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The Table is Set: Maundy Thursday Sermon
April 21, 2011, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , ,

Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31-35

The Holy Gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Christ.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in Godself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.


Grace and peace to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.

On this first of our three holiest days, we gather around the table. It is Jesus’ table. We find him playing the host, the servant, and the meal itself. We gather around the table, and here Jesus forgives us, feeds us, and forms us into his own body, given for the sake of the world.

On this night, we witness the depth of Jesus’ love and servanthood.  The Gospel of John focuses on Jesus’ servanthood. In John’s version of the Last Supper, the focus is on what occurs outside of the meal, unlike the other versions of the Last Supper with the familiar focus on the bread and wine, given for the disciples. Here in John, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, kneels at the feet of the disciples, and washes them as only a servant would.

This is utterly shocking! Jesus has been the disciples’ respected teacher, the one they have confessed as the promised savior from God. He deserves to be revered, not allowed to take the lowest position, beneath them. Their feet are caked with the dust from the day’s travel, calloused, ugly. Feet see the worst of the day’s hard work; they carry evidence of all the places people have been. All this Jesus sees, touches, and cleanses, as he kneels down to perform the task of the lowliest household servant.

The depth of Jesus’ love and his willingness to take the servant’s position out of that love is shocking- and it’s for us.  We kneel at the communion rail twice tonight, and there Jesus serves us. First we hear Jesus’ forgiveness, spoken to each one of us. Jesus sees, touches, and cleanses the grime that clings on to us. This whole season of Lent, we have prayed for God to have mercy upon us. But it’s not because of your prayers that you receive this forgiveness, it’s because of Jesus’ love for each of you. Jesus wants you to know that you are forgiven. Jesus knows your sin, the ways you are broken, the ways you hurt others. Chances are, the people sitting next to you tonight know some of your sin, too. You might not think you deserve forgiveness or love, and maybe your neighbor would agree with you! But that’s where the surprise of Jesus’ love is so good for us. It doesn’t matter if you deserve it, Jesus gives his forgiveness, his life, for you.

Jesus knelt at the feet of Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray him onto death. Jesus served the betrayer. Jesus intimately enacted his love for the one he knew would so completely sin against him. If Jesus’ love allows him to do that, surely there is room enough in his love for you.

When we kneel at the communion rail for a second time tonight, Jesus serves us with his very lifeblood. The Apostle Paul gives us the words of Jesus at the instituting of communion, in his letter to the Corinthians. Here, at Jesus’ table, bread becomes more than bread, wine more than wine, as we receive Jesus’ body and blood, Jesus’ presence, and Jesus’ gift of life and forgiveness.

Jesus gives us his self and his life so that we can follow his path. We are called to live out Jesus’ love and servanthood. Jesus feeds us so that we become what we eat- his body and blood, life given for the world. We are called into the same faithfulness Jesus shows for us.

Jesus’ faithfulness to his mission, his love and servitude, is measured by his death. His faithfulness leads him on a path that includes abandonment and betrayal. Tonight we remember this abandonment and betrayal toward the close of our worship. Perhaps the whole Passion narrative is still fresh in your minds from Sunday. Remember how Matthew told of Jesus’ struggle in the Garden: Jesus prays to God, knowing his time of trial was close at hand. As Jesus struggles in prayer, his closest disciples sleep instead of keeping watch with him. Although they are physically there, they have already abandoned him, in his hour of need. The scene ends in even deeper betrayal as Judas comes, leading a band of soldiers and priests, identifies Jesus with the greeting of a close friend, and thereby hands him over to arrest and death.

We, after having been served twice by Jesus, will remember this time of abandonment as we sing Jesus’ plea, “Stay with Me” and hear the psalmist’s lament, Jesus’ lament, as all turn away from him. Those who have been loved, served, and taught by Jesus end up deserting him. His Roman captors taunted and beat him into humiliation. The beauty of our sacred space will be stripped away, and we will be left in darkness. Despair and darkness, abandonment and betrayal, suffering and humiliation, were real for Jesus on that night.

Jesus’ experience of abandonment and betrayal is for us. Since Jesus willingly entered this darkness, we will never enter darkness alone. Despair may come to us, but Jesus, in his love, will come to us as well. As people fed and forgiven by Jesus, we are formed into Jesus’ bodily presence for the sake of the world. As Jesus comes to those experiencing abandonment and betrayal, we are also called to come with love, forgiveness, and comfort to those in the midst of darkness.

On this first of the three holy days, we gather around Jesus’ table. Jesus gifts us with promises and proves his faithfulness to us even as he experiences betrayal and abandonment from those to whom he has been faithful. Tomorrow we continue to witness Jesus’ faithfulness as we gather around the cross, and Saturday and Sunday Jesus’ faithfulness is affirmed as we gather in new light and new hope.

Hymn of the Day LBW 122 Love Consecrates the Humblest Act

Gathered as the people Jesus welcomes and serves at the table, let us pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

Jesus, you serve and provide for your church. Form your church into your body, ready and willing to faithfully serve those in need and to stand in solidarity with those who live in poverty and despair.

Jesus, you suffered the effects of an oppressive empire and the human reliance on violence. Send peace to nations where there is violence and turmoil. Grant refugees a safe haven and a new home.

Jesus, all things were stripped away from you. Send comfort to those whose possessions and loved ones have been stripped away because of fires, tornados, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

Jesus, you experienced the frailty of the human body. Send healing to those whose bodies, minds, or spirits are suffering. Especially we pray for those on our prayer list-  and for those who grieve.

Jesus, because of your faithfulness to us, we receive the promise of eternal life with you. Unite us with all the saints, and, at the end, welcome us to your table for an unending banquet.

Into your hands, loving God, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.



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