Remember 4-18-19

In this Maundy Thursday sermon, I explore the actions taken by Jesus at the Last Supper, whether the foot-washing found in John’s gospel or the institution of Holy Communion found in the other gospels. Jesus seems to be saying goodbye, and wants to do so in a meaningful way that will help those present to remember.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/remember-4-18-19

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

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Sometimes it amazes me at how quickly time flies by…recently in the midst of conversation, I realized that its already been more than a year since I visited the Holy Land…touring many of the sites that carry historical significance connected to the life of Jesus.

An interesting thing about the Holy Land is the mix of the old and the new. There are some places…some cities or locations, as well as individual sites that are actually quite new, but there are others that have been there for a REALLY long time…and I remember feeling the significance of all that history on the day when we visited the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem…a very large church built on the site believed to be Jesus’ actual birth place.

I can’t recall if it’s the oldest standing church in the world, but it does have the distinction of being the oldest church in the Holy Land by a pretty large margin. The structure itself was built approximately 1600 years ago…and it survived a purge, wide spread destruction of pretty much every other Christian structure which occurred a few hundred years later…and only because the Persian empire that invaded held an appreciation for the Nativity, because the Wise Men in the story are believed to be Persians. (pause)

I remember a sense of just how significant it was…to stand there in a structure that is that old…and to lean against a wall which has stood there the better part of 2 millennia.  Imagine if those walls could talk…the history they could share…and now on the flipside imagine what would be lost if that structure was destroyed.

We caught a glimpse of that sort of thing just a few days ago…as news reports spread…and video surfaced of the devastating fire that ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris…a heartbreaking event for the world, and especially for our Catholic sisters and brothers.

Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed this or not…but it wasn’t long after news broke about the destruction of that beautiful old church, that people started bickering on social media about it.  Butting heads over all kinds of things…One of the arguments I noticed centers around the statement “the church is not the building.”’

I’ve heard that statement before…I’ve even said it…but when I started hearing about the tension around I stopped to think about it…and while there is certainly truth in that statement…truth that points us towards the importance of the community of fellow believers over the material…there is also truth on the other side.  The loss of that beautiful place…a beacon of the Catholic church and faith…that’s something worth grieving.

Because our faith has a way of taking on shape as it connects into something else…and this can take on all matter of forms.  Buildings, hymns or songs, places, traditions, even down to the clothes we wear.  Perhaps here in the Lutheran church, the importance of tradition is one that we can relate to…after all, tonight right here in Worship we are celebrating with our traditional liturgy…as we look around this sanctuary…perhaps for each of us there is a particular item that holds some sort of significance…maybe you connect with a particular aspect of worship…or even in the shared connection that you hold with another person that holds meaning in your faith life.

I think back, and realize that I’ve got a couple examples of this sort of thing from my own faith history.  Some of you have heard me talk about the time in 5th grade when I made it on the news…but only because I happened to be in the background when they reported on the fire that destroyed my home congregation’s building.  It didn’t occur to me until years later that I can no longer stand in the sanctuary and touch the font in which I was baptized.

Likewise, the church building where my wife and I were married…a few years later that congregation moved into a new facility, and the building was sold to a congregation of a different denomination…and while they probably wouldn’t turn me away if I tried to visit…somehow that space…that place…isn’t the same anymore…and that’s another bit of my own faith history that is now lost.

Here’s the thing though…the loss of the place doesn’t take away from the significance of the event itself.  I can’t visit the sanctuary where I said “I do” but I am still married…I literally cannot walk into the room and see the font where I was washed in the water…but I am still baptized…these things do not change, and yet…there is still a sense of loss…

I wonder if you have something in your history that similar in scope to this…a place or a ritual that holds deep meaning…and yet is somehow lost to you. (Pause) This brings us to the significance of this evening…Maundy Thursday and the story of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with the disciples.

As per usual, we’ve heard the story from John’s gospel…featuring the event of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples…a perspective unique to John…while the other three gospels all focus in on the institution of Holy Communion…and honestly…both events seem to hold this same connection…a ritual…an event…intended as a gift that is to be remembered…an intimate moment between individuals that I believe Jesus intended to be meaningful as he says goodbye to these people who have been so close to him during his ministry. (pause)

Now we could try to dive into the how or the why of these events…but maybe tonight all that really isn’t important…maybe the thing that we need to hold on to in this moment is the sense of saying goodbye. Imagine it from the perspective of Jesus…I’ll admit to you that’s not something I had ever really done before…but maybe we should.  Because Jesus, knowing all things…all that which had already occurred…and all that which was about to…created these memorable moments for his friends…just before events would transpire that would leave him betrayed…alone…tortured…and killed.

Think about his perspective…and this last opportunity to show someone how you feel about them. (pause) What would you do? How do you say goodbye? (pause)  In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room with families in this type of situation…those times when death is not far away…and everyone is saying their goodbyes. It’s a solemn time…a sad time…and it carries a sense of finality that isn’t like anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Now sometimes, the person is unable to participate…because they are either gone to quickly, without warning…or their physical state doesn’t allow it…but sometimes the opposite is true…and they are able to be a part…and having been in several different rooms where that’s the case over the course of recent history…I’ve been thinking a lot about it…and the way that I’ve watched as they’ve shared a moment…a word…a long embrace or a tender kiss…as they’ve shared tears…as they’ve shared laughter…as they’ve shared a special moment with each different individual and I can only imagine that the hope for that person, who knows they will be leaving…is that this moment will stay with the other person as their life goes on.

And, I’ll be honest, in one of those instances…I didn’t just sit there and pray after bringing Holy Communion…but in that moment, I sat at the bedside while the wonderful lady, only about a day away from death reached up, and for a moment just held my cheek.  It was an expression of love that I will never forget. (pause)

These moments…these memories or places…or traditions…they hold power…and this power somehow impacts and strengthens our faith…and I believe that’s what Jesus was really up to…when he knelt at the feet of his disciples to wash the dirt and dust away…as he looked them in the eye in a moment of connection…or as he lifted the bread and broke it…and passed the cup, assuring them that his body and his blood are broken and poured out for them…and that whenever they share this meal…to remember. (pause)

What a blessing to know…that somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit…we are included in that invitation…somehow we are sitting at that table…and that the power in Jesus’ words…and the significance of his actions are pointed towards us as well…so that we might be strengthened…so that we might find hope through whatever it is to come…until that glorious day, when we are united completely with Christ…and when we join in that heavenly banquet which we have been promised…and which we will celebrate together with all those who have gone before…those who have left us with powerful moments to remember. Amen.

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