Tonight is a night that does not need many more words to teach what it means.Like the principles of Godly Play, tonight we are immersed in the materials of these sacred stories. We touch and feel and dive deeply into the holy word. It doesn’t need many more words, but like our lessons downstairs, I do want to offer a few heart shaping words. You may not know that the word maundy is rooted in the French word for mandate. It is perhaps more understandable to call our night Mandate Thursday. Jesus gives us three mandates this night: serve, do, love.
The first is a mandate of loving service. I came not to be served but to serve, and you are one with me when you do likewise. Washing someone is a fiercely intimate moment, and sometimes I think our anxiety about the foot washing of this night is less about the condition of our well to do feet and more about the intimacy it demands. This is service that isn’t clean or comfortable or distant. Jesus’ mandate of deep muscular service to enemy and stranger is a daring invitation into holy vulnerability.
The second mandate of the night is ‘do this in remembrance of me’. What we remember this evening is often called the Last Supper. But that is confusing because while it’s not the first, it’s not really the last either. So often when he appears in his resurrected glory his invitation is to a feast. So I wonder what else could we call it other than the last supper? What makes this supper distinctive is the mandate, so what if we called it the directive dinner? This night is like and unlike most of the other times when we gather around the table, break bread, share wine and do so in remembrance of him. Every week we are offered just a sample of the tastes, but in it we are given the full presence of his promise. Small or large these meals are not about confessional statements or monstrous magics. They are about the mystery of relationships made and deepened through communal food and communal prayer. Tables are where we tell our stories, where we break bread and where we are transformed.
Here on this night family and strangers and friends gather, we hear these stories and say these prayers, we eat this food and become these people. Eat this, become me. Drink this, be united. Is there anyone you know well, who you would follow like Jesus invites us to, with whom you have not regularly shared food? Throughout Jesus’ life it is his table fellowship and his table stories that throw all standards of who is in and who is out right off the table. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ is Jesus’ mandate of deep table fellowship with neighbor and betrayer, is a daring invitation into a reconciled world.
Third mandate is to love as Jesus loves. Holy Week and Easter is very much about overcoming systems of injustice and cruelty and brokenness, but it is also not just about that. Holy Week and Easter are very much about the strange mystery of how Jesus is alive in us and present this very moment, but it is also not just about that. This week, this time, this day, practiced, again and again, is about God made flesh in Christ Jesus in whose life the lives and sufferings of his friends and followers are entirely bound up. Jesus carries God’s healing presence into the the heart of human suffering and cruelty. Love one another he says, he says it as he is being betrayed. Love one another he says, as he is being scapegoated. Love one another he says, as the worst of our anxieties and shame move us to strike him down. Sometimes, most of the time, I can barely wrap my mind around the notion that God who loved us so much that he became one of us. Became human knowing that the challenge of God made flesh would lead us to strike down this prophet, friend, messiah, Lord. How could God love such twisted and selfish children who respond to him in this way?
How is the harder question, it is a brain question, that may never be able to comprehend the answer.
Yet what the mind can barely touch, my soul can know by heart. Jesus’ mandate of living a deep abiding love for all that he loves is leaning in harder than we know how to do without having spent regular time with him in service and at table. Serve, Do, Love. This is our mandate. Jesus gives us not a question of how, but an answer of how. Serve, Do, Love.
once again, the liturgy itself preaches much more than any homily.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington, USA
April 13, 2017