A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

The Holy SpiritThe Passover celebration is a family meal that begins when the youngest child asks, “Father, why is this night different than other nights?” The Father then tells the Exodus story as simply and clearly as possible, so that even this child can understand. “There was a time long ago when a mighty nation, who thought its power made it godlike, first enslaved our family, and then tried to silence us, and finally decided to kill every one of us. We can gather around this table tonight because God heard our prayers and came to save us.”

This story cannot be told to a Jewish family without remembering another mighty nation that acted godlike tried to kill every one of them in a holocaust not that long ago. So the Passover meal includes prayers that God will come again to rescue his people. The family expresses their faith that God will do this by leaving a chair empty, a glass of wine filled, and the front door ajar.

Tonight we gather around our family table and ask, “Why is this night different from all the rest?” We should tell the story as simply and clearly as possible so that everyone among us can understand. Long ago, another mighty nation, who thought their power made them godlike, tried first to silence our proclamation of the Gospel and when we refused, they tried to wipe our Church family off the face of the earth. On this night our leader, Jesus ate a meal with his friends that all thought would be their last supper together. At that meal, Jesus, who spoke for God, announced he was ready to die for them and the Gospel.

Many other things happened that night, in fact, John dedicates almost one-fourth of his Gospel to this night.  All the events and messages boil down to being willing to die for one another. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and declares he has come to serve them, so they should be servants of one another.  This meant being ready to serve until death. Jesus declared they were his friends, not his disciples, and true friends are willing to give their lives for one another. Jesus gave the great commandment. They are to love one another as he loved them, and that means unconditional love that even gives one’s life for another.

Everyone else at the supper agreed they too were ready to give their lives for each other and the Gospel. As we all know, not one of them fulfilled that promise. One betrayed his friends, one denied he even knew Jesus, three slept, and every one of the rest ran away and hid in fear. All abandoned Jesus; all abandoned God.

Only Jesus gave his life that the others might live. The gospels make clear Jesus was in agony, arrested, tortured, and executed in the most brutal manner. He found courage believing God was with him, even when everyone from the highest officials to the lowest commoner mocked him for being delusional. Nevertheless, he died feeling even God had abandoned him, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” We illustrate this death by stripping our altars on this night, signifying that it appeared that God died.

We can gather around our family table tonight, because God saved him, raised him from death.

We cannot tell this story without remembering a self-proclaimed religious state, who thinks it acts for God, is now trying to silence anyone who does not worship as they do. They practice genocide in their territories in order to kill all Christians and anyone else who does not practice their twisted understanding of Islam. We cannot tell the story without remembering Brussels, Paris, New York City, and many more Muslim cities where these religious fanatics have blown themselves up to kill others. Suicide bombers are willing to die for their god.

It is important to see the difference between Jesus giving his life for the world, Christian martyrs giving their lives for the Gospel, and suicide bombers killing themselves in order to kill others. Suicide bombers die to silence other people rather than to give them a voice. Suicide bombers die to kill people, not to give life. They die in violence, not to maintain peace. They die in order to create fear, not love. They died from hatred, not love.

It is also important to see the difference because too many of our leaders are advocating we adopt their methods rather than Christ’s. They call for genocide, or at least its equivalent, carpet bombings, killing families and innocents. They justify torture that dehumanizes. They patrolling our neighbors, criminalizing children of God. They want to build walls and deny immigration to whole peoples, silencing their voices and denying them community.

This night is different from other nights because it proclaims a better way. In order to understand it, we must continue the story. This was not the last supper but simply a continuance of all those God has shared and is sharing with us. Easter brings a resurrection in which Jesus comes again to share the table with his friends. He comes in the forgiveness of unconditional love. He comes to share his Spirit, to inspire them to love one another as he loves them. His love overcomes their fears; they find their voices, come out of hiding and preach the Gospel throughout the world. They are ready to give their lives for Jesus, each other, and the Gospel. And almost every one of them does.

We gather around on our table on this special night to remember Jesus died to give us life, and to ask one another the basic question of faith, “For whom and for what are you willing die?” For whom and for what am I willing to die?

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