Holy Thursday Homily given at
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar on March 25th, 2016
Maundy Thursday, all years RCL
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
I am Judas Iscariot. I have betrayed Christ. I will betray Christ again in the future.
Please be seated.
My second favorite musical, after Phantom of the Opera, is Victor Hugo’s Les Miséables. I love it when I can take someone to see it at the theater, especially when they have never seen it before. I watch in wonder as they fall in love with the music, the story and the performance. Sometimes though I am disappointed after the performance, when I ask what they liked most about the show? More than once I’ve been told that they like the spectacle, the music, the acting but they didn’t quite get the story. A big problem with the musical is that a key scene, critical to the whole story occurs in the opening few minutes of the performance. The time when you are still settling down, rustling in your bag for those mints or discreetly trying to work out how to take a picture of the stage without the usher seeing you. Whilst all of this distraction is going on you miss the part of the story when the bishop offers Jean Valjean forgiveness after he steels the bishop’s best silver-wear, and how the bishop freely forgives and offers the forgiven thief the remainder of his riches. If you don’t grasp that part of the story the rest of the musical is at best a good performance.
Tonight we remember the institution of the last supper. Today when we think back to that meal we know it was special, we know that it was a celebration of the Passover, but I wonder if we sometimes forget the significance of what was going on. Our reading tonight from the book of Exodus reminds us of why the Passover meal is celebrated. The Israelite’s had been keep as slaves in Egypt for many years. God had called on Moses nine times to go to Pharaoh and warn him of terrible plagues and other afflictions that would be delivered onto the land of Egypt if the Israelite’s were not set free. This tenth time however was different, it was a case of life or death. God, promised that he would pass over the land of Egypt and kill the firstborn of both humans and animals of anyone who did not worship the Lord. Those who did worship the Lord however were told to sacrifice a whole lamb and to mark the two doorposts and lintel of the house with the blood of the lamb as a sign of their devotion to God. The sacrificed lamb was to be eaten that night. The Lord promised to Passover houses marked with the lamb’s blood and spare the firstborn of that house. Faith in the Lord that night would be a matter of life and death. WE need to truly understand the story of the first Passover to fully grasp the significance of the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night that he was betrayed.
Many years later, Jesus shared in the Passover meal with his disciples but he knew that he was the lamb to be sacrificed, for the freedom from sin and for eternal life for all of mankind. It was like Egypt all over again but the stakes were higher. Not only life and death, but eternal life or eternal death. For salvation and reconciliation of a broken people back to a loving God.
Knowing the pain and suffering that was to come, and not just human pain and suffering but pain and suffering for the whole world, Jesus did something that was extraordinary. He washed the feet of his disciples. Again it is easy to overlook the significance of this action. Masters, teacher, heads of household did not wash the feet of even their most valued guests. Not even servants did that. If a guest of a household was lucky the host would leave a bowl of water and maybe some soap for them to wash and bath their feet themselves. When Jesus put that towel around his waist he was breaking every social norm of the day. For us, it seems like a humble action, for those present it was like something never seen before.
But let us go back to our text, to the Gospel of John. Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Christ was already marked. John writes “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him”. Judas was already a sinner, Judas had danced with the devil. Jesus knew this. Again John writes “for he knew who was to betray him”.
Judas was already a sinner, Judas had danced with the devil. Jesus knew this.
But still, Jesus washed his feet. Aware of what Judas was about to do, aware that the devil had already been at work in him. Jesus washed the feet of Judas. Knowing what was about to happen to him, knowing that within hours he would be tried, flogged, half beaten to death, denied, and hung on a cross to die. Jesus could have simply passed on by and not washed the feet of Judas. But he didn’t.
We call today Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. The word Maundy means to command. Jesus gave a new command. “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”. Nowhere in the text does Jesus exclude anyone.
During the most significant remembrance of the Passover sacrifice. After Jesus had broken all rules and norms of society by washing the feet of his disciples. In the full knowledge of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus is crystal clear in his command. Love one another.
I am Judas Iscariot. I have betrayed Christ. I will betray Christ again in the future. By my actions, by my deeds, by what I have done and by what I have not done. Judas is not just some historical figure he is present today in all of our lives. We live in a world full of violence, we have been painfully reminded of that just this week with the attacks in Belgium. As I examine myself I ask the question ‘have I been a good advocate for peace?’ In our own country we have seen hatred, division and profiling increasingly enter into our everyday lives. As I examine myself I ask the question ‘Have I been complicit by my silence?”. In so many ways I am Judas.
But the good news is that Jesus commanded us to love each other. He washed the feet of Judas, he will wash my feet, sinner that I am. But he also commands me to get down on my knees and wash the feet of others, without exception. The feet of the rich and of the poor, of those who agree with me and of those who do not, of the Jew and of the gentile and of the roman centurion.
As we come to the holy table tonight and share in our communion meal, we remember that Jesus is sacrificed for us. For our sins.
As our feet are washed and as we wash the feet of others. We remember the command that Jesus gave, to love one another without exception. Jesus washed the foot of Judas, Jesus will wash my foot and yours and we will wash theirs.