Sermon; Maundy Thursday 2021
For me, Maundy Thursday has always been the most difficult day of Holy Week.
Certainly Palm Sunday is hard, with its whiplash kind of effect when we move from shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in a matter of minutes. It seems hard to comprehend how that could happen. But then I think back to January 6 and the gallows that were erected and the mob that shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” It doesn't take much to go from adoring fan to rabid zealot. And if you think I'm cherry-picking examples, think about the sports fans who eagerly and rabidly cheer for their team and then scream obscenities or send death threats when that team doesn't perform as expected. So, yes, Palm Sunday is a hard day as we move from one extreme to the other in the reading of the Passion. It's a hard day as we sit with that whiplash event and contemplate how we also might be moved from one extreme to the other in our own lives today.
Good Friday, tomorrow, is Palm Sunday without the whiplash. We have moved from adoration to spite. As we move through the liturgy, our focus is less on, “How did this happen?” or, “How did we get caught up with a bloodthirsty mob?” to recognizing and admitting we were part of the reason for Christ's death. As the hymn says, “Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee.” This day is hard because this is the day we contemplate our complicity in the killing of an innocent man.
But I find today, Maundy Thursday, to be the most difficult day of Holy Week. It's difficult because we share a meal with both Jesus and Judas. It's difficult because as Jesus washes the feet of Peter, he also washes the feet of Judas. It's difficult because we can all relate to being in a close relationship with someone only to have them betray us and abandon us. It's difficult because not only have we been betrayed and abandoned, but, if we are honest with ourselves, we have betrayed and abandoned another person. And if you think that's not true, later this evening you will sit there and watch as the altar is stripped of any and all symbols of Jesus and our faith. We will all participate in turning our backs on Jesus and removing him from our lives.
The fact that today is such an intimate and personal betrayal is what makes this day, this service, so hard. We aren't part of “the crowd.” We aren't wrapped up and carried away by the forces of a mob. This isn't some emotional event in which we've lost all control, being driven forward by forces we don't understand. Instead, tonight is calm. Tonight is premeditated. Tonight is a shared meal among friends. Tonight includes an intimate moment in the washing of feet. Unlike Palm Sunday or Good Friday when the mob rules, tonight we listen to Jesus tell us to follow his example and love one another as he loves us. And then we hand him over to be executed, hide away in fear, deny knowing him, and remove everything from our sight that ties us to him.
“Thank you for your time with us, but your services are no longer needed.”
Like a terminated employee, his things are boxed up and security escorts him from the building.
We will spend the next three nights wondering about what we just did. Our premeditated actions lead to his arrest. We are the ones who turned him over the the authorities. We may not instigate the mob, but we certainly won't try to stop it. And we hide. Instead of stepping up to claim the body and bury our friend, we will hide ourselves away fearful of being associated with him, and thankful that somebody else will do that for us.
For the next three nights we have to live with the guilt of handing Jesus over to be crucified. For the next three nights we have to live with our decision to remove him from our lives. For the next three nights, we have to live with the last words spoken to us from a man we condemned to death being, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Love one another as I have loved you.
Lofty words from Jesus, and certainly a goal worth striving for. But right now I can't think about that. Right now all I can think about is how the man with whom I shared a meal and who gently washed my feet asked me to follow him. Right now the only thing I can think about is all the ways I say, “No, not now.”
Right now, I wonder if I am as alone as he is.
May God have mercy on my soul.