The Table is Set – Maundy Thursday 2019

Psalm 22

            My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

            Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

            But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

            Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

            Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

            For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

            But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

            I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

            From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

            For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

            For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

            In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

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. When [Judas] had gone out, 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.”

Sermon Text

            Christ at the table, Christ offering himself for us. This is the central image of our faith. It was at the table that Christ gave us the words of institution, “This is my body… This is my blood…” It is at the table that Christ gave a final declaration that he was to be delivered up and die, a final offering to his disciples so that they could understand what it would mean if they followed him to Calvary.

            We know, of course, that all those mentioned as guests at this meal did not follow Christ to the cross. Not during this week at least. Peter would deny him, the rest scattered, and only the beloved Disciple would find a place at the cross alongside Mary. The disciples were told that Christ would be offered up and die, and yet they still fled as if the death sentence was a surprise to them.

            We often perceive God through other people. The way that we are treated by those within the faith can impact our perception of God in ways that are not always clear. If we are members of churches that challenge us, affirm our humanity, and work with us to inaugurate an equitable and holy kingdom – then we see God as just as worthy. If, however, we are in churches that condemn us, reject our humanity, and create a selective and legalistic Pandemonium the God becomes a tyrant with an agenda.

            God is God separate from our actions of course. There is the truth of God which breaks through separate from the church, but the reality is that God most often uses the church as a means of revealing Godself. In this moment when Christ was inaugurating the Church, the Church immediately showed reflected a new image of God to Christ – that of an absent divinity, far away and unseen.

            When Christ would later cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was not merely that Christ in dying felt distant from God the Father, but that Christ was separated from the visible presence of God that his disciples could have provided him. When we suffer, it is those around us, those offering us aid, that become the face of Christ. In much the same way, those who suffer become the face of Christ for those of us who serve them. It is in community that we truly begin to see God.

            Yet, at this dinner Christ looked out at the people he knew would abandon him – at the one he knew would betray him – and was still willing to offer himself for them, for us. He knew that in the moments that mattered, they would leave him feeling alone and hopeless. He knew that these people who would go on to establish his church were limited, were weak, and were afraid of what was to come. Yet the table was still set, the invitation was still made, and the disciples were still called to serve the risen Christ when the time came.

            What we can learn at this table setting is not just the humility which Christ showed in washing his disciples’ feet, but also the love that was shown to have them at the table at all. As Paul would later say, “It is rare someone would die for a righteous man… But God proves his love for us in this: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.” The disciples were brought into the fold as they were, and even after three years walking with Christ they were clearly far from perfect. The long road they had walked taught them many things, but it did not teach them what Jesus was truly doing in his ministry.

            Where the disciples failed was in their inability to love one another as they ought. To see beyond the veil of flesh and see what was really necessary in helping those around them. Jesus asked them to stay awake with him in the garden, they fell asleep. Peter was asked if he knew Jesus, and he threw away their relationship to protect himself. Later on, Peter would fight with Paul over the inclusion of Gentiles in meals, again being so caught up in the ways of the world he forgot his call to love those around him.

            Peter is an easy target for this discussion, because Peter encapsulates the paradox of the Christian life so well. He is Jesus’ right hand man, he is the rock on which he will build the church, but he is also the first to renounce the faith and the epitome of rocky ground where seeds cannot grow. Peter is you; Peter is me; Peter is all of us. We struggle to reconcile what is with what has not yet come. We ask Jesus to wash us all over, to be made whole and to receive the fullness of God’s grace.

            The table was set that night, as a preparation for the sacrifice that was to come. When God’s grace would be poured out on the ground with the blood of Christ. Now in those moments we receive bread and cup, the dinner and the sacrifice become one. We join the eternal company of sinners who are being redeemed by grace, and we – like Peter, like James, like all those at the dinner, are asked not to call upon our own failings, but to remember the table, remember the washing away of our sins, remember the God who loves us. The God we see in the love of the church, the love between you, and me, and each and every one of us together – the church united. Amen.

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