A sermon preached by David Barton at our online service for Maundy Thursday, 9 April 2020.
Maundy Thursday, and we remember Jesus’ institution of the Holy Communion, the Eucharist. Sunday by Sunday we have found our identity as Christians by doing just this – meeting together, breaking bread, and sharing the peace. But now, at the end of the third week of lockdown, the church is closed and we’re apart. And that is a painful loss.
But look again at that account we just read. Jesus invites his disciples to this meal. He is the host. The host’s task was to arrange for his guests tired, dusty feet to be washed before a meal. In the normal way it would be done by a slave. Jesus abolishes that distinction, host/slave. He strips to the waist, and washes his disciples feet himself. This is neither lordship nor servitude. This meal is to be a meal of equals. And the equality here is between us and God.
John tells us that Jesus at this moment is deeply conscious of his rootedness in God. “He had come from God and was going to God’. This is God choosing to be here – not distant, not other. But here, in our humanity. Kneeling humbly at our feet.
There is an echo here of the many, many moving stories of people during this pandemic who have selflessly worked to ensure the well being of others over the past weeks. Doctors, nurses and health workers, but not just them. And it speaks louder than words about who we are as people, and what we are capable of. We need to serve one another in such a way, and be ready to value that service if we are to have a society worth living in when all this is ended.
But Christ at our feet says something more. This is God’s extraordinary enfolding of each one of us in love, no matter who we are. And such a love, when we see it changes everything. The pouring of the water, just like the breaking of bread, is life giving, making possible more things than we ever dreamed of. And it is never absent. God in Christ in our humanity, leaves this room and goes on to face the long lingering death of the cross. There is no dark corner of human life where God is not. In every place God’s enabling love waits for us.
Everything flows from this. Love one another, Jesus said on this night, as I have loved you. We easily forget that last phrase. He loves us first. You and I are not separate tonight. We are bound together in Christ’s love. Our fellowship is always in him and throughhim. It is Christ who is the root of our identity as Christians.
Perhaps, that points to the gift we need to explore in these isolated days. To go inward. To reflect on our depth in Christ. To let the messages of the scriptures sink into us. “I in you and you in me” Jesus said. “…as I have loved you.”And then I think we see something else. That Christ is there in our hospitals, beside the sick and dying, with those who mourn, in the crowded refugee camps of the Middle East and the overcrowded cities of the world, which will be so badly hit by this virus. When Jesus asks us to watch with him, he asks us to watch with him there. And I suppose there is a question, somewhere at the back of our minds. Can we really let such inclusive, such selfless love find a place in our hearts?