Holy Thursday Homily
Homily – Church of Gethsemane – Maundy Thursday – April 17, 2014 Rev. Sandy Obarski – Deacon
Gospel – John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I love you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Only in John do we have the scene we read on this Holy night. In the other Gospels Jesus serves, feeds, heals, and does exorcisms. In John Jesus strips, kneels, and washes – not himself but his followers - and tells them to do the same for each other. Jesus asks the disciples, do you know what I have done for you? The disciples have no answer.
Do you know what I have done for you? If we can’t answer that question, or at least try to answer it, how can we know what we think we are doing, not only with the foot washing but with the bread and wine? Jesus admonishes his followers to “do as I have done to you”. Unless we understand what that is, how can we participate in the foot washing and the Eucharist?
Do you know what I have done for you? That is the question for tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday. It is a question for everyday. The “saving” work of Christ, what Jesus has done and does for us always, is not just about the cross. It is about the birth and the baptism, the teaching and the healing, the body and the blood, the basin and towel, the life and the death.
If our washing, eating and drinking mean anything, they respond to Jesus’ question and to his command, not only to wash one another’s feet, but to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Sometimes we get confused about what this loving service looks like and what it means.
In the washing of the disciples’ feet Jesus chooses to empty himself rather than to promote himself. This act of humble service and submission is the church’s model of mission in the world, the means by which God’s “glory” will be experienced by all who will follow after Jesus has gone to live with God. Everyone can do it – whatever rank, title, gender, race, or sexual orientation – all can serve another. If we do this, it would allow God’s “glory” to shine into every life. The foot washing is more than a humble act of respect, it is a sermon to the world about how to love.
The mandate of Maundy Thursday for us, no less than for the disciples, is to love one another just as Christ has loved us. That is what we as Christians must remember about all else in our ministries. The gift and mandate of the foot washing helps us to remember with one another the unlimited depth of Christ’s loving presence and service; the gift and the mandate of the Lord’s Supper enables us to experience that reality with one another through the power of the Holy Spirit. But neither remembrance is simply about intellectual exercise, recalling what Christ did once on this earth. They are about representing Christ’s love to one another, re-experiencing it with one another. They remind us that we are loved; we have been called, and empowered by the Holy Spirit in our baptisms, to combine Jesus’s presence and love as we receive it, so that all who see it may know it is real, and believe.
Jesus is calling us to follow him and turn our lives upside down. Marcus Borg states that the Gospel of John is telling us that “The way or path of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being and being born into a new way of being – is the only way to God”.
Jesus is calling us to listen and respond to the Spirit of God within us, not to the temptations of the world around us. He is asking us to act boldly in our ministries with others. We each know in our heart what God is calling us to do in our ministries within our congregation and outside our doors in the world. We are all being challenged to turn our lives upside down and participate in servant ministry with some person or group we would have never before thought of doing.
Our Bishop’s Committee had the pleasure of having our Bishop, Brian Prior, meet with us last Sunday for a half an hour at the beginning of the meeting. He asked all of us how we feeling about the present state of our congregation. It was good to hear that we all felt happy about where we are as a congregation as we are going forward. We know we have much work to do, but we know we care about one another and the future of this congregation.
As we progressed in the meeting, it was apparent we also care about those who live in our surrounding neighborhoods by the ministries our congregation is involved in. There was some discussion about our food shelf, the Shelf of Hope, our exploring further connections with YouthLink to help homeless youth, and our pledge to Downtown Congregations for Ending Homelessness of which we are a member.
Most of the members of our congregation are active in one of our congregational ministries or outreach ministries. While doing these ministries we share our love for one another within the congregation and those outside our doors.
Perhaps each of us can think of a time when we have been served by someone in our congregation; a warm smile, a friendly hug, a much needed ear when we needed to talk. Certainly each of us has experienced the love of Christ through the words, actions, thoughts, and prayers of others. On Sunday mornings we have opportunity to welcome the newcomers and introduce them to other members of the congregation. In each of these acts, we have washed someone’s feet or allowed someone to wash ours.
Our Gospel for tonight closes with Jesus’ words, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The disciples are to show the same degree of love and service to one another as Jesus has shown to them. The mandate of Maundy Thursday for us is no less than it was for the disciples. It is to love one another just as Christ has loved us. AMEN.