Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday – April 1st, 2010 – John 13:1-5

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
To be a Christian is to be a servant. It is as simple as that. This is the lesson that Christ our Lord teaches us this night. The example is clear. On the night when He was betrayed, just hours before He is to go to His passion, our Lord Jesus Christ pauses, rises from the Supper which He had just instituted, and He pauses, strips downs, puts on a towel, and carefully and individually washes the feet of every disciple there. Consider that for a moment – how much time that would take? You’ve got 12 disciples – at least a minute or two each to wash them well, and Jesus doesn’t do things not well, so at least 15 precious minutes, possibly even 30 minutes, devoted simply to cleaning their feet. Jesus didn’t have many minutes left – but He puts off the Words that John will record in the next few chapters, puts off the prayers in Gethsemane – and instead this act of service is given priority. And it is a lowly act of service. No one wanted to get down on their hands and knees and deal with the stench of the day’s grime on someone’s feet. It was the task of the lowest, most humble servant – and yet Christ stops, quietly goes about His task solemnly – only speaking when Peter is tomfoolish and stubborn. Goes about His work - and why? “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

This is the example of what the disciples’ lives, what our lives are to be. And the point is not specifically washing feet – this isn’t a command that we all ought kick off our shoes now – but rather this. To be a Christian, to be one who follows Christ, who says that Christ is True God and Savior, is to be a servant. And not an uppity servant who only does that which is fun and glorious – not a servant who only acts under threat of punishment – not a servant who only takes the easy jobs – but a servant who gets down in the muck and grime and serves even those who wouldn’t expect to be served. This is why Paul begins so many of his letters saying that he is a servant, a slave of Christ. To be a Christian is to give yourself constantly to others – to put them and their needs ahead of your own, to constantly give of your own time and effort to them simply to improve them.

This is something we learned in confirmation class. Not only are we not supposed to kill, but we are to support our neighbor in his life. Not only do we not steal, we help the neighbor to improve his possessions and income. Not only do we not lie about our neighbor, but we chose our words with care so that their reputation might be improved. This is the standard, this is the service that we are called to. This is what St. Paul means when he says that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are to abase ourselves, to make ourselves lower than our neighbor, to treat them as more important than ourselves. We are to seek to serve them, not seek to make them serve us.

We find this command of God to be odious and burdensome, do we not? How often does it happen where an opportunity to show love, to be of service arises, and instead of welcoming it we joy, we grumble instead? We put on the brave face, but then mutter under our breath – how could this person be so foolish that they need my help again? Or how often do we hurry by folks, hoping that they don’t ask anything of us – how often do we turn our thoughts away from people lest we think of things that we ought to do for them? This is the plight of all sinful men – because in sin we desire not to serve but to be masters and rulers and in control. Sin makes us all desire to be petty tyrants, running roughshod over the lives of the people we come across. We desire to demand our way yet wish to have no demands placed upon us, to have our time and talents be ours to do with as we please while the needs of others slide away beneath our notice. They aren’t my problem. This is the heart of sin – and when our Lord washes His disciples feet – this is the lesson He teaches. Repent of your sin, repent of your selfish desires. If you hold Christ to be a Teacher, then learn of His example – serve just as He serves, let His life shape yours, be conformed to Him rather than trying to make Jesus fit your time and your desires. To be a Christian is to be conformed to Christ, to be shaped like Him, to model yourself upon Him. This is the goal that you are to strive for, and any thought, any feeling that would hinder this needs to be beaten down.

Yet, remember this. Christ Your Lord and Teacher is good, and He knows you well. He knows the frailties of your flesh, for indeed, in His incarnation, in His passion, He Himself bore them up. He knows that you of yourself have not the strength to repent as you ought, have not the strength to live as you ought, have not the strength to serve as you ought. And that is why, before He washed His disciples feet, before He instructed them to do likewise – He gathered them around the table and instituted His most Holy and Blessed Supper. It is there in the Supper where Christ does that which is most extraordinary. He serves us Himself. Are you too weak to look like Christ – Yes, of course you are. But the point never was your strength or worth anyway. Instead, Christ Himself then chooses to come and give Himself to you, to share Himself with you in His Supper – to serve you so that His own service might shape your life and come out in your life. This meal that our Lord gives to us, this meal that we shall partake of in just a few moments changes you. It causes you to grow, it not only forgives your sins, forgives your lack of service of the past, but it makes you to show love and care, makes you to be the servant you ought to be in the future. And why – because this meal is Christ’s own Body and Blood – it is Christ Jesus coming into your life and cleansing you, preparing you for your tasks, strengthening you. Just as food and drink strengthen you for physical activity, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus strengthen and prepare you to live out the Christian life, to look like Christ Jesus your Lord and Teacher.

Christ still serves you today, in order that you not only might be forgiven and kept in the one true faith, but that you might learn to live out the one true life that you have in Christ, that you might ever more show His love – that the life that His death and resurrection won for you might begin to blossom and grow in you now. This is the joy of His Supper, this is the beauty of His Supper, this is the gift of His Supper. Christ Jesus Himself has begun a good work in you, and through His blessed Supper, He will bring it to completion as well. God make you continually to grow in Him into the servants He desires you to be. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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