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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Maundy Thursday 03/29/2018

Last week in Sunday School we were talking a little about Holy Week and how each year it walks us through the story of Jesus' passion and death, sometimes quite literally – like when we read the passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday and take up the roles of Peter and Pilate and even the nameless bystanders who were there. Or when we come forward like we do tonight to have our feet washed.

We talked about how important it is to do this each year so that we remember the story of what happened – we remember so that we keep it central in the lives we have chosen as Christ-following people and we remember so that we can share the story with others.

It's like when you have a little photo album and you look at on occasion to remember the stories. So for instance, I told the kids last Sunday, I like to look at this picture of me and my Grandma Stapleton blowing out candles on a shared birthday cake when I turned 2 years old. It reminds me that I was born smack dab between the birthdates of my two grandmas. It reminds me that I descend from two strong women of deep faith. It reminds me of the ways I am thankful for being formed in part by their life experiences. And it reminds me to let go of some of the things I do not wish to carry with me or emulate in my life. And so now, even though both of my grandmas have joined the communion of saints, whenever a birthday cake is set before me, I can sense both my grandmas leaning in on each side with me helping me blow those candles out, helping me celebrate yet another year of the gift of life.

That's a little like what we do in these darker and more contemplative services of Holy Week that walk us through a those difficult days of anyone's worst nightmare before we emerge into the astounding truth and Good News revealed on Easter morning.

But our Easter story, of course, is a lot bigger – it much more long lasting than my birthday rememberings of my grandmas could ever hope to be. “Think about it,” I said to the kids on Sunday. “How long has it been since this happened to Jesus?” That question only hung in the air for a moment before the light bulb went on over the head of one of the kids. Her eyes got a little bigger as she said “Two thousand eighteen years.”

“Pretty much,” I said. “That's when Jesus was born, but at this point we can round the life of this story to 2,000 years. And that's pretty incredible to think about, isn't it? That's a story with some legs!”

And so that's what we do tonight, this Maundy Thursday 2018. We remember. Maundy comes from the Latin word “mandatum.” You may hear the word “mandate” in it, which is another word for commandment. So we remember the commandments Jesus gave to his followers just before he was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. The mandate to share communion among one another – to do this in remembrance of what Jesus has taught his followers, of the healing he brought into the world, and as those disciples would soon find out, in remembrance of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and came to us in order that God could make a clear path for us to eternal life and freedom from the control of sin.

We remember. As we hear these stories throughout our own Christian pilgrimages, we also learn from Jesus what it is to live like one of these disciples who remembers and inhabits this story.

So... we might find it curious, then, that our Gospel reading isn't about the Last Supper at all. If not for the text from 1 Corinthians, we wouldn't even hear those familiar words we hear each and every week when we celebrate our Easter truth at the Lord's Table.

“... 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.’” (1Corin 11:23b-26)

In the Gospel of John, there is no account of the Last Supper – the event that typically connects the physical body and blood of our Savior with the bread and wine we share at communion. That's because John handles this connection differently. In John the connection is made throughout the story of Jesus' ministry.

“I am the bread of life,” (John 6:35) Jesus says on several occasions in John.

“I am the true vine,” (John 15:1) he also says.

So why pick the one Gospel without a Last Supper account to hear on the one day we set aside each year to remember this mandate – this commandment?

I think perhaps it's because through the story from John we go deeper into what Jesus wants to teach us not only about sharing communion in our Christian communities, but also what that looks like among God's people.

And that all points to the second commandment from Jesus in this story – it is John's version of the Jesus Creed we've been talking about all this Lenten season ...

The footwashing comes just after Jesus and his disciples share a meal together and let's just think for a moment about who is at that gathering … who Jesus is ministering to in this act of humble service to his followers.

The first may be obvious. Jesus knows there's a traitor in the room – Judas.  “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 ...” (John 13:1b-4)

Jesus broke bread with Judas and knelt before him to wash his dirty feet knowing what he was up to … this one who would hand betray Jesus and hand him over to the Roman soldiers … this one who was still counted among those Jesus loved to the end … this one who was still welcome at the table and still served in the footwashing.

And perhaps a little less obvious is Peter – the steadfast companion and student of Jesus. This one who threw his net down and left everything that is familiar  behind in order to follow; this one who would be recognized by later Jesus-followers as one of the founders of the Christian church … this one who, like most of the other disciples, will abandon Jesus in his most terrifying earthly hour and even deny having ever known him … this one who was still counted among those Jesus loved to the end … this one who was still welcome at the table and still served in the footwashing.

So on this Maundy Thursday, as further teaching about the commandment to partake in the Lord's Supper, the Gospel of John serves to show us disciples who is to be included at the table and who is to be humbly served in our Christian ministry – and it is everyone … everyone we happily and easily invite around this table AND it is the one who would betray us, the one who would abandon and deny and sin against us.

You can see that this commandment goes deep and wide in God-style, not human style,  and I think it's telling that this is one of the ideas that Jesus really tries to hit on so forcefully with his disciples in what he knew were the final moments of his teaching and ministry.

I believe Jesus did this because he walked much more than a mile in our human shoes. He knew how hard this can be, even among those who live a life very devoted to God and the church, like Peter was.

The letter Paul writes to the folks at the church in Corinth attests to what Jesus seems to already know will happen. It's only been about 50 years since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus when this letter is written. There are probably still quite a few people around who witnessed these events.

And already, the people are bringing division to the Lord's Table. Listen to the verses that precede our reading from 1 Corinthians today. This is from The Message translation: “Regarding this next item, I'm not at all pleased,” Paul writes. “I am getting the picture that when you meet together it brings out your worst side instead of your best! First, I get this report on your divisiveness, competing with and criticizing each other. I'm reluctant to believe it, but there it is. The best that can be said for it is that the testing process will bring truth into the open and confirm it.

And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship – you come together, and instead of eating the Lord's Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can't believe it! Don't you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God's church? Why would you actually shame God's poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I'm not going to stand by and say nothing.” (1 Corinthians 11: 17-22)

So I feel pretty confident that Jesus knew that we would wrestle with this human challenge in our Jesus-following communities from the get go and that was why he did something so radical as to command that we eat like this and then demonstrate what it means to serve love one another in the act of footwashing.

This whole line of thinking this week as I've considered these scriptures and this occasion of Maundy Thursday 2018 has been a source of deep thankfulness, I must tell you. I feel very privileged and honored to be called to preside at this Table where we openly invite any and all of God's people, trusting that God is at work in each and every one of us. I think our open communion table is pleasing to God.

And these Maundy Thursday texts also serve to shed God's patient and gentle light on other areas of our ministry , on how we loe God and love neighbor as the Jesus Creed implores us … areas of our ministry that may sometimes suffer from our human tendency for othering and competing and dividing. Do we push ourselves enough to let God work through us in ways that are beneficial even for those who may betray or abandon and deny us? Do we strive to make sure they know they are also welcome at the Table?

I think as we finish Day 38 of our 40-day Lenten pilgrimage of self reflection, confession and forgiveness – this is a very good question to ask, both of ourselves as individuals and as a community of Jesus-followers, because I think that there are always places we can grow into our welcome and our ministry and I'm pretty sure this is also something Jesus knew as he ate that final meal with his disciples and as he washed their feet.

So, I'll end with a prayer by Walter Brueggemann …. Amen.

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 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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