Lutheranlady's Weblog

Jesus’ Dinner Party: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

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

Tonight, we join in a great dinner party. As A* and L* and I met to talk about receiving their first communion, we thought about the special dinners and parties we’ve been invited to. We talked about what it takes to get ready for a party.

How do you prepare?

Whenever I’m about to go somewhere, the one step of preparation that becomes hardest and makes me arrive late is figuring out what to wear. I stand in front of my closet, or start to pull clothes out of the dresser just like my two-year old does… throwing them on the floor or the bed… wondering what it appropriate for the occasion. Am I supposed to look professional or casual? Prepared for hiking or eating at a fancy restaurant? Do I have the right clothes and accessories or enough fashion sense to be accepted and welcomed?

Clothes are a reflection of who we are, or who we want to be, or who we think we’re supposed to be. The bigger issue behind my indecision at the closet is the question of who I am and if that true self is the one who has been invited.

How do you come this night? Who is the self you have brought?

We enter this night after a period of self-examination, of standing in front of a mirror. During Lent, we were invited to enter practices.  These may have helped us become more aware of who we are. If you gave up something during this season, and especially if you found yourself struggling, maybe to stay away from that tempting chocolate bar, you have learned something more about yourself. Perhaps you’ve gained insight into other ways that you do not have the strength of will to follow through with your good intentions.

If you began a new practice of prayer, devotion, or selfless giving, you may have faced similarly revealing struggles. Did you become more self aware through your more frequent encounters with God? For some, Lent may have been a time for you to reclaim your identity as a child of God, as you were brought even closer in your relationship through more regular practices of prayer and worship.

However these last forty days have been for you, whether you gave up or took up a practice or maintained your previous way of life, consider your self-image. Who are you?

Part of how we know who we are comes from our perception of how others experience us. Are you told you are good or bad? Are you welcomed or ignored? Do people look to you to lead or to follow?

Actions speak louder than words, and how we spend our time and resources tells volumes about our priorities. What would your calendar and bank statements say about who you are? In whose interest have you worked these past days?

There are so many layers to who we are. Sometimes we add even more to try to make ourselves more acceptable. We may try to cover up parts of who we are so that we can show a prettier face to the world. We may try to put barriers up between us and others so that they don’t come too close, so they don’t know all of who we are. Most of us have something we’d like to keep covered up. Some part of us might long for intimacy, to be fully known, but often our own fear or shame gets in the way.

Tonight, we enter in to the story of Jesus’ last days as we begin our celebration of the three holiest days of our church year. We encounter Jesus entering ever more fully into human experience.

The Gospel of John depicts Jesus after supper with his disciples, stripped down to a towel, taking the place of a servant at the feet of his followers. This is just one of the unthinkably humble positions we will see Jesus the messiah, son of God, taking in his last hours. Jesus stoops down and uncovers each disciple’s feet, gently cupping it in his hands, and washing it clean. What were the disciples thinking, as their respected teacher took this position? As the one they learned from and tried to impress became so intimate with their far from pretty dirty and calloused feet?

We hear one voice: Peter’s. Peter jumps up to stop Jesus from washing his feet. His is our own fearful voice trying to put up walls between ourselves and Jesus, trying to keep Jesus from seeing those icky parts of ourselves that we’d rather no one knew. The things that we’re afraid might be more than Jesus wants to forgive or love us through.

As Jesus calms Peter, he also reassures us. In Jesus’ knowing all of us comes his forgiveness and the experience of love. Jesus pulls back our layers to know us fully. Jesus knows and embraces all of who you are. Jesus embraces all of what is most often covered up, hidden, and avoided in human experience as he enters the experience of the cross.

Other gospels and the letter to the Corinthians describe the meal Jesus shares with his disciples. As he lifts cup and loaf, Jesus names wine and bread his blood and body poured out and broken for the sake of the world. In this meal, Jesus enacts what he will do on the cross. Jesus gives up his life in order to give us life. Jesus enters in to the experience of suffering and death, so that he would know all parts of what it is to be human.

We celebrate this last supper, the Lord’s supper, in remembrance of the one who hosts it and the servant work he did to know us, forgive us, and give us life.

The readings from both Exodus and Corinthians speak of setting aside a ritual meal for the sake of remembrance. In these cases, remembering is more than simply recalling an event that happened long ago and has no affect on our current experience. “Rather, remembering means to have life and actions reshaped.” (Brian Peterson, We celebrate Holy Communion to become a part of what Jesus has done for us and to be changed by our on-going experience of what Jesus has done for us. When we eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, we aren’t play-acting or mimicking something that happened long ago. This event becomes real today. In this meal, tonight, Jesus is present. Jesus knows us as we gather. Jesus is feeding us. Jesus is giving us life and forgiveness. Jesus is transforming us to be more like him.

Jesus invites you to this, his dinner party. Jesus turns no one back. No matter what you are wearing, no matter what you are hiding inside, Jesus invites you. Fully knowing your struggles, Jesus welcomes you. Jesus fills you with good, life-giving gifts. Jesus sees you out from the feast to serve in love, as he has served you by giving up life. 

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