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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Clear-ey'd Love (sermon for Maundy Thursday)

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jason A. Fout
on Maundy Thursday, 2005
in St. Paul's Episcopal Church, St. Joseph, MI

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Christians of a certain stripe will sometimes ask people “if you were to die tonight, do you know where you would be going?” For my money, I think a far more interesting question is “if you knew you were going to die tonight, what would you do, how would you live in the meantime?”

Impending death has a way of clarifying issues for people. It can move the trivial to the side, and help one to focus on what is important. Probably most of us, if we knew we had only a few hours to live, would spend the time with family or friends sharing in the bonds of love. We might attempt to forgive some long-standing hurt or resolve some dispute, to be reconciled with someone while we still have time. Maybe we would attend to our wills to ensure that what we leave behind contributes to some good. As I say, it would bring clarity. This is not always the case, of course, with people dying, but I certainly think this is true of Jesus in tonight’s reading from the gospel.

Continue reading Clear-ey'd Love


Looking ahead to his betrayal and death, Jesus gathers his disciples near to him for a meal of intimate fellowship. This is a time for him of teaching and farewell. It is also his last will and testament – or rather, it is the new testament, the new covenant. In this will, Jesus passes on to his disciples two things: his body and blood, and his kingdom.

He passes on these two things in the context of the Passover Feast. This was a celebration with far-reaching political ramifications. This was a commemoration of the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Even as God acted in the past to free his people, at the time of Jesus it was hoped that God would do so again, freeing Israel from Rome’s yoke.

The food eaten in the Passover then, and to this day, is symbolic. It’s in this setting that Jesus interprets the bread and the wine he gives his disciples as being his body and his blood.

By doing this Jesus declares that his death is not merely something he suffers, but is something he takes up on his own. In this action of self-offering and the words of explanation, he is able to interpret the significance of his death. He is not a thief or insurrectionist as the Empire would insist. He is not a blasphemer or idolater as the religious authorities would accuse. He is not even quite the King of the Jews, as the mocking and ambiguous sign above him will say. He is the one who brings in God’s Kingdom and establishes the New Covenant. He is the one who gives himself a ransom for many and lays down his life for his friends. No, his life is not taken from him: he gives it willingly. And just as at the original Passover God acted to deliver his people from bondage, so also in this new Passover, this New Covenant, God is establishing his Kingdom.

In fact, this is the second thing which Jesus gives to his disciples on that night: his Kingdom. Jesus passes on what his Father gave to him. This Kingdom is an altogether new way of doing business in the world. Jesus reinforces this by saying that the greatest in his kingdom is the one who serves. In the alternate reading from the gospel of John for this night he demonstrates the greatness of service in dramatic fashion, serving in a humble role, washing the feet of the disciples. This Kingdom isn’t marked by the usual pecking order and status symbols of the world, but is a way of life oriented towards service, forgiveness, and love.

So here we have the two elements of Jesus’ last will and testament: his body and blood, and his Kingdom.

How very embarrassing for the disciples, then, to have inherited such riches, and yet that very night be bickering over who was the greatest among them, and scheming to hand over Jesus to the authorities. And as we follow the story through Good Friday, we see these same disciples abandon Jesus and deny that they even knew him. So much for gratitude.

In fact, one might well wonder just how “clarifying” the sense of imminent death really was for Jesus, if he had any sense of the disciples’ penchant for failure. Was he really seeing so clearly?

Of course, our Eucharist looks back to that meal. As we participate in the Eucharist, we are also present with his disciples at that supper on that fateful night almost 2000 years ago. And I would wager that if we take a good long look at ourselves in a mirror, we could see disciples who, like the twelve, still don’t fully get it. We could see followers of Christ who, when the authorities show up, are liable to cut and run. Perhaps we could see a bit of Peter, trying hard to follow, albeit at a distance, but playing it off when someone calls us out. Maybe we might even catch a glimpse of Judas in all his complex glory: zealous ideologue, chief supporter, trusted pupil, treacherous betrayer. When we look in the mirror we see all this, and no doubt much more.

But when we turn from the mirror and look instead into the eyes of our gracious host, we see something altogether different.

Oh, he knows about all that other stuff, none of that surprises him. It’s not like we’re going to pull the wool over his eyes, he sees us with great clarity. But all of that pales into insignificance in light of his love.

Just as with the twelve so long ago, Jesus invites us to the table as his beloved disciples. Here, again, he gives us his body and blood. Here again, he entrusts us with his upside-down kingdom. Here, as ever, we are forgiven, empowered, and sent out into the world as his body to proclaim his Kingdom, to love, serve, and forgive others as he has done with us.

For Jesus, not just with his imminent death, but throughout his life, sees with eagle-eyed clarity his disciples in the first century and the twenty-first century. He is fully aware of our embarrassing penchant for failure and our stumbling attempts to follow him. And yet, still, he invites us to his table, to give again his body and blood, and to confer again his Kingdom. As we, tonight, make Eucharist, giving thanks for Christ’s life and death and new life, may we gaze deeply into the eyes of our gracious host, and find there a love which is crystal clear. Amen.


3 Comments:

Blogger Gaunilo said...

Amen!

May we all remember to discern the Lord's body - serving one another as we gather around the common table, at the celebration of his body and blood.

Is it just me, or was there a double meaning to your use of the term "host"?

Thursday, March 24, 2005 9:11:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Gaunilo:
Once again I prove that language speaks/writes us as much as we speak and write it!

Truly, I wish I had that in mind when I first wrote it; I most certainly will when I preach it tonight. (So, thanks!)

Thursday, March 24, 2005 9:57:00 PM  
Blogger nope said...

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God Bless You.

Melissa K. W.
To see my family view this page. My Family

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005 9:46:00 AM  

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