Come home to Calvary
I think I can safely say that most of us took sharing a meal with others for granted before this year-long pandemic. This basic ritual of relationship – of breaking bread and sharing food and drink with one another – was disrupted in ways I never imagined possible.
That first Passover meal in Egypt was unlike any other, eaten while ready to run, eaten in a hurry, eager to leave as soon as possible. But they were together, in community, with their families, knowing that they would be spared from death and liberated from slavery. Something about that hope, something about being together, makes it possible to endure even the hardest of times.
And that’s just it these days, we can’t be together. We’ve had all kinds of strange meals: quick meals on-the-go, meals following a memorial service filled with grief and remembering, meals that didn’t taste so good or had an unexpected hair or surprise in it. But the ability to eat with others always seemed like it would be within our reach if we so desired.
Sometimes I wonder, what is the church if not a place that feeds one another and feeds the world. If we cannot break bread together, can we still be the church?
The answer, of course, is yes, we can. In this past year, we’ve learned that the church is so much more than we could have imagined. Because while we cannot be physically together, we are united, bound together – across the distance, beyond borders, transcending church affiliations and membership, brought together by the one who loves us and served us with his very life, Jesus the Christ.
And while we are not physically together, we can and do still feed one another,
through the Interfaith Food Pantry, through grocery deliveries, through meal drop offs, and yes, even through virtual communion.
Communion is many things, one of which is a remembrance of that Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples.
I think about Jesus, sitting at that table, eating his last meal, accompanied by people who had promised to follow him, who were supposed to be his friends.
And he knows, that these very people, these very disciples whom he has chosen, whom he has shared his life with, would soon go on and fail to pray with him, betray him, deny him, forsake him at his hour of greatest need, and then go into hiding. Every last one of them, except maybe some of the women, would leave him in the end.
I think about Jesus, sitting at that table, eating his last meal, sitting with the betrayer, the denier, the sleepers who can’t keep watch and pray, and all those deserters, and I wonder, what would I want to say to them?
What would be my last words to this sorry band of followers?
Maybe something about loyalty? Or courage?
Maybe something that would really eat at their conscience as they looked back on these last hours and remembered our time together.
I don’t know what I’d say to these supposed friends and disciples, but I doubt that the last thing on my mind would be love, and particularly my love for them,
a love so profound and deep, no less, that it overflows into action, into humility and service, into intimate touch that washes the feet of these great disappointments.
I think about Jesus, sitting at that table, surrounded by those he should have been able to trust, should have been able to count on and lean on, and I know that if it were me, I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t do what he does. I couldn’t give of myself that way. I couldn’t stare into the eyes of the one who will betray me, into the eyes of those who will desert me, and love them any way, and not only love them, but kneel before them and serve them by washing their feet.
I’d like to believe that I would, but if I’m honest with myself, I know that I couldn’t do it.
I confess that I have a hard time loving well even those who are good to me, those who have supported me and loved me in return, I have trouble loving even them well. I’m selfish and calculating, I’m guarded and afraid of getting hurt.
It’s hard for me to love fully and with abandon, the closest I’ve come is with my kids, and still I prefer to be careful and cautious.
And maybe some of you can relate to that.
Love, even shared with those whom we know well and trust, can be risky, asking of us too much intimacy, too much honesty and too much vulnerability.
Mother Theresa once said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
The reality is, though, that most of us don’t love until it hurts, in fact the moment we sense anything uncomfortable or frightening, the moment we’re confronted with even the perception of pain, we run the other way; we don’t dig deeper; we don’t love harder; we leave.
And we come from a long line of leavers, a long history of those who’ve walked away:
we are all Adam & Eve, walking away from the gates of the garden;
we are all Jonah, running from Ninevah and God’s call;
we are all the prodigal child running away with our inheritance,
and we are all Judas running from the Passover meal, feet, recently washed by the one we will betray.
Jesus says, “’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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.”
A new commandment, mandatum novum, is where we get the phrase Maundy Thursday.
As the charge goes:
Go forth into the world with compassion and justice in your heart
Give strength to the weak;
Give voice to the silenced;
See one another; Hear one another’ Care for one another,
And love one another
It is all that easy. And it is all that hard.
This week, we witness the story of God’s love for us unfold yet again, and we take our place in that story.
We often talk about ourselves as the Body of Christ, and indeed we are the hands and feet of Jesus now.
But during Holy Week we take our place, not as Jesus, but as the ones whom Jesus loved and forgave.
Despite our shortcomings, despite our betrayal, despite our denial, we are the ones whom Jesus loved. It is to leavers and deserters like us, to betrayers like us,
to sinners like us, it is to us that Jesus speaks these words, not of anger; not of reproof; not of blame, but of love. Of deep, abiding, ceaseless love…
And though we fail again and again and to love as we are loved, though we fall short again and again, God’s mercies never end. And God’s love never ends.
It is because of that radical love and grace shown first to us, that we can rise again from the ashes of our own failures and shortcomings to choose once again to follow Christ.
Even those fickle and frightened disciples who sat with Jesus around that table, they, too, were transformed by this love, and all but one of them would continue,
picking up the broken pieces of their faithless lives to try again.
And it is my belief that even that one disciple, that even Judas who could not,
in the end, forgive himself, It is my belief that he, too, was loved and fully forgiven by God. Our reality is that sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to receive and accept that kind of love and grace.
And so, tonight, we are invited by Jesus to take off our shoes and bare ourselves to Christ, to be fed and filled by the Bread of Life, to allow God to shine light into the shadowy places of our hearts that we pretend do not exist.
And we are invited into a love so deep and intimate, so consuming and constant,
that what matters is not how we’ve failed in the past or how we will fail in the future, but that God loves us so much, right now, that God prostrates before us to wash our feet.
Will we let Jesus wash our feet, or will we, like Peter respond, “You will never wash my feet,” scandalized by such an uprooting of societal norms and breech of polite rules.
Will we allow Jesus into our lives to wash our feet?
Can we lay ourselves bare before him, vulnerable and broken?
And will we let him love us, not with the love that we deserve, but with the love that can only come from the Creator of the universe who has searched us and known us as her own?
Because then, and only then, will we be equipped to do our small part in God’s continued work in this world.
And so, let us prepare our hearts for the feast of love that Christ first shared with his disciples in that Upper Room.
And in the breaking of bread and sharing of cup, let us receive that love, and in so doing, go into the world to share it with others.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Exodus 12:1-4; 11-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 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.
John 6: 32-35
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, 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.
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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.”