Holy Thursday 2018

 

Some parishes have very precise rules for who can receive communion and who cannot.  We never have. But that is about to change right now.

 

Our first reading is about the Passover as the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  It concerns the great liberation of the Jewish slaves from the clutches of Pharaoh in Egypt.   God had heard their cries and noted their suffering and God was ready to act in a definitive and awful way to let his people go.  For it seems the Lord is intent in our being free.  Of course, God who created us in freedom and for freedom knows that without it, there can be no love.  No one can be forced to love someone else.  It was precisely that gift that was central to Jewish self-understanding that all Jews celebrated and still celebrate at Passover.  It was the night of celebrating God’s special care for His people and the extraordinary lengths God would go to deliver them.

 

So as it is a Passover meal, the Eucharist must say something about freedom and care.  Jesus was speaking of a God of liberation.   So here is rule #1.  If you come to this table, prepare to be set free.  Whatever imprisons you, be it an addiction, a broken relationship, shame and guilt or low self-esteem, Christ will use his body and blood to free you.  Once we know the endless care and boundless love that is held in the Eucharist, we will find that which imprisons and indeed enslaves us is no match for the infinite embrace of God.  Our problems do not disappear at this table, but they can no longer direct our destiny for true freedom is the ability to love despite our obstacles, with all our flaws.  Having been loved perfectly, we have opportunity to unshackle ourselves from that which holds us to the walls of injustice and failure.  Rule #1:  be ready to be free.

 

Now let us look at the circumstances around that Passover meal in an upper room.  It is not pretty.  Jesus can sense his hour of challenge is coming, and despite their protests to the contrary, his disciples are about to fail in theirs.  He knows one friend will betray him and a best friend will deny him.   The situation on the outside is even worse as the forces of power are gathering to defeat him.  The people for whom he came to love are turning against him.  Darkness has intruded his ministry of light and the world is moving to crush him as it must when it is confronted by pure love.  And how does he respond to these betrayals, denials and the promise of violence?  He does not scheme to get away.  He does not try to diminish himself to go unnoticed nor repent of what his ministry has been all about.   No, he goes big.  At the moment when he feels the depth of our sin and weakness, he finds a way to love us.  The only response he has to the flailing, failing and foolish disciples is to love them more dearly and love them completely.  “This is my body.  This is my blood.”  What else can one give but one’s body and blood?  It is a sign of the surrender of self that anyone can recognize as love.  It is his marriage vow to us. 

 

So here is rule #2:  do not come to this altar unless you are ready to be loved and to love.  For the power of that moment was meant for generations of us who similarly fail in sharing God’s spirit and ignoring God’s wisdom.  It is meant for those who doubt their worth for they have been granted freely the grace that is the body of Christ within them.  It is meant for each of us who though unworthy are called to the great feast of dignity and awe, the supper of the Lamb.  Eucharist means that we have this love within us, but if it is to be received, it must be shared.  It multiples itself when the new body of Christ gives all of ourselves to others; when we mirror Jesus by giving all that we have.  It reaches its glory in Christ fully alive in us.  Rule #2:  let us love as we are loved.

 

The Gospel comes from John and there is a twist.  It is again the Last Supper and just when you expect the blessing of the bread and wine, Jesus instead surprises his disciples with the offer, demand actually, to wash their feet, a task so lowly that it was considered the lowest thing a slave could do.  Understandably, the disciples are horrified at the action, but Jesus does not consider it demeaning to his status.  “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”  He is not saying he is not all that.  He is.  He is instructing them that the translation of love into life is service.  We are not to be empty vessels stuffing ourselves with divine favor.  We are to be conduits of God’s love for us so that others might taste the grace of Jesus Christ.  Rule #3:  if you come to this altar you do so to become a servant.  Or in other words, don’t just receive Eucharist.  Be Eucharist. 

 

Be a servant who makes it clear that love has transformed their lives.  Act as one whom Christ has chosen and share his face of mercy.  Stand up for justice for we are all the body of Christ.  Forgive those who have hurt you for his blood was given for the forgiveness of sins.  This world is crying out for something; it needs a savior and the Eucharist has made us the bearers of Christ.

 

So three rules to come to the Eucharist:  freedom, love and service.  It is enough to change the world.

 

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