holy Eucharist? Maybe. Paul thinks he did. Whether he said them or not, Jesus’ own tradition was big on remembering, therefore, so is ours.

It’s important for us to remember that ours is a Judeo-Christian tradition, one in which the grand love-story of God and God’s people begins with the Jewish people. That love narrative continues in them as Jews, and, thanks to Jesus, it continues in us too as Christians.

The revelation that we are God’s people and that our salvation is from God, came to us through the Jews and was always meant to reach all nations and all peoples, as Isaiah and other prophets proclaimed. This revelation was never meant to obliterate one group in favor of another. Just as parents can love more than one child, God loves all of the branches on God’s family tree.

Priest and theologian, Verna Dozier once said, “The ancient Israelites were a people of cultic memory, and in song and story and liturgy they kept that memory fresh. It was their memory of special events that had shaped them… The memory included the interpretation of these events that… had a special place in God’s plan. ... [they] began with the big picture — faith in a God who acted on their behalf.”

These forebears of our faith created a ritual designed to help the generations that follow remember God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. Held in the Spring, the celebration of Passover signals rebirth and renewal. The seder meal, (seder meaning order) which begins the Passover celebration, unfolds in four parts marked by four cups of wine consumed during the meal which includes ritual actions like hand-washings, prayers, and hymns of praise. It’s very beautiful.

The first part of the seder meal is the telling of the story (called the Haggadah), and it focuses on the children who are asked four questions, beginning with “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.

The second part is drinking the four cups of wine. 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” and they occur at specified moments in the meal.

The third part is eating symbolic food. Roasted lamb symbolizing sacrifice, Matza referred to as poor persons bread together with parsley or other bitter greens that symbolize the bitterness of being enslaved. The greens are dipped into water that is salted, symbolizing the tears of the people enslaved by the powers of the world. There are many more and they are fascinating, so I encourage you to go to our website and read the teaching about this posted on our Christian Education page. There are also links to Jewish sites there. Passover is, after all, their holiday.

The fourth part is about hope - trusting the freedom given to them by God and looking forward to the future God has planned for them. The Jewish people acknowledge that though we live in an imperfect world, the day will come when spiritual perfection is achieved. They repeat a familiar refrain for this hope: “Next year in Jerusalem.” 

It matters that we know this and that we, who are not Jewish, don’t appropriate this holiday. It’s enough for us to know how we are connected to it – and we are connected in a very significant way.

Remember that I mentioned the four cups. Let’s look carefully at them. 

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. The people of God 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, salvation 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. Sound familiar?

At dinner with his friends, Jesus claims himself to be this third cup. It is his blood, 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... hope for the future. The Jews understood this to be the cup of Elijah, for whom an empty seat is kept at the seder table. The filling of that seat would signal the coming of the Messiah. Jewish theologian, Tim Hegg says that, for the Jews, “redemption guarantees the final destination, but the journey is still necessary.”

The same is true for us as Christians. The Messiah has come so our final destination - reconciliation of the whole world to God in Christ - is guaranteed. This is not about where we go when we die but about how we live in the world. The journey is still necessary, and we participate in this journey by doing our part in the continuing reconciling work of Jesus until the whole world is reconciled to God.

That brings us back to the mandate: to love and serve one another as Jesus loved and served us – with a towel around our waist, in humble service to all. “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

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."

Maundy Thursday reminds us to put our lives where our beliefs are and make manifest our commitment to be followers of Jesus Christ. As the church in the world today, it is our duty to live as servant leaders in the pattern and practice of Jesus. God grant us the will to put into action what we believe in our faith.

I close with a prayer I wrote about servant leadership. Let us pray...

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. 

Links to Jewish sites for their teaching on seder meals: 

No comments: