Maundy Thursday

Dawn at the Tidal Basin, April 1, 2010

A sermon for Maundy Thursday. The lectionary readings are Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, and Psalm 116:1, 10-17.

I remember well a particular baptism. We had made our procession. The family of the child to be baptized were all gathered around the font. The children of the church watched closely. We raised a pitcher of water up high and began to let it flow into the font. Whooooooshhhh. And in the split second of silence after the pouring of the water, the brother of the child being baptized looked up and said loudly, “Wow.”

Wow, indeed. Wow, at the miracle and mystery of water. Wow, that ordinary water can be made holy.

Perhaps we have had our fill of water over the last few months—both the frozen kind of water and the raining kind. This morning I watched the sun come up at the Tidal Basin, and I noticed in many places evidence of where the water had overflowed. Water overflows in nature. But water also overflows in church.

At baptism, the water overflows. The baby, child, adult gets wet, but in some ways the moisture never leaves. We reaffirm our baptismal vows, we make the sign of the cross with Holy Water, we receive the sprinkling on certain occasions—all of which remind us that we never really dry off. The water stays on us and in us.

But also in tonight’s ritual, in the washing of feet, water overflows. And this overflowing of water represents love overflowing. The love of God overflows into the life of Christ. The love of Christ overflows into the lives of his followers and friends. And through the mystery of the Holy Spirit, that same love can flow through us into a dry and parched world.

Our tradition at All Souls on Maundy Thursday is that the priest washes the feet of twelve parishioners. This is meant to symbolize Jesus washing his disciples feet. But it should also be understood as a kind of enacted sermon illustration, one for you to imagine yourself in the story. And Christ lives in each one of us, and the call to show love to others in simple, tangible ways does not belong to priests, but to all of us. Though you may not be washing the feet of another, I hope you will be open to how God might be calling you to extend the love of Christ through the world.

Jesus calls it a new commandment and certainly it makes “love of neighbor” more explicit than the first commandments, but what is really new about the commandment to love one another is how we “incarnate” that commandment. What can be new has to do with the multitude of ways that Christ’s love can be shown in our world.

After the washing of feet, we continue with prayers and Holy Communion. After Communion, we process with the Blessed Sacrament to the Mary Chapel, where the Sacrament remains overnight. By allowing the Body of Christ to remain in the Mary Chapel overnight, we recall how, soon after washing his disciples’ feet and sharing the Passover Meal, Jesus and his disciples went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

May the overflowing water of Christ’s love wash us, renew us, and keep us faithful. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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