A sermon of The Rev. Christian Brocato, PhD
March 20, 2008
Here we are, a few of God's faithful people, gathered here this night, as Jesus gathered his Apostles on the Passover of the Lord. Indeed, Jesus gathered his friends, his disciples, around a table to mark the ancient rite of Passover, the very same Passover narrative we heard in our first reading from the Book of Exodus. 2000 plus years later, we are doing a similar act as faithful people gathered around a table to hear the Word of God and to be nourished by the Sacrament we call the Eucharist. Doesn't it seem just like yesterday that many of us gathered here at night around God's Word and Sacrament to feast at this Table and to receive ashes to remind us of our own humanity, our own sinfulness and our need for reconciliation and redemption?
Last Sunday, we began our worship with joy and celebration as we recalled the events of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. But we no sooner heard the fading sounds of "All Glory Laud and Honor" than we heard the great Passion Narrative from Matthew, that Gospel passage that throws Christians throughout the world into the holiest of weeks, the week we call Holy Week. As I struggled to get through the final verse of "Were you there," I saw many of us wiping tears from our checks, moved by the Holy Spirit of God embracing us and holding us dear after hearing the message of Jesus' crucifixion in that powerful hymn.
Tonight, we have officially begun what the Church calls the Triduum, the three days that link Maundy Thursday to the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Tonight, we come to celebrate a continuation of powerful religious and spiritual symbols of our faith and our tradition. But, what we do this night must be seen in a variety of contexts, contexts that speak loudly as to who we are as a faithful people of God, called here tonight to be with one another and with Jesus at this Supper, with Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples, with Jesus who was lead away and bound until it was time for his death on the cross.
Every year, I have to remind myself that Maundy comes from the Latin word, Mandatum (the Old French, maundé), the mandate, and is primarily associated with "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34) by which Jesus explained to his Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. However, it is at the Last Supper that Jesus also proclaims to his disciples, "This is body ... this is my blood ... do this in remembrance of me." The Church has very seriously taken that charge to "do this in remembrance" of Jesus for over 2000 years.
We don't reenact the events of that night. We hold them dear to us as a sacred tradition that has been passed down to us, a tradition, as Paul said, as "received from the Lord" (I Cor 11:23). The powerful words we have heard and that we will hear in the midst of the Eucharist Prayer, we call the Institution Narrative, the passage from scripture that instituted for all time the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, the heart of our worship week after week after week, precious words that the Church only allows its ordained priests to speak in holy reverence and awe.
It is also the Institution Narrative that compels us to also do what Jesus did for others. Shortly, we will wash one another's feet as Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles. But, we have to remember, that Jesus spent his life washing the feet of others, ministering to the broken hearted, the sick, the lame, the blind, the physically or emotionally paralyzed, and the list goes on.
We wash feet tonight because the Eucharist calls us to do so; it calls us to go into the world to heal the broken hearted, to tend the sick, to minister to those in need in our own homes, in the streets of our communities, across our country and around the world. But first, even before we can go into the world to be transformers of our world, we have to walk with Jesus through the night of darkness.
We have to walk with Jesus into the garden where he will pray and where he will be apprehended and stripped of his dignity. The young people of our parish will walk with Jesus into this night as they keep watch, as they keep vigil in this place, throughout the night. At the conclusion of our liturgy, we will strip the altar, a powerful symbol of walking with Jesus toward the emptiness that he must surely have felt, abandoned by his disciples to face suffering and death, and the darkness of the tomb.
You and I are called to walk with him these next three days. We are called to be with him at this Supper. We are called to be with him in his loneliness, in his indignation, in his rejection, in his time of separation from all that he knew throughout his life.
We are called to be with him tomorrow when we recall his passion and death on Good Friday. We are called to be with him when he is laid in the darkness of a tomb, a darkness that you and I have some experience of in our own lives, for there are many times in life when we are cut off from God or from one another, when we are left alone in the darkness that only God can understand and heal. We can take heart that Jesus understands that darkness, that Jesus asks us to give him that darkness, to invite him in to that darkness because he knows full well what it feels like, and he knows full well what we need to be made whole again, to experience the comfort of healing, of reconciliation, of resurrection.
When we gather on Holy Saturday night around the Pascal Fire and around the Christ candle with our Bishop who will be with us for our Easter Vigil celebration, we can be assured that we have walked this journey with the One who loves us without limits and who gave his own body and blood that we might have life. We can be assured that we have walked with our sisters and brothers in the Journeys group who will soon be even more fully one with us as fellow Episcopalians. We can be assured that at the great Vigil, we are made one with him who came into our world that we might have life in abundance.
But for the moment, let us relish this Eucharist, this night of its institution, this night that links Jesus, the Lamb of God, to the ancient Passover of the Lord. In this Bread and in this Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, we have come to know him; we have been feed. We will continue to be fed, nourished and sustained each and every time we feast at this table of the Lord, the table that leads us beyond darkness to the light of Resurrection.