As we gather for sacred worship opportunities during Holy Week, I am mindful of all those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot be present with us around the Table of the Lord, or in the darkened sanctuary stripped of color, or even on the day when we shout “Alleluia!” against all odds that death itself has fled from the power of God’s “Yes!,” God’s life. So many are pulled these Spring days in so many directions, and others, because of illness or other life circumstances, must be at home or the hospital while we gather. Yet, all are part of the family of faith, and these sacred traditions are for all.
I am posting below the text of the sermon from Maundy Thursday service last night, along with the Order of Service for tonight’s Good Friday Tenebrae. I do pray that all within our church will be able to mark these days here among the gathered community. But if you are not able to be here, I hope you will, alone or with other family or friends, take time to prayerfully read the texts and prayers and sermon. As you are able, talk about them, and especially about the great love of God expressed in such profound ways in these stories. In this way you can join with the church here and around the world in these ancient traditions.
May the story of this week take up residence within you and transform you, so that you may be a blessing to this world that God loves and for which Christ died. May you receive the gift Christ offers.
Receiving and Handing On – A Sermon for Maundy Thursday – April 17, 2014
1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Paul says, “I received from the Lord.” I received…
The first thing to do on Maundy Thursday is receive.
Jesus takes the disciples’ feet in his hands – each one in turn – washing feet calloused and dirty from lifetimes spent on fishing boats, walking the dusty roads of Galilee – takes them and pours clean water over them. What a gift he offers! The master takes the form of the servant, the leader taking off his outer garments, placing a towel around his waist, becoming as nothing before them. A gift. Grace.
But then he gets to Peter, and Peter cannot receive it. Peter goes from outright rejection – “You will never wash my feet!” – to over-reaction – “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
But notice Jesus, full of grace, gently returning Peter to the one thing, the most important thing on this dark and holy night – receive. “You do not know now,” he says to Peter, “but later you will understand.” Just receive.
I understand Peter’s reluctance. I share it.
We come to this night ready to hear the new commandment, the mandate, to love one another as Jesus has loved us, to get out our symbolic towels and get on with the ministry. We’re pretty good at washing feet.
This room and the adjoining rooms throughout the winter are filled with homeless men and women whose feet we gladly wash in providing a meal and a bed and a friendly word – hospitality. So many of you answer the call to be involved in that ministry, putting on your towels, getting out the water, and getting to work.
So many of you wash the feet of children and youth and adults in this place by teaching classes, being covenant partners for Confirmation students, standing at the doors of the church and providing hospitality to friend and stranger alike. We are good at washing feet.
And you go out in the community with your towels and basins – whether the feet belong to Graceworks clients, or Habitat homeowners, or residents at Hard Bargain – people getting back on their feet after tornadoes and hurricanes in New Orleans and Oklahoma City and New York, or the small vulnerable feet of children in the Red Light district in Mumbai – you are out there, so many of you, answering the call of Jesus to love one another as he has loved you.
Stephen Ministers and Leaders, cooks in the kitchen, laborers in the playground, standing with the vulnerable, speaking up for the voiceless; it’s enough foot washing to cause a flood of grace. Our basins overflow, our towels are soaked, our hands are shriveled. This is a community of faith that answers the call to serve others, and knows how to get its hands dirty. Most of the time, we get it. We want to follow Jesus’ example…we want to go and wash one another’s feet.
But before we go and do, before we grab a basin, before we do anything – we first have to receive. Jesus calls us to stop and sit, to allow him to wash us. The disciples must receive the ministry Jesus offers. They have to become vulnerable. “Don’t just do something, stand there.” Stand in that place where the healing waters of grace are flowing, allow the waters to wash over you, share with Jesus your life, in all its barrenness, allow Christ’s peace to flood your heart.
Jesus’ words go right to the heart this night, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
Jesus comes close to us tonight, washing our feet, feeding us bread, pouring the cup. I think sometimes we are afraid of his proximity, frightened of his gaze, anxious that in this quiet place we might have to be vulnerable, to drop the mask that says everything is fine, to allow our brokenness to become known. And so we get really busy, inside the church and outside of it, making ourselves indispensible. Don’t worry about us Jesus. We’re fine. We don’t want to be a burden. Don’t worry about our feet. They’re really not that dirty.
And yet, to be part of him is to receive his grace, his washing, to risk the knowledge that comes from intimacy. To allow Christ to wash us is to allow the story to enter our lives, to take up residence in us, and to personally affect us. We are called to nothing short of transformation.
On “A Prairie Home Companion” several years ago, Garrison Keillor told the story of his uncle who, at family gatherings during Holy Week would read the story of the passion and death of Jesus. And each year, when he came to the verses describing Jesus’ betrayal, he would burst into tears. The family would sit awkwardly until he was able to continue the reading. Keillor said that his uncle took the death of his Lord so personally.”
I think I’m preaching to the choir. I think you sense the need to receive. You have found a way, in the midst of so much else that is no doubt pulling at you on this beautiful Thursday, to come to this quiet place, to share a meal together, to break the bread and drink from the cup, to pause in the headlong rush from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday to enter the story, and by God’s grace, to have it enter you, to have it grasp your heart. You have come here tonight to receive – to take it personally.
My prayer for you, and for the church that gathers at table around the world on this holy night, is that we will receive from the Lord, and that in this receiving we will be transformed, so that we may rise, take up our towels and basins, and love one another the way he has loved us.
Paul says, “For I received from the Lord, what I handed on to you…” May we receive it, gladly. Amen.
Good Friday Tenebrae Service – April 18, 2014
Call to Worship
Come and see the beloved Son of God.
He is high and lifted up.
Come and see the Ruler of the nations.
He is high and lifted up.
Come and see the Savior of the world.
He is high and lifted up.
Lord Jesus Christ,
on this sacred and solemn night
when we see again the depth and mystery
of your redeeming love,
to follow where you go,
to stop where you stumble,
to listen when you cry,
to hurt as you suffer,
to bow our heads in sorrow when you die,
so that when you are raised to life again
we may share your endless joy. Amen.
(adapted from Book of Common Order, the Church of Scotland)
Good Friday Readings
Psalm 22, 1-2, 7-8, 14-22
Thanks for this marvelous reminder to receive. We have indeed received grace upon grace. I am grateful for the worshiping community of First Presbyterian Franklin, both gathered and distant. Thanks for also passing on that which you have received.