Maundy Thursday – The Rev. David Rider

As the power and mystery of Holy Week intensifies, we gather this evening to recall Jesus’ final night with his disciples

All four gospels depict what we now call Maundy Thursday, yet they tell the story in strikingly different ways

Mark, Matthew and Luke all re-enact the Last Supper—John does not—yet only John gives witness to Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples and commanding—mandatum, in Latin—his disciples to love one another

All four gospels tell about the Garden of Gethsemane, but only John captures Jesus speaking about his glorification—maybe the sleeper idea of this entire week—more than 10 times in our Holy Week readings

Maundy Thursday embodies a unique combination of intensity and serenity as Jesus prepares both to depart from his disciples and to mount the cross on Good Friday

On four Sundays during Lent this year, a group of our parishioners reflected sequentially on each of the four gospel accounts of Holy Week, including Maundy Thursday

In Mark and Matthew—the two most similar—we noted the stark nature of the events, of Jesus’ aloneness and god-forsakenness as key ingredients of his identifying with our human nature

Also in Mark and Matthew, the pessimism about our human condition is most poignant, as the disciples—our proxy—deny Jesus, fall asleep at the switch tonight, and scatter in terror

Luke’s account, which we heard last Sunday, might be called the kinder, gentler version of Holy Week, where Jesus remains in continuous and intimate prayerful conversation with the Heavenly Father, gives the disciples the benefit of the doubt when they fall asleep because they were exhausted, and cries out tomorrow, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

In a wonderful tradition that now is embedded in our current Prayer Book, we read from Mark, Matthew or Luke—the so-called Synoptic Gospels—in a 3-year rotation on Palm Sunday (four days ago, we heard from Luke)

After Palm Sunday, however, for the remainder of Holy Week we always read from John’s Gospel, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

In John’s account, Jesus never is victim nor overwhelmed by the events of Holy Week; he freely lays down his life as an act of generous love, and he freely takes up his life again (JN 10:17-18)

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is conscious of his pre-existence that dates back to the Big Bang—In the beginning…—and Jesus remains fully in charge of every step, including our reading tonight

In Gethsemane (John 18:1-12), there is no prayer for the cup to pass: Jesus drinks this cup to glorify God’s purpose

Jesus does not lie or kneel on the ground—prostration would be inconceivable to John

As we heard a few minutes ago, Jesus is not surprised by Judas and the arresting party—in fact, Jesus goes out to meet them

Jesus and the Father are one—there is no abandonment or forsakenness or dereliction in John’s account

Jesus remains eager to drink the cup the Father has given him (JN 18:11)

Jesus already has conquered the world: John mixes this intensity and serenity like no other gospel writer

As I mentioned at the outset, John—and only John—gives us tonight’s story of foot washing

It starts with an assertion of Jesus’ knowledge and power: he knew, John tells us, that his hour had come to depart from this world—departing becomes a larger motif than struggle

During supper—it might be the Last Supper, but John does not go there—Jesus gets up for a final teaching that radically upends traditional notions of power and authority

Jesus strips down, begins to wash the disciples’ feet and wipes them dry with the towel that is still around his waist—an incredible example of servanthood and intimacy

When Simon Peter once again goes into his Ready, Fire, Aim mode, Jesus rebukes him and demands that he wash Simon Peter’s feet as a requirement of their relationship—by the way, that sounds like very conditional love

In doing so, Jesus embodies a core value of Christianity: that we must serve one another in ways non-believers fail to understand

If that’s not outrageous enough, Jesus delivers his final paradoxical challenge to his disciples: Jesus does not admonish but mandates that we love one another

Talk about a paradoxical, counter-cultural command that remains as applicable today as when Jesus first uttered it

I do not suggest, Jesus says, but I command that you love one another—not simply familiar friends, but strangers, enemies, recalcitrant eccentrics, the repugnant, and everyone else who walks this earth

This mandate alone brings new vision and faithful perspective to today’s intractable debate on the stranger and immigrant at our border

Maundy Thursday brings together three key pieces of the Holy Week narrative, stories that bind together Holy Week itself but also point to the core of our Christian DNA throughout the year

  1.  Servant ministry that includes the mandatum to love one another
  •  The Last Supper and our core faith in a Eucharistic theology of Christ’s presence among us when we break bread together in faith
  • A night spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, watching and waiting with Christ in ways we often re-enact when we sit at the bedside of a dying loved one and pray for his or her holy death

In our worship tonight, we re-live all three as we wash one another’s feet, celebrate the Eucharist, and keep watch throughout this night in quiet, prayerful serenity

While the original events no doubt had angst, a dose of cluelessness, and even terror among the disciples, John’s witness shows Jesus fully in charge with clarity and deep serenity as he prepares for his final act of sacrificial love before departing this world

In this spirit, I invite you to a continued night of mutual servanthood, Eucharistic fellowship, and quiet watching and waiting with Jesus in his final hours.