Sermon; Maundy Thursday 2022
On March 8, 2020, we gathered for the final time before COVID forced us to close the doors to the church indefinitely and stop doing what we were doing. We may have had an inkling of what was to come as COVID was in the news, but nobody could have predicted the extent to which it would take over our lives. On that Sunday we gathered with friends and others whom we love as we shared in the holy and mystical meal of bread and wine become body and blood for the final time.
Tonight the disciples gathered before the events of Jesus' betrayal and arrest forced them to stop doing what they were doing. Some of them may have had an inkling of what was about to take place, but none of them could have predicted the extent to which it would take over their lives. On this night Jesus gathered with his friends for the final time to share a meal of bread and wine which he changed to his body and blood, and he gave them a new commandment to love each other as he loved them.
When we were forced to shut down for the pandemic, it seemed as if we were losing everything we had. Our lives as we knew them were being taken away from us. It felt as if we were being stripped of all that was important to us and of all that defined us. It may have seemed like we had nothing to support us.
On this night when Jesus was betrayed and arrested it must have felt to the disciples as if they were losing everything. Their lives as they knew them were being taken away from them. Everything that they had worked for, hoped for, lived for, was being stripped away from them. It may have seemed like they had nothing to support them.
On March 12, 2020, we were facing uncertain times. On this night, the disciples were facing uncertain times. Those early days of the pandemic were not only uncertain but fearful as well, as we were separated, isolated, and afraid. The days following Jesus' arrest were not only uncertain for the disciples, but fearful as well, as they were separated, isolated, and afraid. Both we and they were alone and suddenly lonely.
Unlike in years past when I have equated us with Judas or the other eleven disciples, when I have equated this night with either our betrayal or our desertion, this night is different. In years past I have pointed out that our actions effectively remove Jesus from our presence. The stripping of the altar reflects our desire to have Jesus removed from our lives. Through our betrayal or our desertion we effectively say, “We don't want you in our lives,” and we remove everything that reminds us of him by stripping the altar and leaving the sanctuary empty.
But tonight is different, especially as we have time to reflect on the past two years. We are in the process of regathering, but the regathering isn't because we chose to be separated; the regathering is because we had been forced to be separated. The events of COVID forced us to shelter in place, forced us to remain isolated, forced us into physical distancing. But these events also caused us to reevaluate what was and is important in our lives. Things were taken away from us that we may have taken for granted.
I think about the disciples on this night. Events were set in motion for which they had no control; even Judas found himself swept up and away by the events which he set in motion. These events forced the disciples into hiding. They forced them into isolation. Things which they had taken for granted – friendship, mission work, public teachings – were suddenly taken away from them.
These are the parallels with tonight. Two years ago we didn't unleash the COVID virus on the world because we wanted things to be different. We were, however, caught up in the events COVID spawned and things were taken away from us.
Eleven of the disciples didn't betray Jesus because they wanted things to be different. But all twelve of them were caught up in the events that betrayal spawned and things were taken away from them.
Tonight we will wash the feet of friends and neighbors. Tonight we will share in the holy and mystical meal of bread and wine become body and blood. And tonight we will watch as we are caught up in the events of the night and the altar is stripped. The stripping of the altar is a reminder that things which we hold dear can be taken away from us at a moment's notice.
Tonight was hard for the disciples. Tonight is also hard for us, as have been these past two years. In all three instances – that night of Jesus' betrayal and arrest, the past two years, tonight's liturgy – we have lost that which is precious. In all three instances we have been caught up in events beyond our control.
In these times when it seems as if all is lost, or we don't know where to turn, or we wonder where God is, or we confront any other thoughts in difficult times, the only thing we can do is pray. On this night when the symbols of our faith are taken away from us leaving us to feel alone and isolated, the only thing left for us to do is to pray. As we leave from here, let us pray.
O God, our strength in need, our help in trouble:
stand with us in our distress, support us in our shock, bless us in our questioning,
and do not leave us comfortless.