We must peer beyond Passover lambs and scapegoats if we are to understand the LOVE that we call God – a Maundy Thursday sermon

Every Sunday I stand at the altar and preside over a mystery. A mystery that has its roots in the events we remember this Holy Thursday.  On Maundy Thursday, we gather together to contemplate mystery. But just because we know what will happen tomorrow, we cannot fully comprehend this mystery.

The various gospel writers have created a record of Jesus’ last evening that is filled with bittersweet images. Our mystery begins with the foreshadowing of what is to come as we hear the name Judas Iscariot. Judas, son of Simon, is perhaps the most trusted of Jesus’ disciples, after all Judas is the one who is trusted with the financial resources of this struggling little group. Even though we know Judas’ role in this unfolding mystery, we must remember that Judas is among those who Jesus loved to the end. But long before the silver changes hands, we already know enough to dread the betrayal.

Our mystery continues with the tender intimacy of a teacher washing the dirty feet of his beloved bumbling students, as Jesus breaks the bonds of decorum to demonstrate the fierce tenderness of loving service. The image of Jesus washing the feet of his followers still seems undignified all these centuries later. So, is it any wonder that the intimacy of Jesus’ tenderness is more than Simon Peter can bear? In order to get beyond their inhibitions, Jesus must spell it out for them.  “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Sovereign —and you are right, for that is what I AM. So, if I, your Sovereign and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you and example.” Jesus has washed their feet; all their feet, even Judas and the talk of betrayal continues as Jesus returns to the meal.

The writer of the Gospel of John does not record the details of the breaking of the bread or the passing of the cup. These details are recorded by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and by the writers of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke: “on the night he was betrayed, our Savior Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying, “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper, he took the cup and said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do it in remembrance of me.  For every time, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim Jesus’ death until Christ comes.” Week after week, year after year, generation after generation, century after century Christian priests have presided over ritual communions using what have become known as the words of institution. In remembrance of Jesus we eat and drink. The body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And therein lies the mystery. The mystery of communion. Sometimes the meal has transforming power, nourishing power, restorative, profound power. At other times the meal is just one more religious ritual carried out by rote, experienced without feeling, or impact. Sometimes the meal seems foreign to us, almost alien, perhaps even barbaric. Continue reading

MAUNDY THURSDAY – When you don’t believe that Jesus was a sacrifice for sin!

I was asked by a colleague, “So, if you do not believe that Jesus died for your sins, then why bother celebrating the events of Holy Week?”  Behind this question lies the assumption that the only way to understand Jesus’ death is to frame it within the context of the theology of “penal sacrificial atonement” ie “we are judged to be sinful creatures, punishment is required, God sends Jesus to pay the price for our sin”.  That Anslem’s theory of sacrificial atonement was formulated in the 11th century and continues to hold sway in the minds of so many followers of Christ is a testament to the power of our liturgies and hymns to form our theology.  However, Anslem’s theory is not they only faithful way to understand Jesus’ death.  

When one seriously engages the question, “What kind of god would demand a blood sacrifice?” the answers often render God impotent at best and at worst cruel and vindictive. I have often said that atonement theories leave God looking like a cosmic son of #%#%# !  Progressive Christian theologians are opening up new ways of understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus that empower the faithful to see new possibilities.  To my colleague, who fears that I am leading the faithful astray, and to those who find little comfort in the theories of an 11th century monastic, I the following notes, crafted in my preparation to lead Maundy Thursday worship.

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment:  Love one another.   And you’re to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.” That we should love one another is not a new commandment. There have been many before Jesus and many who came after Jesus who have commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.”

What is new about Jesus commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. Which begs the question:  How exactly did Jesus love? I believe that Jesus loved in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE that is God; that Jesus was able to live his life fully without fear. I believe that Jesus wanted more than anything else for his followers to be so open to the power of LOVE that is God so that they too would live their lives fully without fear. I believe that that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.” I believe that Jesus lived life abundantly and that means that he loved abundantly and without fear. Jesus was so open to the power of LOVE that is God that Jesus would not let the powers of darkness stop him from loving and living fully.

The kind of LOVE that Jesus embodied and taught has no boundaries.  No darkness, no power, no fear, not even death can limit the power of LOVE. For if LOVE is limited by death, then love will always be qualified and quantified. That Jesus was willing to LOVE without boundaries, came at great cost to himself. But Jesus was willing to pay that price in order to show  others the way. The way to LOVE without limit, without fear, without boundaries.

