Thursday, April 5, 2012

Homily for Holy (Maundy) Thursday


John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Tonight you will remember how Jesus has made all things new: How He has given you a new Passover Feast in the Blessed Sacrament of His body and His blood. How He has given you a new example of love in His selfless and sacrificial service of His disciples. How He has given you a New Commandment, that you should love each other, your brothers, and your neighbors, as He has loved you. And of how, on the night when He was betrayed, He made with His Father a New Covenant in His holy and innocent shed blood, that the Angel of Death would pass over you. Tonight you will hear all this. Tonight you will receive all this. And, tonight you will do all this in remembrance of your Lord Jesus who has loved you to the end.

The Passover was the Feast of God’s deliverance of His people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. It was a feast of remembrance – remembrance of the judgment God executed upon Satan and sin and death, symbolized by the nine plagues which befell the Egyptians and the tenth and final plague, the killing of all of Egypt’s first born men and livestock. Judgment was executed upon all of the gods of the Egyptians, even upon the son of Pharaoh himself. But the LORD’s mercy was shown to the children of Israel as He commanded them to sacrifice an innocent, unblemished lamb, and to mark their doorposts and lintels with its blood that the Angel of Death would pass over their homes and spare their firstborn, both man and beast. On the fourteenth day of Nisan, each household was commanded to take a one year old, unblemished, male lamb, from either the sheep or the goats, and, together, they were to kill their lambs at twilight, roughly between the hours of 3pm and sunset at 6pm. They were then to take some of the lamb’s blood and put it upon the two doorposts and the lintels of their homes and then eat the flesh of the lambs that night in their homes, roasted on the fire, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Each and every year thereafter, they were to do this in remembrance of the LORD’s mighty deliverance of His people out of the House of Bondage in Egypt.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was just before the celebration of the Passover. Jewish pilgrims from as far as 700 miles journeyed to Jerusalem to eat the Passover Feast and to remember God’s mighty deliverance. On the night in which He was betrayed, this night, Holy Thursday, Jesus celebrated one last Passover meal with His disciples. He told them that this was something He earnestly desired to share with them before His suffering, and that it was a meal that He would not eat again with them until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God. It was during that Passover meal, near the end, that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then, in the same way, He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” In so doing, Jesus reinterpreted the Passover and the Passover meal in terms of Himself, His own body and blood: Though they did not understand then, He was teaching them that He would become their Passover Lamb, that His blood would mark them as chosen and favored by God so that the Angel of Death would pass over them. He would lay down His own life unto death on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, God’s offering for the sins of all men. From then on, in place of observing the Passover, Jesus’ disciples, then and now, are to do this in remembrance of Him, for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. In eating His body and drinking His blood you proclaim to the world that Jesus is your Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for you to make you clean. And, no greater expression of love is possible than to sacrifice yourself for a friend, for a brother, even for those who hate you.

After supper, in conjunction with His teaching, Jesus gave His disciples a concrete, hands-on example of what that kind of love looks like in action. He rose from supper, laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him. It was unthinkable that a Lord and Rabbi would wash His disciples’ feet, and Peter understandably protested saying, “Lord, do you wash my feet? You shall never wash my feet.” But Jesus lovingly taught Peter and the others about the nature of love and forgiveness. He told them that they were all clean, but the one who would betray Him, and that they did not need to be washed again, but only their feet. Then He told them that, in the same way, they should wash one another’s feet just as He had done for them. And, putting His teaching into a formula He summarized, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The New Commandment was not entirely new, for love had always been the summary and fulfillment of God’s Law: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and, love your neighbors as yourself. What was new about Jesus’ New Commandment was sacrifice and confession. The Law of God demanded perfect and continual love of God and neighbor, an impossible obedience for you and all men conceived and born in sin, sinning daily in thought and word and deed. But, the love Jesus commands is a love that confesses its sin and unworthiness, that knows it does not deserve the love it has received and therefore, in humility and selfless, sacrificial love, cannot help but share the same with brothers and neighbors, even enemies. The New Commandment is really an invitation to die with Jesus to self and selfishness and to live in selfless, sacrificial service. You love as you have been, and are still being, loved. You forgive as you have been, and are still being, forgiven. You give as you have been given, and are still being given to. There is no longer a compulsion to love in order to win favor with your God or to pay for your sins against Him, for Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law of Love for you, in your place. Now you are the recipient of God’s love and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake – and that’s quite new! – freely, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, no strings attached.

Jesus has given Himself for you in every way imaginable. That you might no longer eat the bread of affliction, He gives you His body as bread that you may eat and live. That you might not be struck down in eternal death He has shed His precious and holy blood to atone for your sins that the Angel of death may pass over you. That you might not suffer in slavery and bondage to sin and death and the devil, Jesus fulfilled the Passover before making His Exodus out of this world of sin and death through His death upon the cross for you. And, that you may live in the freedom of His grace and love, Jesus has invited you to share His grace and live with your brothers, your neighbors, and even those who hate you, for in loving, in forgiving, and in giving you are truly free from the chains and bondage of hatred, fear, anger, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, and greed. This is the New Commandment your Lord Jesus has given you that you may live in His love forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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