a Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
This year, it was helpful for me to remember that we have developed a different way of marking days from Jesus’s time and place. Then, the day began at dusk. So this, Jesus’s final day, has begun. He gathers His friends for dinner, for a final teaching. Small. Subtle.
In the version of the story we receive from the gospel we call Mark, the earliest gospel, Jesus brings his followers together to eat. In the middle of dinner, Jesus takes the bread from the table, breaks it, and passes it around saying “Take; this is my body.”
He takes the cup, blesses it, and passes it around. They all drink from the cup. Then He tells them what they’ve just consumed:
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
Thus begins the end. Jesus has eaten with all of His followers, including His betrayer. It is now time for him to go and announce Jesus will be on the move. To tell the Temple authorities where they might find this blaspheming zealot. The Messiah. The self-described Son of Humanity.
Jesus takes His disciples out to the Mount of Olives and says:
“You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
I always miss that part. Peter’s denial, which comes next, is so prominent. Of course Peter would say that he would never desert Jesus. Just as he believes he’ll stay awake through the night and protect Jesus from arrest. Always the guardian, protector. And Jesus’s response is heartbreaking.
Regardless of Jesus’s actual words, Peter must have heard Jesus this way:
Yes you will Peter. No matter what you say, you will desert me. You’ll fall asleep. You’ll deny me. You can’t be my guardian.
It isn’t just Peter; it is all of them. They flee. They avoid being arrested. They miss the trials, the torture, the rejection. They are gone at the end of the day, when Jesus is left to die.
I wonder where we desert Jesus. When we abandon Him, when we scatter; what we avoid and who we reject.
Our desertion only seems different, but it is somehow the same. When we confront our authorities; our culture, our tradition; our comforts, our egos, our very beliefs; how often we scatter. We abandon our faith for institutional security.
In fact, I wonder if there is truly much difference between Peter and Judas. Besides the obvious, of course. In the end, both desert Jesus, the community, the mission. All of them do. Perhaps it is only that Judas can’t come back.
We take it for granted that Jesus will face His trial and death alone. Without Peter, His followers. Perhaps Jesus must face this by Himself. It is not their time or ours. Not yet anyway.
It is this solitary scattering that Jesus prepares them for. This day begins in unity. In sharing. In eating the same food and drinking from the same cup.
When, in the gospel we call John, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, He tells them to wash each other’s feet, that they are to be Christ for each other as Jesus was Christ to them.
He tells them to create intimacy.
It begins with intimacy. Sharing. Being vulnerable to one another and open to GOD’s transformation.
Our very sacraments embody that intimacy; as we are held and washed and marked with oil. When we share from a common loaf and drink from the same cup. As the disciples did. Our lips touching the very cup our neighbors’ lips have. We gather, for centuries now, in intimacy.
We begin this Triduum sharing with one another. Allowing ourselves to be open to GOD and one another. Because what comes after is wounding and troubling. What comes next tests our relationships and our relationship with GOD. For next is the scattering.
Tonight, may we hear Jesus’s words to Peter as if they were meant for each of us: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” That is Jesus’s response to rejected intimacy—treated as the very rejection of Jesus, of GOD’s mission.
Our trials, all that we face in the coming days, all that happens with our families, friends, and loved ones, all of it can be faced as a whole community thriving on intimacy, vital relationships, and healthy actions. Or we can go it alone—without GOD, without community, without anyone.
The truly amazing part is that we even have a choice.