This Isn’t The End Maundy Thursday

This sermon for Maundy Thursday comes from John 13:1-12a, 31b-35. In the sermon I explore Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper, and the promises that are made that God’s love for us, expressed through Jesus Christ, will never end.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-isnt-the-end-maundy-thursday

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There are quite a few things hanging on my refrigerator…but one dominating feature is a multitude of family pictures taken each year at Family Camp in Colorado, something many of you are aware that we do annually. We’ve been doing it for a while now too…and so there are 9 years’ worth of pictures hanging there.

I was looking at them yesterday morning…and of course the main thing that jumped at me was to see the changes of my kids as they’ve been growing. But as I sat there looking at the various pictures, I found myself thinking back to last year, and some of the things that were happening behind the scenes of that particular trip out west.

Some of you are aware that we had a health scare about that time…as there was a strong possibility that my wife had developed a cancerous growth in her neck…and for several months, she went through various tests with inconclusive results…and there was a lot of unknown…which culminated on that particular trip. It was shortly after we got home from Colorado last year that we found out that the growth was not cancer, and in the long run everything was fine. (pause)

But up until that moment when the doctor talked to me to let me know it was nothing more than the result of an infection…we were living in the tension of the unknown…and in that time I discovered something about myself. While I am pretty good at sitting with other people in the midst of their dark moments…I’m pretty lousy at sitting through my own…but I wonder…isn’t that the case for everyone? (pause)

And speaking of dark moments…tonight we find ourselves in the midst of about the darkest moment that the gospels have to offer. Maundy Thursday…the night when Jesus reclines at the table of the Last Supper with his disciples…the night he washes their feet as a sign of servant love…the night that he institutes the Lord’s supper (pause) The night…when he was betrayed.

Now interestingly enough…all these different events are tied in together…and though we didn’t highlight the specific passage tonight, its in the midst of what we did read…that Jesus once more predicts his betrayal, telling the disciples that the betrayer is sitting right there at the table with them…and after some further discussion, Jesus looks Judas in the eye…tells him to go do what he must do…and we hear as Judas leaves the table and then the house…that it is night.

Its not daytime, its not dusk, its not morning…its night…as dark as you can get…both figuratively as well as literally. (pause) Jesus finds himself on this night, in about the darkest point he can be…but in the midst of all this…he’s still busy doing the work intended by the father…and we hear, that Jesus loves his own who are in the world…and that he loves them till the end. (pause)

That’s an important phrase…till the end…because if we think about everything going on here in the gospel…it seems like the end isn’t very far off. Tonight is the night when Jesus is betrayed…tomorrow…he’s dead and buried…even the name given to this meal…the Last Supper…gives a tone of finality doesn’t it? (pause) And so what do we make of that phrase that Jesus loves his own until the end? Perhaps we think of the way in which he protects his disciples later on that night…as he leaves them in the protection of the garden and goes out to meet the mob led by Judas…Perhaps we think of the moment as Jesus hangs on the cross, and in the midst of his torment, he provides ongoing care for his mother by placing her in the protection of the beloved disciple…or the way that he forgives the very people that are torturing him…or when he tells the criminal hanging beside him that today you will be with me in paradise.

But then, Jesus dies…and his body is placed in the tomb…and so it seems, by all logic…that the end…is coming right up doesn’t it? It seems that the darkness is about to win…and with it…the love of Jesus for his own in the world…will end as Jesus meets his end. (pause)

And if that’s the case…then the events here at the last supper seem a little strange…because I’m pretty sure that Jesus knew what was coming…he knew what was about to happen…and yet he spends this time, serving his disciples…taking on the role of a slave by washing their feet…and then as they recline at the table…Jesus grabs a hunk of bread and he tears off a piece and before handing it, one by one…to each of his beloved friends he tells them…this is my body…it is broken for you…when you eat it…remember me.  And then after supper is over he picks up the cup of wine…and once more looks them in the eye and says this is my blood poured out for you…when you drink it, remember me.

These seemingly simple acts and words are anything but…simple…because here at the Last Supper…we realize that the supper isn’t over yet…and if Jesus loves his own who are in the world till the end…then we need to realize that its not the end yet. (pause)

You know its funny, my preaching professors back in school harped on us the importance of preaching the day…and more often than not I stick to that…but if that’s the case…then I need to stop right now…because its Thursday…and yes Jesus eats a meal with his disciples…and does some simple yet utterly cryptic stuff…but then then walk out of that supper and I’m guessing the disciples were still confused…and then a little while later…Jesus is arrested…and they run away.

