+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
This is a difficult night. It was certainly a difficult night for Jesus, who knew what was awaiting him as the sun set in the west and the forces of opposition gathered to carry out their schemes under cover of darkness, who prayed in the garden alongside his friends, and who found in time that he was completely and utterly alone as he faced one last temptation. It was a difficult night for Jesus’ disciples, who heard again the word of betrayal and the command to keep awake, and who utterly failed to understand what was happening to their teacher and Lord until it was too late. It is a difficult night for us, who read anew of Christ’s agony in the garden, who bemoan the weakness of the disciples in falling asleep, and who recognize that we, if placed in a similar situation, would likely not have fared any better. This is a difficult night, which sees peace shattered by a violent mob, betrayal sealed with a kiss, the Lord of life lead away to face trial and condemnation and mocking and scorn and, ultimately, a sentence of death.
This is also a beautiful night. It was certainly beautiful for Jesus, who gathered with his closest companions to break bread and share wine and give them a lasting memory of his life-giving love. It was beautiful for Jesus’ disciples, who received the gift of this meal and a mystery that they would continue to explore after the story of these three days was finally told. It is a beautiful night for us, because we call to mind the words of Jesus and ponder how they continue to echo into our own lives, how we are blessed each time we “do this in remembrance” of him.
Dear friends, we gather on this Maundy Thursday night, not simply to hear the story of something that happened long ago in an upper room and a moon-lit garden, but to be confronted once more with the realities of love and grace, loneliness and betrayal, anger and disillusionment, fear and flight and faithfulness. In the telling of the tale of this holy night, we find reflected our own deep hunger and thirst for relationship with God and with one another, and we find established a connection between Jesus, the church, and the world that remains unbroken in the face of brokenness and sin and the specter of death that looms at the edges of our consciousness.
Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
These oft-repeated and well-worn words stand at the center of this meal and this night. They confirm and demonstrate everything that Jesus has taught his disciples about what it means to walk “on the way”. These are words of service, words of humility, words of painful truth that are powerful precisely because they lay bare all the ways we play at discipleship and yet ultimately fail to fall in step behind Jesus. At the same time, these are words of grace and life that are powerful because they carry the promise that our failures cannot, in the end, separate us from the one who will give everything to save us from ourselves and from the power of sin that ensnares us and our world. Christ pours out his body and blood with these words – Take and eat, take and drink, do this – so that we might be nourished and strengthened to be like him, to pour ourselves out for the sake of our neighbors and the world. This meal means everything, because in this meal Christ reminds us of who he is, who we are, and what this world is becoming by God’s grace. It is a sign that we are on the way with him, a sign of hope in the kingdom that has drawn near and is coming, a sign that history is not defined by our faithlessness but by God’s faithfulness in Christ.
This is a difficult, beautiful, holy night. Let us receive this meal as a sign of our Lord’s steadfast love for us. Let us pray that we might be prepared to face the cross that stands on the horizon with confidence in God’s grace and strength. Finally, let us pray that we might hold those realities together in our minds, and so leave this service with repentant minds, grateful hearts, and renewed wills. Thanks be to God. Amen.
*Note: We are experiencing problems with our audio recording equipment; as a result, we are unable to post sermon audio at this time. Please bear with us as we attempt to resolve these problems. Thank you for your patience.*