March 29, 2018, Maundy Thursday, No One Is Not Welcome – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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You might have noticed that Christians seem to do a lot of eating. Whenever there is a gathering of the Lord’s people, as likely as not, you will find us around a table, sharing a meal of one kind or another. And one reason for that is the very thing we are here to remember tonight, this Last Supper that Jesus had with his good friends just before he was arrested and condemned and executed.
When Jesus called his disciples together for this meal, he was fully aware that it would be their final gathering. He knew that the words he spoke at that table would be the last words his friends would hear from him. He knew that whatever he did would be the very last example they would have from him. And knowing that Jesus knew those things gives great weight to everything that happened that evening, just as we specially treasure the last words we hear from our loved ones before they die, or the last time we spent with them. So, knowing that these words we read tonight were Jesus’ final words of instruction and comfort, that gives deep meaning to our remembrance. And it all happened around a table.
On this night, we remember that Jesus shocked and offended his friends by getting up from the table, and wrapping a towel around his waist, and kneeling at their feet to wash them like a common servant. He was acting out what he had been teaching them, time and time again, as they walked along the roads together or sat around the table together. “You know how it is among the Gentiles,” he had told them once, when they had been arguing about who was greater than who, “You know how they love to lord it over one another. That is not how we do things. In our kingdom the greater is the servant of the lesser. And the one who wants to be greatest – he must be the servant of all.” And another time, Jesus had told them plainly, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve – and even, to give my life as a ransom for many” But it took the shock of seeing their Teacher stripped to the waist, kneeling at their feet washing their dirty feet, to finally make them understand what he had been teaching them all along.
And so, on Maundy Thursday, we kneel at the feet of our brothers and sisters, offering ourselves as servants to one another in love in the way that our Lord showed us by his example.
Of course, tonight is only a practice run. The disciples went on to the ministry of healing, and teaching the words of Christ, and establishing the church – and ten out of the twelve of them were martyred, giving up their lives in the name of Jesus Christ. For us, tomorrow and the next day and every day we will be out into the world, with opportunities to serve in as many different ways as we are people: to serve not only those we love, but those who count themselves as our enemies; to give of ourselves, not only out of our abundance, but even out of our scarcity, even sacrificially. That is greatness as our Lord demonstrated it to us, kingdom kind of greatness.
After Jesus had finished washing their feet, and the grumbling and head-shaking had died away, he gave them a command – just one. It is for this command that this day gets its name – “Maundy”, from the Latin word “mandatum”, which means command. All of my words, all of my examples, everything I have taught you, Jesus told them, can be expressed in one single command, “Love one another. In the same way as I have loved you all, you, love each other.” If we remember that he said “in the same way” we will never be fooled into thinking this command is easy, or weak, or sentimental. If we remember that he loved us with all of his strength and with all of his mind and with all of his heart and with the offering of his own life, we begin to understand what it is to obey that command.
And remember, it was Jesus’ deliberate design to do all this teaching and offending and commanding right here, around a table, in the context of a shared meal. Because as human beings, the sharing of a meal connects us with one another in a powerful way. The reason the Jews forbade the sharing of a meal with Gentiles, is that sharing a meal with somebody meant accepting that person into the fellowship of the community. Since the Gentiles were not considered “clean”, because they weren’t followers of the Law, they weren’t acceptable members of the nation of Israel. And so, to eat with Gentiles was to become unclean, and to lose one’s place in the community. But Jesus turned that whole idea upside down – except maybe it was really right side up – by showing that inviting others to our table means welcoming them into community with us. To eat with outsiders doesn’t exclude us from the community; it draws outsiders in. and gives them a place in our community. It is around the Lord’s table that the Church grows, as we put out more chairs, as we set more places, for the last and the least, for the unloved and unwanted, and absolutely for the undeserving – because which one of us can say we deserve to be here?
One of the reasons Christians do so much eating together is that Jesus chose to make a table the sign of his community, and because he chose to be himself the substance of our meal. No matter what we share together as his people, we are nourished by the presence of Jesus, because he promises “wherever two or more gather in his name, I’m there.” But most especially we are nourished by our Lord as we share the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, the most holy meal of our gathering together.
At our house, we have a table in the dining room that is big enough for about six people. But if more people come, we have one leaf that we can put in to make the table big enough for ten people – or twelve people, if we don’t mind being a little chummy. But the table of the Eucharist is a table of infinite leaves. There is no limit to how much our Lord’s table can expand to make room for one more, or two more, or a thousand more. Every one of us shows up with dirty feet, but we are all of us cleansed by our Servant Master, and we are all invited to dinner. No one is not welcome.
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