The Rev. Dr. Paul Jacobson
5 April 2012
Grace Episcopal Church
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Having loved his own…he loved them to the end.
In the name of God: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.
The first thing I want to think about tonight is time.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Tomorrow evening, on the first night of Passover, this question will be asked in households and gatherings across the globe. By tradition, the youngest child poses this ritual question, but I would invite us to make it our question tonight. Why is this night different from all other nights?
We have begun the annual marking of the Great Three Days, the Sacred Triduum, the Passover of Christ. We have begun what is, in essence, one liturgy with many parts beginning tonight and culminating in the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night. During these three days, there is a bewildering combination of images that don’t seem like they ought to go together. Hospitality/Betrayal. Servanthood/Leadership. Life/Death.
The second thing I want to think about tonight is story…
Our stories – we all tell stories all the time. Sometimes they are the stories of a tradition that help shape our world view (Scriptures) – sometimes they’re just gossip!
During these three days we will tell stories, sing songs, pray prayers and keep vigils that we tell sing pray and keep only once a year. It’s rather like being on the roller coaster of our salvation story: the joyous wine of the banquet mixed with the bitterness of betrayal; the shame and agony of crucifixion answered with the unbelievable promise of life beyond the grave.
What makes this night different is that what we have heard tonight are stories of hospitality on the edge, at the end, even at the point of death. These are stories of radical hospitality.
In the story of the Exodus, we hear that God has reorganized time for the Chosen People: this month shall mark for you the beginning of months. And a festive memorial meal is given as the marker of this new telling of time. God’s radical hospitality of freedom from bondage continues to be memorialized today.
Tonight is different from all other nights because we hear Paul give the earliest extant account of God’s extravagant, radical hospitality in the simplest of meals. What we read in his letter to the Church at Corinth reflects what the Church there was already doing when it gathered for the Eucharist. Paul is writing before any of the Gospel descriptions of the Last Supper were written down.
It is this memorial meal – one that we observe at this altar each week – which proclaims the Passover of Christ, the redemptive death of Jesus, until he comes in glory.
And this night is different from all other nights because we retell, and are invited to participate in, the story of Jesus showing his love for the disciples to the end. The one who, though in form of God, did not deem equality with God as something to be exploited, kneels down and washes the feet of the twelve – even Judas.
This act of Jesus’ is the hallmark of an abundant life, life that is gained not by grabbing but releasing, not by hoarding but by giving, not by ruling but by serving others.
The third thing I want to think about tonight is radical hospitality
So why all this talk about hospitality? After all, being hospitable is not simply being nice to visitors, or making sure there is food after Church, or even hosting feeding programs and a Food Pantry. Being hospitable is being in relationship, connected to other people in God. Hospitality is self-offering, modeled for us by Jesus’ gift and giving.
When John describes the happenings of the night before the Crucifixion, he constructs a very long passage that is sometimes called the Farewell Discourse. In it, Jesus is telling the disciples all sorts of things that they could not possibly have understood. In my Father’s house are many mansions.
What Jesus is doing for the disciples – for us – is to prepare us for what we will need to know on our own journey to the Garden, the Cross, the Tomb – and beyond. Even at the last, he is concerned that those whom he loves will be OK when he’s gone. Having loved his own in the world…he loved them to the end.
I pretty much hate to tell stories about myself in the pulpit, but this one cries out to be told. Some of you know that I have been looking for a full-time call for many months. That’s caused some extreme financial pressure. I know some of you know all too well what I mean. It’s like being stranded in the desert, right? No water – no cup – no memory of how to drink.
I am blessed to have a very good friend who happens to live in Brooklyn. We haven’t known each other very long, but our connection was immediate and strong. When I wasn’t working, I often visited him, or house sat for him – helping make ends meet. Shortly before Christmas, I invited him to come up to visit New Haven. When he arrived, he asked if we had Trader Joe’s here (tell the story).
No time for silly.
Like the Israelites in the desert, we find that hospitality is often found in unexpected places – water from rocks, reconciliation over an extravagant table, eternal life in simple bread and wine, a call to ministry in the washing of feet.
So, just how are we to understand this footwashing thing? Is it simply one of those annual curiosities that we tolerate or politely ignore? I know it makes many of us more than a little bit uncomfortable. The washing of feet was so menial a task as not to be required even of Jewish slaves. Why, then, did Jesus choose such an act? Perhaps Jesus was moved by the example of Mary at Bethany earlier in the week, when she bathed his feet with costly nard and dried them with her hair. It’s also important to see that John’s gospel gives no account of the “institution of the Eucharist,” but records the footwashing as THE event of that evening.
Jesus prepares the disciples to be able to understand (in the future) what will be happening. And once more, Jesus turns our expectations upside down.
John wants us to know that this act of Jesus’ radical hospitality was the way he began to say goodbye to the disciples. In the explanation that Jesus himself gives, it becomes clear to the disciples, and to us, that we are called to know God, love God, and to serve God in others. In other words, life in Christ is life for others: you, also, ought to wash each others’ feet.
This is why tonight is different from all other nights! This is why we practice the footwashing every Maundy Thursday: to remind ourselves in a real, tangible, physical way of Christ’s extravagant, humbling, difficult, radical hospitality to each one of us. And we remember his call to ministry for the whole Christian people: that you also should do as I have done to you.
It is SO hard for us to receive hospitality, isn’t it? We bluster like Peter, don’t we? We hide behind a façade of a sort of “rugged individualism.” But we all know that it’s really just pride. And what Jesus tells Peter and what he tells us constantly is, “shhh. Be calm. No time for the silly.”
Jesus gives us a new commandment. Jesus also liberates from our fears and gives us the grace and strength to respond. Whatever we do because of this day will transform someone’s life as well as our own. Whatever action we take to love one another takes us one step closer to the redemption of the world. Whatever we risk of our own comfort and tranquility will be used by God to restore others who are lost and broken.
Let tonight be different from all other nights. As we journey together from here to the Garden to the tomb to the other garden and beyond, I pray that you might be able to allow JESUS to wash and enfold you. That you let these three days enfold and change you.
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