Sermon - Maundy Thursday
In the Name...
A rabbi once told me the reason that it took ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. He was in De-Nile.
In the ritual of the Jewish Passover, there is a point when the youngest person present asks the question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" In the Passover meal which was held in an Upper Room in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago, we might presume that this question was posed by St. John, who, tradition tells us, was the youngest of the disciples.
In the ritual, the question is answered by a recitation of the story of the Exodus, but, by the end of that particular Passover, I think St. John understood that his traditional question had been answered in untraditional ways he could have never imagined.
This is my Body. This is my Blood. This is the Holy Eucharist.
Tonight, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, sometimes called the birthday, if you will, of the priesthood, but, it is important for all of us to always concentrate on the Eucharist because it is at the heart of all Christian theology. The Incarnation, God becoming Man, is in the Eucharist. The Passion and Death of Jesus is in the Eucharist. The Resurrection and promise of Eternal Life is in the Eucharist. All is in the Eucharist because the Eucharist is God.
Now, we may believe this and understand this with our minds, our intellects, but, do we hold it deep in our hearts? I mean, I know, for example, that the solar system of Alpha Centauri is four light years from earth. I know that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. I even know that in California, it's illegal to ride a bike in a public swimming pool - presumably a drained one. I know lots of things, but, do they impact my life? No.
How, then, do we treat our knowledge of the Eucharist? What does it mean to us that the Body and Blood, the soul and divinity, of the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, Jesus is the consecrated bread and wine?
That should be the most exciting thing you know. Even Albert Einstein, who was not a Christian, found the concept of the Eucharist enough, he said, to stand the universe on end. A substance without form and a form without substance. He didn't believe it, but, he could grasp the implications of what we've been saying for 2,000 years.
You and I are believers, though, so we're supposed to do more than grasp implications. We are supposed to love. We are to love the Eucharist with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. We are to gaze lovingly when the host and chalice are lifted up and say in our hearts the words of St. Thomas when he saw and touched the Risen Christ, "My Lord and My God". "My Lord and My God".
But, the liturgy can be too busy. We have music, scriptures, prayers, sermons. It's easy to lose sight of the climax, the consecration, and to treat the act of communion as just something we do before going home. Yet, love should be what motivates us to get out of our pews and come to the altar. Love should fill us and overwhelm us as we hold God in our hands. Love should fill us as we consume Him and are consumed by Him.
But, love is not always an emotion we bring to church. The world in which we live is angry, stressed, confused, annoyed, insecure, and sometimes that's how we arrive here. We are distracted. And the liturgy can become a trial to be endured. Our minds are on other things. We forget why we are here.
But, then, how was it for the disciples two thousand years ago? The mood that night was sombre. The disciples were nervous, on edge. Something was up and they couldn't quite put their fingers on it. They were worried about the future. And Scripture records that they were still arguing about their favourite topic - which cabinet posts in the new government they were going to get.
One wonders if they were even listening to Jesus.
Have you ever been in a room full of people and felt totally alone? Have you ever been at some function or other and felt nobody cared if you were there or not? Then you know how Jesus feels when we forget he is here.
In 1675, St. Mary Margaret Alacoque received the revelation of the Sacred Heart in which Jesus said, "My enemies put a crown of thorns upon my head. My friends have put one on my heart." "My enemies put a crown of thorns upon my head. My friends have put one on my heart.”
That is a very troubling image and one which convicts me. What it says is that my lack of love tortures his love. What it says is that indifference is more painful to him than opposition.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote, "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord." An unworthy manner? What's that? St. Paul continues, "For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves." Without discerning the body, without recognizing who the Eucharist really is.
When Sue and I lived in New York, we noticed that one of our neighbours, every time she walked past our church, would bow slightly and make the sign of the cross out of respect for the One whose Real Presence dwelling in the Tabernacle behind the altar she acknowledged. She knew her Lord was there, inside, even if, standing on the sidewalk, she couldn't see him. That’s love.
Of all the New Testament writers, St. John writes more about the meaning of the Eucharist than any other. It's only appropriate. John has become known to us as 'the beloved disciple' and, in addition to his Gospel, his three letters emphasize the mystery of divine love, the love that brought Jesus to earth and took him to the Cross. Well did he learn the real answer to his question.
Why is this night different from all other nights? Why, indeed?
In the Name…