A sermon offered at Evening Prayer on Maundy Thursday. Because our church is closed to the public during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, our worship services have been adjusted, streamed live, and recorded. The scriptures are Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-17, and John 13:1-17, 31b-35.
Watch the sermon HERE.
Usually, there are two great themes to Maundy Thursday. The first has to do with service. As the name of the day comes from the Latin, Mandatum, meaning command. It refers to Jesus’s words to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Some of you have heard me rant in the past about the kind of liturgy that involves only a priest or bishop washing the feet of twelve people, to represent the twelve disciples. Notice Jesus’s words: he doesn’t say, get some religious leaders to imitate me so that everyone can sit back and admire the humility of the leader. Jesus says, “you should love one another, just as I have loved you.” It’s for that reason that when we have a regular Maundy Thursday service, we invite people to wash one another’s feet and for many, it’s one of the most moving experiences of the year. Others, no doubt, are grateful that this year, we’re not able to offer that service with the option of foot-washing.
The second theme of Maundy Thursday has to do with Institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. And this year, even though we don’t celebrate the Eucharist tonight, in some ways, this year, we may be closer to Jesus and his disciples than ever.
Think about the context for the Last Supper. The disciples are away from home, away from families, some of them away from spouses and other loved ones. Work has been disrupted for them—perhaps through their own choosing, as they left what they were doing and followed Jesus, but their feelings of dislocation and confusion must have been somewhat similar to what many are feeling today. Like today, for the disciples, there was fear in the room—they had heard rumors of a pending arrest of Jesus, and they must have wondered what might happen to them. Is God still in charge of this story?
Because our worship service tonight includes neither the washing of feet or the sharing of the Holy Eucharist, perhaps the Spirit is encouraging us to notice the heart of what Jesus says. Love one another, just as I have loved you.
Some traditional Christians will check in with each other after major religious days. Sometimes they ask, “Did you make your Communion?”, meaning, did you go to church, did you receive the Body of Christ?
But especially this year, perhaps we can really think about that phrase. “Making our Communion” might mean giving someone a telephone call, or sending an email. The healthy and able-bodied might “make communion” with God and another human being by running an errand—shopping for someone, or helping with a minor repair, or taking someone through a slow, process of how to work a smart phone or computer program.
The mandatum, that New Commandment, that Jesus gives his disciples and us goes way beyond washing someone else’s feet or receiving the Holy Eucharist—it means that we actually notice one another, that we help one another, that we look out for one another, that we pray for one another.
Though we’re all missing people and church services and routines … may the Holy Spirit use this time to deepen us in our love of Christ and one another and to show us new ways of carrying out Jesus’s commandment to love one another.