And so if I preach the day…that’s where I stop…with all hope lost…with the first steps happening towards the cross which Jesus has predicted time and time again. (pause) But I can’t stop there…and I won’t…If you were in worship a couple weeks ago, I talked about being Saturday people…of living in the tension between the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and the joy of the resurrection on Sunday.

And that notion of living in that tension still holds today. Yes, we are in dark time now…and tomorrow is even darker…but we also know what happens on Sunday…because for us the tomb is already empty…and we know…that tonight is not the end…no matter how much it might have seemed like it in that moment. (pause)

I want to back up now to something I said earlier…about how I’m pretty good at sitting with people in the midst of their darkness, but I have found that I’m pretty bad at sitting in the midst of my own. (pause)
I was reminded of that on Tuesday…because Tuesday was a pretty dark day in a lot of ways…none that really applied to me directly…but to a lot of people around me…people that I care about.

If any of you were in town Monday late afternoon…you heard the sirens of the ambulance and firetrucks leaving town…racing north…racing to the scene of an accident that left 3 high schoolers injured and one 14 year old boy dead…I heard the sirens, but I didn’t hear the news until Tuesday morning…that for 3 families, life was shaken…and for 1 family…everything just stopped.

I was also thinking about a family…and specifically an individual…who is watching their mom die…having just gone into hospice…and another family dealing with a painful memory tied to that day.

And I was thinking about a pair of my seminary classmates…a married couple, 6 months into their first pregnancy…only to lose their baby…and finally in the midst of all that stuff rattling around in my head before I even got into the office on Tuesday…then I opened my computer to read the news of two bombs going off in Brussels…40 or so dead, countless more injured. (pause)

All of this stuff going on around me…not really to me mind you…but around me…all these different individuals and families who were experiencing the tragedy…the darkness…and for them in that instant…life came screeching to a halt…the world was ending….and because I care about these people and the world that we live in…it affected me…and so I was pretty moody through the day.

But then the day went on…and I walked out of the office…and I recognized how beautiful of a day it was…and my son and I went out into the backyard to play catch…and as we were out there…I heard birds singing…and cars going by on the highway…and I heard the sounds of the high school soccer practice in the open field down the hill…and later on we walked over the school and I stood and watched a few minutes of a little league baseball game…and I talked with different people…and life went on. (pause)

I’ve noticed this type of thing before…typically on days when I’ve presided at funerals…because more often than not, funerals end up happening on nice days…and outside of that funeral…which is so difficult for those in attendance…life goes on for everyone else…the world might be ending for those individuals…but not for everyone else.

I bring all of this up…because of that promise that we hear about Jesus…that he loves his own…and he is with them till the end…and if Holy Week shows us nothing else…it is this…we haven’t reached the end yet. The world continues…and you know what…the Last Supper isn’t over yet either….because when we receive the bread and the wine…and we hear the same words that Jesus spoke to his friends…we are joining in that same supper…and the love of Jesus is still present in the world. We just need to know where to look for it.

But you know what…Jesus talked about too…I give you a new commandment…that you love one another…this is how the world will know that you are my disciples, whom I love…that you love one another. (pause)

We are the body of Christ here on Earth…we are joined together through the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that go far beyond our understanding…but as the body of Christ we are called to be Christ for one another.

On Tuesday, many different people experienced the darkness first hand…and for them, in that instant, it seemed like the end…but those around them…those who gathered around them with love and support…they were Christ in that moment…continuing to love those who needed it…sitting in the midst of the darkness with those who couldn’t escape it.

That is what we are called to do…that is why Christ tells us to love one another…so that in our moments of darkness that we can’t escape…we can see first-hand that it…IS NOT…the end…and that the love of God is still present…even in the midst of the darkness. (pause)
Tonight Jesus is betrayed…he is arrested…he is tortured…he is hung on a cross and he dies…but the biggest threat to Jesus…the thing he feared the most was being separated from the love of the Father…even for a period of a couple of days in the tomb…but Jesus will do this…Jesus…HAS…done this…to ensure that we are never left alone…because he loves us…till the end…and his love is present whenever we show love and compassion for one another…and we find his love, in our darkest moments, in the love and compassion we receive from those around us. May we realize, both now on this dark night…and in each of those moments when darkness surround us…that despite everything this dark world throws at us…Jesus has promised us…that this is not the end.

If you can see this…then be the light…show the love of Christ for those around you who need it…and if you can’t…then look to those who offer it to you.  We are not alone in this world…for we are the body of Christ…He loves us till the end…so we love too. Because this isn’t the end. Amen.

 

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