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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Day of Preparation - 03/24/2016

It is the day of preparation for the Passover meal.

The Passover meal was and still is a very important and sacred time of year for the Jewish people. Prior to Jesus time, before Solomon's temple was built in Jerusalem, it was celebrated in homes for the most part. But while Jesus was among us, Jerusalem had become the central place where the Passover was observed.

I imagine it was a very stressful time for the people. They arrived in Jerusalem by the thousands. Every family group needed to find an unblemished lamb and a place to eat and observe Passover.

A representative from each and every family would take their lamb to the temple starting at about three in the afternoon. The lamb would be properly slaughtered and the priest would toss the blood at the base of the altar. Before returning to the family, the representative would skin the lamb and leave its fat and kidneys to be placed on the altar and burned. Back at whatever room they were able to find or with extended family they were able to join, the lamb was roasted and other details for the meal were attended to – all of them holding their own significance in the remembering, the re-enacting, the re-participation in God's great act of freeing them from the bonds of slavery in Egypt.

The lamb reminded them of the faith of their ancestors who painted the lintels of their doorways with lamb's blood, sparing them from the last and most terrifying plague God brought down on Egypt – the killing of every first born male … humans and animals, alike.

The bitter herbs reminded them of the bitterness of their slavery under Pharaoh. The unleavened bread helped them re-imagine the haste with which they left Egypt when they were finally released. A nut and fruit paste they prepared recalled the clay their enslaved ancestors used to make bricks.

Cups of wine helped them re-participate in what God said to them through Moses. “Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’“ (Exodus 6:6-8)

It is on this sacred and emotional remembrance of where the people came from that Jesus builds the remarkable scene that unfolds before us once again in our Maundy Thursday worship.

Jesus is well aware that the Passover will go differently this time, that he himself is preparing for something very difficult and very unexpected to others. We hear hints of it throughout the story. “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from their world and go to the Father.” Judas had already set the betrayal in motion as he sat with all of them at the Passover meal that night.

Jesus also begins to guide his followers in preparation for what is coming next  – he is readying all those gathered in that upper room in our story, even the one who betrays him, and all of us gathered here in this room tonight.

It is through that preparation, the preparation for what is about to come on the cross and through the tomb, that this picture of our Servant King emerges so powerfully. First he washes the disciples' feet. This is a shocking and radical act for the disciples to witness and we can imagine that it must have taken some time for them to begin wrapping their minds around what was happening. Jesus alludes to that too when he says to Peter, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

This act isn't radical for Jesus' followers for the same reason it may be a radical for us today, especially as we look, perhaps with a little nervousness and trepidation, to the part of this worship service tonight where I will invite you to participate in the ritual of footwashing. For us it is radical and uncomfortable because we don't necessarily like others to touch our feet. But for the disciples having someone wash your feet was common place. When one joined others for a meal like this it was customary to wash first. But usually it was the servants who would wash the feet of the guests, not the lord of the meal. It's a role reversal we know to expect from Jesus. But we must remember that it would have turned tradition upside down for Jesus' followers.

In this new ritual of footwashing, Jesus fully reveals himself as this loving, humble, servant teacher and rabbi …. a Messiah like no one ever dreamed of before.

From there he passes the torch. “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.” (John 13:14-17)

And then Jesus gives us this “new commandment,” which isn't really new. The Old Testament texts often speak of God's command to love neighbor. The whole second half of the Ten Commandments addresses loving neighbor as God would have us do. Those gathered in that upper room that evening would have been well aware of the commandment from Leviticus too “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18b) So why does Jesus call this a “new commandment?”

The answer to that is in how Jesus qualifies the old commandment. It's not just a matter of loving your neighbor any longer. Love one another, he says as he upholds and then widens the law, “ Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (13:34b)

And there it is. Our commandment is not only to love one another, but to do so as Jesus demonstrated to us. Jesus says that we are to be servants to one another, to touch one another, to share the bread and wine with each other. In doing all of this, he says we show the world a different way of life that often turns things upside down. In doing as Jesus says people will see us and say, “Oh, that one is a follower of Jesus.” Perhaps they will even seek to learn more about this way of being in the world and begin following Jesus themselves.

This is our day of preparation for the Paschal Feast. We have come through our 40 days of Lent. And now we enter into the Holy Three Days, the place we must walk through to get to the Glory of Easter morning. Like the disciples and all the pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover, we begin this three days by remembering, re-enacting, re-participating in God's great act of freeing us from our own slavery to sin. And we prepare for that with several very specific actions tonight.

First, we made time for individual forgiveness of sin. It is an action that completes our time of repentance and renewal during Lent.

Next we follow the example Jesus set for us in the footwashing, as we prepare ourselves bodily for the journey we will walk with Jesus and Christians all over the world through Good Friday, Easter Vigil and then into the revelation of Easter morning.

Then we move to the table, where we gather for the last taste of the bread and wine we will receive until we mark Jesus' victory over death.

And finally we will witness the stripping of the altar. As we empty this place in preparation for his death, it is a symbol of the way Jesus emptied himself on the cross for the world.

It is our day of preparation for the Paschal Feast and in doing so we remember, we re-enact, we re-participate in this new commandment Jesus has given us.

“ 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.” (13:34b-35)


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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