Maundy Thursday 2019

Maundy Thursday – April 18, 2019 – Luke 22:14-30 – Trinity, Winchester

On the night he was betrayed, in an act of ultimate servitude, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and sat down at table with them, the very friends who would betray him. Even as he faced death, due in part to their actions, he served them a meal that would become the source of his relationship with them long after his earthy body was gone. 

Imagine with me, if you will, the scene. Jesus is going around the table offering himself to each of his friends. “This is my body, this is my blood.” 

To James and John, who have been with him from the beginning, “This is my body, given for you.” To Andrew and to Thaddeus, “This is my blood, shed for you.” 

To Matthew, Bartholomew, Philip, and Simon, “I am broken for you.” To Thomas, who always was a bit of a glass half-empty guy, “This is my body. You will believe.” Then Peter. Jesus knows he will deny him. Even so, he hands him the bread. “Remember this, Peter.” 

And lastly, Judas Iscariot. The man who is about to set this whole thing in motion. “Take, eat, remember me.” 

These twelve are about to fall asleep on him. One will deny him and one will sell him out. But he wants them to know, even though they cannot quite understand it yet, that he will always be with them. No matter what. 

Just as Jesus shared this holy meal with his apostles before his death, he shares it with us tonight in the fullness of his resurrection. Alas, betrayal, it seems, is in our blood, too. Like the first disciples, we still falter, we still fail. These twelve turned their back on Jesus, but our hearts still dare to overthrow him.

If you need examples, I’ve got plenty. We don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves. We reject our brothers and sisters because they are different from us. We unwittingly contribute to the destruction of the earth and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We don’t recycle. We tell racist jokes, and, when given the chance, use people as stepping stones to our own success. We spend our money on sex, drugs, and war, while the least of God’s people starve and freeze in the streets. 

Our failure is so ubiquitous that we even built into our liturgy formal ways to acknowledge it: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed.” “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” 

These prayers are about admitting that we mess up. We are not worthy to approach the Lord’s altar and receive his body and blood except through God’s great mercy. We can’t get there on our own merit, and yet Jesus still bids us come. 

It makes me think of the final scene of the movie Places in the Heart. Maybe you’ve seen it. The whole cast of characters sits together in the pews of a little country church passing trays of bread and wine.

The viewer is surprised to see that every character in the movie is present and accounted for in the final scene. Not only the main characters, or the pious characters, or the innocent characters. The congregation of the faithful is not even limited to the characters that remain living at the story’s end. The scene includes everyone. Living and dead. White and black. Young and old. Betrayed and betrayer.

In one pew sits a husband next to the wife he cheated on. In another pew sits the local sheriff along side the young black man who was lynched for accidentally shooting him.   

This must be the definition of “mystic sweet communion” if there ever was one. Even with all that baggage of sin, betrayal, and broken trust, all are welcome at God’s table. 

Even you. Even me. 

Jesus invites us to his holy table not because the Eucharist magically inoculates us from the temptation of sin, but because it calls us back into relationship with God. Jesus genuinely wants our company. No matter what we do or how far we stray, Jesus calls us into deeper relationship because he loves us—all of us—no matter what. 
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine acting so lovingly toward anyone who would do me so much harm. Serving them a meal certainly seems a step too far! Holding a grudge, shutting people out, and refusing to forgive them sounds much more like our culture these days. 

But the truth is, even when we can’t bring ourselves to be civil, much less forgive; even when we can’t imagine serving a meal to those who betray us; Jesus sees our choices, knows who we are, and loves us anyway because he understands what it feels like to be a human. We don’t have to serve a meal. Jesus offers us his meal. 

All we have to do is come. Receive God’s grace right from the source. It will transform your life. It will wash away your sins. It will free you from sin and death. 

All you have to do is come. 

Well, there is one more thing. When you’re finished, go forth, and make him known.

A mother knows

Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 20, 2019 – John 2:1-11 – Trinity, Winchester

Have you ever been to a wedding? This is one of the very few times in my career that I expect to incorporate audience participation into a sermon. Really, feel free to answer. Have you ever been to a wedding? 

I thought so. (That concludes the audience participation portion of the sermon. The following questions are rhetorical.)

At that wedding did the host run out of something crucial? Did the buffet or bar run low? Can you imagine the embarrassment? 

At my sister Erika’s wedding the prime rib (or whatever it was we had) ran out. Instead of replacing it with what she had ordered, the reception hall manager replaced it with beef and broccoli. My mother, keeping track of all such things, was not happy. 

She felt embarrassed. Were people eating more than we expected? Did the venue not prepare enough food? Or was it simply a case of miscommunication? Regardless of the reason, it was frustrating. It’s not that any of our guests were pretentious enough to care. It’s just not the way that my mom—not to mention my sister—had envisioned the evening going. It’s not what they had planned. 

Today, we hear that Jesus is with his mother at a wedding in Cana. Keeping track of such things, as mothers do, Mary says to Jesus, “They’ve run out of wine.” 

I imagine Jesus’ good mother brought this up because she knew the implications. This could potentially be embarrassing. Someone would need to intervene to help the hosts avoid humiliation.

“What business is it of mine, woman?” replies Jesus. This response seems a bit harsh. Some translations render it, “Woman, what have you to do with me?” or “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” I wouldn’t want to be caught talking to my mother that way. I wonder if I could even get away with it. Then again, I’m not the Son of God. 

“Oh woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ response to his mother indicates that he doesn’t think he’s ready for public ministry, but Mary is about to push him into it anyway.

God has plans for Jesus that few can fathom, but I think Mary must have an idea. Call it women’s intuition. I’ve heard it said, especially when it comes to the secrets of a son, “A mother knows.” 

Mary knows something about her son, his purpose for the world, and his power. She’s asking him to do something about the lack of wine because she knows and trusts that he can. 

“Not yet,” says Jesus. “My hour has not yet come.” But Mary doesn’t give into that. She shows us that she believes in her son from the very beginning.

The servants follow her example. They do what he tells them to. “Standing there were six stone water jars…each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’” They filled them up to the brim, and again at Jesus’ command they drew some out and took it to the chief steward who tasted that it was wine. 

This miracle story at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry is an Epiphany story. It is a story of God made manifest by the working of a miracle in Galilee. This miracle revealed God’s glory in Jesus Christ. The text tells us that, because of this sign, Jesus’ disciples believed in him. 

But the disciples weren’t the first ones to believe him. For his disciples it may have taken the impossible act of turning water into wine to spark their belief, but Jesus’ mother trusted in her son even before the miracle occurred. Even before she saw the sign, she trusted that Jesus’ path was a greater path, and in turn she instructed the servants to obey him as well.  

Mary knows a little something about the life-giving power of Jesus, so she urges him to go public with it. Mary has been with him from the very beginning of his earthly life, and I’ll bet she’d seen signs of it before. Her unconditional faith in her son initiated a series of events that led many others to witness the revelation of the glory of God.

Just as the glory of God was present at the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s glory is present in this story. Today in its hearing, you and I are able to catch a glimpse of all that is possible with Jesus, the incarnate God. 

Just like Mary, we know the life-giving power of Jesus. And just like her, it is our job to spread it around by pointing to Jesus and trusting that he can handle the rest. 

Catching a glimpse of a miracle may provide the proof necessary to believe in Jesus, but I wonder if we, like Jesus’ dear mother, are willing to believe even when we haven’t seen it yet, even when it seems impossible.