A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2012

              Tonight, in John’s Gospel, we find the two strands of our Christian DNA. Two important concepts mark us as Disciples of Christ. They show us what it means to be “in” Christ and where to look for heaven.  

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

He loved them to the end. Love is mentioned only six times in the first 12 chapters of John’s Gospel, but love is mentioned 31 times in the next five chapters, beginning right here in verse one. Jesus loved them to the end. Here we begin to see the full extent of Jesus’ love. Extravagant acts of love that can at times bewilder us. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Peter was shocked:

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

That’s a good question and I don’t blame Peter for asking it. It is shocking. Think about it. The Angels must have been stunned. The glorious Son of God, through whom all things were made, grabbed a basin of water and washed the feet of his followers.

            “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

 I love Peter, he may be a slow learner (like me), but he helps highlight the conundrum. What does it mean to have Jesus wash our feet?  This is more than just a lesson in leadership.  Jesus links service to participating in God’s love. We are commanded in verse 34 to love others with this same kind of outrageous, extravagant love.

This is called Maunday Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning "commandment," Maundy refers to Jesus’ command at the Last supper to love with abandon and humility. Jesus’ command has multiple layers of meaning. This menial task, foot washing, shows the extent God will go to care for us, assure us that we are loved. This is no easy love. It knows no limits, no boundaries. It is intimate and incarnate. It finds us where ever we are and reaches out to us, bathes us, reassures us that we are worthy of God’s love, not for anything we have done, but because we were made to be loved. That’s what God does… God is found in the action of love.

Jesus’ command calls all of us who have experienced this love to reach out in turn to others. Jesus calls out to us in a broken and hurting world:

“Are you going to wash my feet?”

Love is best understood in action. The Bible has been called the “Book of Love”, but most people have trouble understanding it. We live in an age of cynicism. The word “love” is easy to say. This is represented in a song by Peter Gabriel. The song begins with suspicion and doubt:

The book of love is long and boring

 No one can lift [the damn thing] it

 It's full of charts and facts and figures and instructions for dancing

 But I

 I love it when you read to me

 And you

 You can read me anything

The cynic is not moved by written words, but persuaded by someone willing to read them out loud, live them out loud, who lessens their loneliness with conversation, who turns pages for them at the Fifth Avenue Healthcare Center and sings to them of God’s love, who helps make the holidays bearable by providing children with gift, who plays dominoes with prisoners, and helps them ponder the Gospel message.

The book of love has music in it

 In fact that's where music comes from

 Some of it is just transcendental

 Some of it is just really dumb

 But I

 I love it when you sing to me

 And you

 You can sing me anything

Polls tell us that many call themselves “spiritual, but not religious” and are not interested in Christian dogma. Only the action of our service inspired by God’s love can cut through walls thick with disbelief, cynicism and pain.

In the Gospel reading the active love of God overflows the pages, into our lives, and through us, into the world. Let’s look at verses 34 and 35:

            I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.

The mark of discipleship then is service. It is one of two commands Jesus gives us tonight. The second command is alluded to in John’s Gospel. Before we discuss the second command, there’s something I want to point out. Peter asks Jesus another good question in verse 36:

“Lord, where are you going?”

The answer is found in the second part of verse 3. Jesus had come from God and was going to God.  We believe that he came from heaven “for us and for our salvation” and that he returned to heaven.

Traditionally, heaven has been understood to be somewhere up in the clouds… floating somewhere above us. Here’s another way to look at it. Heaven is located in God. To be in God’s presence is to experience heaven. When we see God in all God’s glory, when we are filled with God, when every cell is penetrated with God’s loving presence, then we will be “in” heaven. We will know eternal joy. According to one theologian, “The hope of heaven and eternal life is meant for all the living, so that in the future world the creation that groans under transience will also be delivered, because there will be no more death.” Salvation extends in ever-widening circles to the entire cosmos so that all will be filled with the fullness of God.
Jesus said:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  

Look again at what Jesus promises:

I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

Heaven, however, is not just a future promise. Jesus proclaimed the in-breaking God and God’s kingdom. We can begin to know Jesus now and experience some of heaven. In fact, we are commanded to do this. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we are reminded that our relationship with God is fed and strengthened through Communion. Tonight at this table we are invited to a heavenly banquet. In these holy mysteries God is present in Jesus Christ and gives us a pledge of eternal life. The bread that is blessed and broken is the bread of heaven. The wine is the cup of our salvation. And we pray, “Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”

Two commands are made: on of service and one of communion with God and the family of Christ. Both of them lead us deeper into the mystery of God’s presence. In the action of loving someone in need God is mightily present. At this table we taste and see that the Lord is good and near to us. In God’s presence we find our heavenly hope and hope for the entire cosmos.  Heaven is a love song composed of God.

I love it when you read to me

And you

You can read me anything

The book of love has music in it

In fact that's where music comes from.

1 comment:

  1. Steve,

    You read this to me last night, but reading this sermon makes me smile. I'm sure that if I read it again next week or next month that it will make me smile again. There is no doubt that you are dictating what God is putting on your heatrt, and when you make that connection you can never go wrong.