Holy Happenings for Holy People

Maundy Thursday Sermon + April 21, 2011

 Holy Happenings for Holy People

 

Today we begin the Triduum or Three Days during when we participate once again in the saving power of Jesus’ passing over from death into life. We have just heard the words of Jesus’ new commandment or mandatum, from which Maundy comes, to love one another. And we will through liturgical action wash and strip away what weights us down to prepare us for all that is to come.

But this evening, I have a confession to make before speaking about offering ourselves in love for the life of the world… In our bulletin and liturgy this evening there is a typo, actually more than that, a bit of a mistake. In all of the planning, preparation and proof-reading for Holy Week, I missed that the laying on of hands liturgy we used this evening was for healing and not for individual absolution which is traditional for this night.

For those who came forward following our corporate confession and forgiveness at the beginning of worship, you heard the words “In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ be strengthened and filled with God’s grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit.” The words that are appointed for the liturgy are: “In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”

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Confession is something that most of us see as a group, or corporate thing. We see individual confession as something our Roman Catholic cousins do. But confession in all forms is a very Lutheran thing, even if it is only once a year on this night, and even if only a few opt to come up to hear those words of God’s grace: “I forgive you all your sins.”

Now Martin Luther was a big fan of confession and saw it as almost sacramental. Luther said:

Confession contains such a noble thing. I would not give up confession for all the riches in the world, even if all the leaves and grains of sand were gold. And save for the sacrament, I know of no greater treasure and comfort than confession. Whoever does not know this comfort is not worthy to confess.”

Confession and forgiveness is at its core, all about healing, wholeness and reconciliation. So my mistake this evening in using a healing rite instead of individual absolution just conveyed God’s love in a slightly different way. The laying on of hands in the name of Jesus, the great healer and reconciler of the world, conveys God’s abundant comfort, unconditional forgiveness and never-ending grace… even when the pastor messes-up.

God knows what we need, knows our heart and hurts, knows our sins and struggles. God knows what we need to confess and forgives us, what we need strength for, sustains us through the Spirit’s presence and love.

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 We who walk together asFaithLutheranChurchoften find ourselves caught-up in the messiness of relationships…

  • We get frustrated and angry with one another.
  • We gossip and think or say hurtful things when things don’t go our way.
  • We stomp our feet, we even sometimes stomp away from one another, or from the community God has called us to be a part of.
  • We get caught with mud on our faces and get covered when the sins of our thoughts, words and deeds as individuals and as a congregation hit the fan.

It is in these moments that we need to be reminded of the means of grace. Earthly elements connected with words of Jesus to do. And so in John’s Gospel we hear the story of Jesus and the Last Supper. A simple meal, bread and wine, shared around a dining table. One of our youngest members, in describing an image of that meal called it the “last dinner” rephrasing the simplicity of the meal, elevating it to a special meal, a dinner, one that we will share on this a night we remember that first, but not last dinner.    

This night Jesus tells us to remember him over bread broken and wine poured. But he also tells us, his disciples to wash one another’s feet. Jesus said through this humble and awkward act of service, that “If I, you Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

This wasn’t a suggestion, metaphor, or a merely a figure of speech, Jesus knows that kneeling before one another and washing feet is an intimate experience, a humble act of service and exactly what people who live and work together in community need to do.

Now touching the feet of another, especially a stranger is awkward, weird and for some downright disgusting. Feet sometimes stink, sometimes are unattractive, sometimes disfigured or abused by the shoes we wear, or the work we do. And the fact is that for the most part, our feet literally are usually out of sight and out of mind.

Jesus kneels down in love, washes away the dirty messiness and weariness of our journey. This means of grace, this act of love is simple, a little water, a little love… God’s work using your hands is an intimate physical connection to Jesus, those first disciples and one another. This action connects us to the incarnation, the very real and physical life and action of Jesus 2,000 years ago and through us tonight, present in and through one another, gathered as the body of Christ.

Lutheran Liturgical Scholar Gail Ramshaw describes this physical action as drawing us in to be a part of the story and not just spectators or re-enactors. She says:

In this ritual . . . we are invited to do what Christ did: to demonstrate the reality of the body of Christ, first by being served by another, and then by serving the next. And this service is not only an attitude in one’s head: it is an action that extends all the way to our hands and our feet. Our entirebody is pulled into and expresses our covenant within the body of Christ.”

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The Gospel tonight describes a leadership seminar for the first disciples and for we who gather in the memory and action of Jesus this day. John’s story tells disciples of all time that Jesus knew his Dad delegated everything to him and supplied the resources to make everything possible. Jesus knows he is about to return to his Dad and so he gets up from the table, takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and kneels to wash the disciples dirty, sweaty feet one by one.

Jesus kneeling in love and humble service gets into it with Pete who is both block-headed and rock-solid. Pete can’t handle what is about to happen to him and tells Jesus that he was most definitely not going to wash his feet. Well Jesus tells him that while he can’t take it all in at the moment, that one day he’ll get it. Pete persists telling him there was no way, but Jesus responds by telling him that if he doesn’t, then Pete won’t be a part of it all. Pete decides he’s ‘all in’ and asked to be washed head to toe.

When Jesus has finished kneeling and washing the twelve, including Judas, he explains his new commandment to love one another as Jesus had loved them. He told them that if he had washed their stinking feet as their boss, mentor and coach, then they had to wash one another’s feet. Jesus pointed out that he wasn’t asking them to do something he wouldn’t do. Jesus told the disciples, “I’m your example, copy me: get washing!”

And so we too look to Jesus as our example this night. We too are little children who will soon miss their beloved Jesus. We too kneel this night to eat and drink, to wash one another remembering our baptismal washing and call to love one another as Jesus first loved us. These holy happenings tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday, are for you holy people.

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