April 13, 2017

MaundyThurs

Maundy Thursday - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger


Maundy Thursday is when we come to recall the Institution of the Last Supper.  The sharing of the Passover meal was, and still is, central to the Jewish faith, recalling their escape from Egypt, led by Moses, which we heard in our first reading.  This event is an important link between the Old Testament prophecies and the role Jesus had to play and still does play in our salvation.  For thousands of years, the Jewish people have gathered on the Passover and sacrifice a lamb and share it with one another, remembering their freedom from slavery in Egypt under the Pharaoh.  Additionally, the priests of the Temple would offer sacrifices for the sins of the people.  The various animals that were sacrificed bore the sins of the giver of the animal, and the sacrifice earned God’s forgiveness. And it was important that the lamb was unblemished.

 

During the Last Supper, Jesus told the Disciples of the offering of Himself as the Passover Lamb.  Jesus was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  No longer would people need to offer sacrifices in the Temple for the forgiveness of their sins. He was the unblemished lamb, He was human but did not sin.  Because of the first Passover in Egypt, the Jews were no longer salves under Pharaoh.  But because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself as the Passover Lamb, all people were no longer slaves to sin.

 

Jesus said to the Disciples: Take, eat.  This is my body given for you.  And He also said:  This is my blood of the New Covenant shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  They had no clue what He was talking about.  Today, the Eucharist is central to our worship of God and a way that we are ensured an engagement with Christ.

 

Nowadays, the Eucharist, our holiest practice, our engagement with the Risen Lord, has been streamlined into somewhere between 55-75min and culminating in a manufactured wafer and a tiny sip of industrially-produced wine.  This week, our Jewish brothers and sisters are having proper full Seder meals. All of the Jewish religious celebrations involve a full meal. The Early Church would gather in the largest home and share a meal in which the Eucharist would happen. Now, at this most Sacred Meal, you are invited forward… for a piece of “bread” that is 1cm in diameter and 1mm thick, and a sip of wine that, frankly, lacks any inspiration to feel the presence of Christ… a small sip or enough to wet the wafer is all you get. Not quite The Heavenly Banquet that is in our minds! This is our GREAT THANKSGIVING!! That is what “Eucharist” means = Thanksgiving.

 

Tonight we will use real bread. The recipe is called David & Goliath Bread, because of the two grains used, one is very large, slightly larger than orzo pasta, and one is very small, slightly smaller than poppy seeds. The bread didn’t turn out perfect or unblemished, but it was mad with love. It is a step in the direction of taking the opportunity to give THANKS for the work of Jesus Christ in a celebratory way, to worship around a real meal. I have led Eucharistic Meals in the past, and want to do it again in the near future. Maybe we can arrange a Eucharistic Meal for the Feast of Corpus Christi in June. After all, as Duke Professor of Theology Geoffrey Wainwright writes of the Eucharist, the ‘promise’ and ‘foretaste’ we receive in the Eucharist “nourishes the eucharistic community for its witness to the new reality into which they are, on God’s behalf, to invite the entire world.” We want to make that invitation as abundant and special as possible.

 

Regardless of the form, tonight we celebrate Jesus’ Body and Blood in bread and wine. This is more than just a cognitive remembering; it is an engagement with Christ, the mechanics of which remain a mystery of Divine origin and character. In the Eucharist, the Sacrament is a mystery of the natural world colliding with the Divine Godhead, just as the two collided at the Incarnation. Christ is here among us in the breaking of the bread!  We come to “feed on Christ in faith with thanksgiving,” thanksgiving that He gave us freedom and liberation in the form of Himself in this one meal…on the night before He was to die.

 

But Jesus’ words were confusing.  What Jesus offered of Himself was not fully understood.  I don’t think any of us fully understand it, either, and we have the hindsight of His Crucifixion and Resurrection.  I don’t think we fully appreciate His releasing us from our “slavery to sin”, and we fail to really take on board “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

 

Again, Wainwright captures an essence of the Eucharist that we often forget: “The ‘eating of the bread’ and the ‘drinking of the cup’ locate the divine work of salvation celebrated in the Eucharist firmly amid the material creation and embodied humanity.” The love of God is just as much about the natural world as it is about the Divine realm. Jesus gave Himself (Divine embodied in Humanity) to us in bread and wine (Material Creation), in Body broken and Blood shed because He loves us!

 

Jesus washed the Disciples feet to underscore that His love was out of His servanthood to God’s Children. He was clear with Peter that it was not about scoring brownie points with Jesus by washing Jesus’ feet; it wasn’t about proving loyalty. Jesus getting onto his knees to wash the feet of His Disciples was about emphasizing that God sent His Son for the people’s sake, not for His own glory.

 

The whole of the Christian faith is centered around these next 4 days. And our weekly worship has its origin in tonight’s Gospel reading. The Eucharist is Christ’s offering of Himself to us because He loves each and everyone of us!  Christianity is as simple as that. Of course there is more to the Scripture, Tradition and Reason, but in that elevator moment when you have a brief moment to tell someone why you are a Christian, all you need to say is that The Eucharist is Christ’s offering of Himself to us because He loves each and everyone of us! And as we receive Him, we are nourishes for our witness to the new reality into which we are to invite the entire world!

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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