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.
A sermon preached on Lent 5 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
RCL / Lent 5 / Year B
Jeremiah 31:31-34 / Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16 / Hebrews 5:5-10
I know that it is not Palm Sunday until next week, but I wanted to share a little story to get you prepped and ready. A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved Palm Branches to honor him, so we got Palm Branches today.” The little boy replied, “Shucks! The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!” Have you seen Jesus yet today?
In our Gospel reading today we do indeed jump forward a little to the events of Holy week. In our Gospel reading today Jesus has already entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We of course come back to His triumphant entry next week as we celebrate Palm Sunday. But today we find him in the midst of all of the activity of Jerusalem itself. Stories about Jesus, this man from the countryside, were spreading wide and far. A group of Greek’s had heard of this amazing man. They may have heard about him raising Lazarus from the dead. For whatever reason they desired to see Jesus. “Sir we wish to see Jesus” they ask Philip, a disciple with a good Greek name, Philip is not quite sure what to do and so he turns to Andrew and together they approach Jesus. It was a simple request “there are some guys over there who have heard about you and want to meet you”. Jesus could have said yes, invited them over and did the biblical equivalent of signing a scroll or allowed them to sketch a selfie with him. But Jesus knew that his time had almost come. Now was the time for him to reveal the reality of the week ahead.
Jesus does this of course by telling a parable. A grain of wheat is no good by itself. It must fall to the ground and die. Having been trampled on it finds itself in the ground and over time soaks up water. And then the miracle of life occurs. Life emerges from death and something new is created. Jesus knows that he must die in order for us to gain eternal life. Jesus’s death on the cross is sufficient for us all. But the parable is more than just a way of conveying what must happen to Jesus. It is also aimed at each and every one of us. For if we are to truly follow Jesus, then we must also be like that grain of wheat and let ourselves die in order to experience new life.
“Those who love their life lose it”. These words, or words very similar, are repeated six times throughout the gospels. Once each in Mark and John and twice in each of Matthew and Luke. Six repeats give us a hint that this is important.
If we truly want to see Jesus then we must seek him out in all places including places that we may not want to go. And when we find him, we should not always expect a nice happy face, because sometimes, maybe often, we will see him in pain, suffering and sharing in the brokenness of the world. But there is more, when we have found Jesus and gazed upon his face we must also listen to what he is calling us to do.
The Greek seekers said “Sir we wish to see Jesus”, a wise person in the crowd would have shouted back “are you sure?” And so my friends when we shout out “we want to see Jesus” we better ask ourselves “are we sure? Are we ready to see his suffering and to share in his death?”
Of course we can see Jesus, here in church. It is easy to see him in the beauty that is all around us, and there is a lot of beauty here in Del Mar. As we look a little harder we can see Jesus sitting alongside our homeless guests who come to our helping hands ministry. But I think that Jesus is calling us to seek him in even more places, especially in places where we may not want to look. Maybe in our workplaces there is a coworker that really is annoying and nasty to their co-workers. Can we take the time to look where Jesus may be in a situation like that? Maybe our kids sometimes tease another kid in our community, for whatever reason – maybe they have red hair, are over-weight or extremely introverted. What is teasing to some is bullying to others. Can we take a hard look and she where Jesus is in this situation? In this season of Lent we reflect upon our own lives. And I pray that we keep it real and see Jesus in situations where there is pain and suffering. For that is where he is calling us to find him.
Having found Jesus are we prepared to respond to his message? Jesus said “Those who love their life lose it”. What does this mean for us today? In order to answer that we need to reflect on our own lives and also on the world around us and whenever we see something that separates and pulls us away from God then that is what we need to let die. We need to let go of those things that keep us from God. Maybe that means letting go of the bad feeling towards the awkward co-worker and reaching out to them to try and understand what it is that is making them so angry. Maybe it letting go of pride and talking to our kids when we see them being less than friendly to another. When we die in these ways we are opening ourselves up to experience new life.
Seeing Jesus is not always pretty. Jesus calls us to look for him in the places that we not only do not want to go but rarely dare to enter into. Jesus calls us to look for him not only in the world around us but also in the depths of our own being. And that can be hard, and it can be scary. I hope that as we continue to journey through Lent, towards Jerusalem and the cross that we take time out of our lives, out of the churchiness of Holy Week to stop and to look for Jesus, in the world around us and in ourselves. I pray that we will make Jesus real.
When we find injustice, hatred, greed or anything else that keeps us away from truly being united with God. I pray that we will work to make a change, no matter how small. For it is in making that change that we let the old way die. Just like the grain of wheat must die before it can experience new life, so we must let the old ways of the world and ourselves die in order that we experience new life in Christ. And that is the Good News. In Christ we have new life. And we are certain that for every Good Friday there is an Easter Day. That following Christ’s crucifixion we experience his resurrection.
I want to see Jesus. Are you sure? Even when you know what that means and what Jesus is asking of us? My prayer is that each and every one of us responds “Yes, Sir, I want to see Jesus.”