LOVE without boundaries is abundant life. That Jesus’ LOVE endured the worst that the world could send his way, that Jesus’ LOVE was for all the world, dead and buried, and yet bursts free from the grave, bears witness to the power of LOVE. That Jesus LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself, saves us from the need to fear death.

Jesus has shown us the way. We can live abundantly lives that are free from the fear of death. Because Jesus has shown us the way we are free to live fully, to love extravagantly and be all that we were created to be.

LOVE shines in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome LOVE.

If Jesus, life, death, and resurrection teach us anything, surely they teach us not to be afraid.

Not to be afraid of the darkness.

Not to be afraid of living fully.

Not to be afraid of loving extravagantly.

Not to be afraid of the powers of evil.

Not to be afraid of the power of death.

LOVE will endure.

All will be well.

Jesus can’t save us from life.

There is evil to contend with.

There will be darkness and there will be death.

Jesus couldn’t save himself and he cannot save us from life. Darkness and death are part of life.  Each of us must walk into the darkness that lies before us.  We can beg God to take the cup from us!  But the darkness will still come.  And there will be days when the darkness will triumph.  There are good Fridays too many to mention out there.  We can shout all we want for Jesus to save us, but in the end we too will have to take up our cross and find a way to follow Jesus into the darkness and beyond, trusting that even though it feels for all the world that God has forsaken us, we will make it beyond the darkness.

The cross will not look the same for each of us. But there will be crosses to bear. Jesus has showed us the way. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must love one another they way that Jesus loved.  It is the way beyond the darkness. Do not be afraid of evil, of death, or of the darkness. Follow Jesus who by love frees us from the power of darkness to hold us captive to our fears so that we can have life and live it abundantly.

How exactly did Jesus love?

Without limit.

What did Jesus save us from?

Our fears.

“Is this all a big hoax?” – Maundy Thursday Homily

foot washing bronzeOur worship at Holy Cross was lead by Pastor Tom Doherty and The Rev. Susan J. Thompson as we partook of two suppers interwoven to provide nourishment to our bodies and souls. After hearing the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, our hands were tenderly washed and dried for us as we continued in the Word. After enjoying of a plethora of soups, Pastor Tom’s homily ask, “Is this all a big hoax?”

Listen to the Pastor Tom Doherty’s homily here

Download a copy of the worship bulletin here

Two Suppers – MAUNDY THURSDAY – A Strange Night

   Re-posted from last year:On Maundy Thursday, followers of Jesus will gather together to remember what we have been told about the night before Jesus died.  In our community we will begin with a ritualized washing of hands, then dine over a simple meal of soup, wine and bread.  Over the meal we will talk together about the events of Jesus’ life, paying special attention to what we have been told about the Last Supper and Jesus’ betrayal.  As the meal and the conversation comes to a close, we will take bread, give thanks bless it and give it to one another saying, “The bread of Christ given for you.”  Then we will take a glass of wine give thanks and pass it to one another saying, “Christ poured out for you.”   Then we will strip our sanctuary in preparation for what the morrow brings.

In this post I have included a copy of the worship bulletin for this liturgy of suppers. It can be downloaded here. to be printed double-sided

21st century minds often find it difficult to reconcile the gospel accounts of this evening with.  So, in place of the homily, we will discuss our struggles to understand the events of this evening in light of all that we have learned together.  

For those of you who have asked, a copy of a previous Maundy Thursday homily is included here.  This homily was preached in 2007 and while I am tempted to make some changes to it in light my own struggles to come to terms with the gospel accounts, I offer it unaltered, trusting that others may see in it the early stirrings of my own desire to discover a more progressive Christianity.  At the time I had just completed reading Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s “The Last Week” and John Shelby Spong’s “Jesus for the Non-Religious” and their work permeates the homily.

 Maundy Thursday 2007:

It’s a strange night. For several decades after the Resurrection, Jesus’ followers were known as the People of the Way, or the Followers of the Way. Almost 2000 years separate the first followers of Jesus from 21st century Christians.

I wonder if the early People of the Way would have as much difficulty recognizing modern Christians as Jesus’ followers as we modern Christians have understanding the practices of the People of the Way.

The People of the Way understood Jesus to be the embodiment of what can be seen of God. Jesus shows us who God is and Jesus shared with his followers his vision of God’s justice. Continue reading