March 29, 2018 Maundy Thursday

 

Exodus 12:1–4, (5–10), 11–14, Psalm 116:1, 10–17, 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, John 13:1–17, 31b–35

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

In the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Amen.

                                                Let all mortal flesh keep silence,

                                                and with fear and trembling stand;

                                                ponder nothing earthly minded,

                                                for with blessing in his hand

                                                Christ our God to earth descendeth,

                                                our full homage to demand.

On this Maundy Thursday, as we do every Maundy Thursday, we commemorate two things: Jesus’ example of servanthood for those who would be his followers, and the institution of Holy Communion. These two commemorations are not dissimilar. Both are enacted ritually in our worship this evening – in the foot washing ceremony and in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, before which a number of us will keep watch through the night. And both are sacramental in nature – an outward sign of an inward reality – even though we don’t recognize foot washing as a sacrament (though, the Moravians do). In the Eucharist, we proclaim and celebrate Christ’s presence under the guise of Bread and Wine, and in the foot washing ceremony, we proclaim and celebrate Christ’s presence in one another – “as you do it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.”

The words to the hymn from the Liturgy of St. James reflect the care and respect we therefore are bidden to pay in these commemorations, for when we approach the Table and receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, there we meet none other than Christ. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of us have developed pieties that match our respect and awe for this great gift: genuflecting, bowing, crossing ourselves. These reflect our awareness of being in the presence of our God:

                                                Christ our God to earth descendeth,

                                                our full homage to demand.

I wonder though, are we as careful in our respect and awe as we approach one another and strangers as we are in approaching the Altar? Have we developed pieties that reflect our awareness of being in the presence of Christ when we are with one another? In some cultures, one bows when one approaches another as a sign of respect or an acknowledgment of the divine within the other. I wonder, what would happen if we began doing that? Might showing this physical sign of respect change how we approach one another? If, before we engage another in anger or with harsh words, we were to pay the homage due one in whom Christ is present, might our words change? Our feelings? Our attitude? If, before we express our love for our beloved, we were to recognize Christ in them, might our love deepen and our respect broaden? If, before we turn away from the stranger or the homeless, we would look on them as vessels of the Almighty, might we be more willing to engage them or meet their need?

                                                Christ our God to earth descendeth,

                                                Our full homage to demand.

            On this Maundy Thursday, as we do every Maundy Thursday, we commemorate two things: Jesus’ example of servanthood for those who would be his followers, and the institution of Holy Communion. In the Eucharist, God bows low to us, veiled in bread and wine, taking the form of a servant to heal our brokenness. In the foot washing, we bow before Christ, taking the form of the servant to wait upon him as we serve one another. This is a reverent moment – as reverent as kneeling at the rail. This is a sacred moment, and we are in the presence of the Holy:

                                                Let all mortal flesh keep silence,

                                                and with fear and trembling stand;

                                                ponder nothing earthly minded,

                                                for with blessing in his hand

                                                Christ our God to earth descendeth,

                                                our full homage to demand. Amen.

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