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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Maundy Thursday Reflection - 04/09/2020

It is a different kind of witness we bring to Jesus’ path to the cross this year. Normally on this night we’d all be together in this room for some things we typically do only once a year, maybe once in a lifetime … We invite people up for individual words of confession and forgiveness with hands laid upon the head, we often welcome people to the table for their First Communal Meal, we wash each other’s feet.

And so this year, part of our wilderness experience is that we must put some of that community life, some of that flesh-on-flesh ministering … we must put some of it away until the time is right to bring it out again.

This will happen, friends. Trust God in this matter. Our small, busy world has been changed by our experience with this novel virus, most certainly. But God and the gift of salvation and freedom from sin we have in Jesus has led God’s people through all new human experiences for generations and generations.

That is what we are reminded of in our reading from Exodus tonight. The Israelites, led by Moses and his siblings out of slavery in Egypt must have felt like they jumped out of the frying pan into the fire as they navigated their novel situation … life in the wilderness. They were free, yes, but completely at a loss with how to live in that freedom.

They went through many experiences that showed them they had nothing to fear, all they had to do was obey God’s commandments and follow. God would provide the rest … like the quails and the manna, the potable water, the signposts along the way, and ultimately the Promised Land. These encounters with God typically included the declaration “and then you shall know that I am the Lord your God!”

Here’s something to notice as we have entered into a novel wilderness of our own these days … notice where God appears to the God-fearing Israelites … “And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared …” and where did the quail and manna appear? “there on the surface of the wilderness.” (Ex. 16:9ff)

In other words, God was teaching the people to look right into the center of what terrified and unsettled them most, because that is where God would appear to them. That was where God was at work, in all that strange newness, all the disruption of life and learning to live in their new freedom.

It is good for us to hold onto that memory in this time, I think … to trust that God is at the very center of our novel wilderness too, at work to bring us back around the table together, back to our rituals of flesh-on-flesh ministry, even if we find we have to modify them for the sake of healthy community. Because God and the gift of salvation and freedom from sin we have in Jesus has led God’s people through all new human experiences for generations and generations, including ours.

***

So, in this wilderness experience, I have become aware of the access to community our technology provides us. They didn’t have these kinds of resources in the 1919 pandemic. I cannot even imagine.

This is not to say we don’t have a few glitches to work out in our very human consumption of technology. Let’s pray that we somehow evolve in healthy use of technology in this time too.

On the positive side, the ability to communicate, especially in real-time formats, has truly been a gift to making connections with one another. One way that gift has shown itself for me is that I have been able to continue meeting with my counselor, which turns out to be a pretty important thing in time of pandemic.

I was talking with my counselor about some people I had been reconnecting with … some family and friends who are so important to me, but who I had let kind of fall through the cracks in my overly busy, overly scheduled, overly overdone life. One thing about pandemic, it can bring some large doses of clarity.

Overall, it brought to mind this phenomena I think many of us have experienced in difficult times. On one hand, you would do almost anything to prevent the experience if you could go back in time, but you cannot deny the gifts and blessings that came from the center of that experience, gifts and blessings you are grateful to have experienced.

Golden nuggets of difficult times, my counselor and I called them.

And so this is the lens with which I’ve tried to approach our Holy Week in time of Pandemic. What golden nuggets might we unearth in this difficult time as a faith community?

So tonight, in our atypical Maundy Thursday, we focus on two things: a Love Feast and Stripping of the Altar.

Eating together has long been a sacred thing. We might take it for granted in our fast food, everyone-going-every-which-way world. But for much of human experience, coming together at any table was a sign of peace. It connected people. In eating with someone you often implied that you pledged your friendship and loyalty to them; that you were in this life together and on equal footing, as symbolized by the food in front of you … the food we all need regardless of wealth or status, regardless of sin or righteousness, regardless of age or color of skin, regardless of belief or disbelief.

It’s no wonder Jesus caused such a stir when people saw who he ate with, who he formed permanent connections with, who he equated himself with.

So in this time, perhaps a golden nugget we might find is our meal time. Maybe we see it as God’s provision for us, a little more like the Israelites must have looked with wonder on quails that came up in the evening and the manna for bread in the morning. Maybe we take the food into our bodies with the words of Paul ringing in our ears. “If I eat what is served to me, grateful to God for what is on the table, how can I worry about what someone will say? I thanked God for it and God blessed it!”

The Love Feast came about around the same time as this nation did … about 10,000 Sundays ago. Some churches celebrated communion only occasionally. And so for those in-between times, they had the Love Feast. “One advantage of the Love Feast is that any Christian may conduct it. Congregational participation and leadership are usually extensive and important, especially involving children. Testimonies and praise are the focal points in most Love Feasts.” (The United Methodist Book of Worship)

Tonight your worship leaders here provide the testimony and you will have a taste of your own Love Feasts as an introduction to something that perhaps may sustain you in our in-between time.

We also strip our altars or our home worship spaces tonight. As we strip these spaces to their bare foundations, it reminds us of Jesus stripped for execution. It reminds us of our need to be stripped to our foundations. It reminds us of our sinfulness, our capacity to abandon Jesus in difficult or challenging times, in times of pandemic and novel wilderness, it reminds us that although we might fill out our lives in normal times with all kinds of things and people and passions, we are equally laid vulnerable and bare as Jesus picks up that cross and covers all our brokenness.

As so perhaps another golden nugget we mine from this collective yet isolating experience is the remembrance that even stripped bare, with all our faults and sinfulness and wounds exposed, Jesus is picking that cross up again for us in this Holy Week. And when we get to Easter morning, novel wilderness or not, individually or collectively, Jesus still heals the whole of creation when he bursts from that tomb in three days, just as he promised at our last meal with him. 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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