Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Maundy Thursday 04/21/2011

It’s hard to fully imagine the scene we think about tonight, especially the contrast between what was going on inside and what was going on outside.  You’ve got Jesus and his disciples inside an ordinary upstairs room going through the motions of celebrating the Passover as if it was just another year. 

Meanwhile, the forces conspiring against Jesus were swirling outside; they had been watching Jesus for a long time but now they had him where they wanted him, the political leaders and the religious leaders having conspired with each other and with Judas.  Things had gone as far as they could let them go with Jesus what with his constant criticism of the scribes and Pharisees and all that they stood for, then his malicious destruction of the temple market.  Enough was enough and they were ready to move.  The darkness was literally and figuratively gathering so they could go about their business; the hour had come for them…and Jesus knew it. 

I picture the disciples in that shadowy upper room, tense, nervously eying each other.  They could be a little slow in connecting the dots concerning Jesus, but they knew what was going on.  So they were wondering and worried about Jesus, wondering and worried about themselves, anxious and unsure about every sound they heard, wondering what was going to happen, no doubt wondering too about the apparent calm of Jesus.  That is how he is portrayed in all the gospels, an unanxious presence in a stressful situation, kind of the calm in the eye of the storm circling around him.

From the eye of that storm Jesus did two rather remarkable things that night.  The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, he gave thanks, he broke it and shared it with his disciples.  In the same way he took the cup and announced a new covenant saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The words are familiar, pretty much what the pastor says when the elements of Holy Communion are consecrated.  

Now I think you know there have been major arguments throughout church history concerning the meaning of the sacrament Jesus instituted that night, particularly concerning exactly what the bread and the wine represent.  Or maybe you don’t know or care all that much about things like transubstantiation and consubstantiation and whether or not Jesus’ sacrifice is done again every time the sacrament is celebrated, things like that.  You might not be too worried about those things but you do know that there are some churches where you can’t receive communion.  Well, that’s one of the major aftershocks of all the disagreements surrounding communion so while you might not know about all the details, you have experienced the effects.  

I don’t mean to trivialize the theological implications of those disagreements, but again, I think about the disciples and the impact of this simple act of Jesus on a very frightening night.  The disciples weren’t thinking about any of those things that became so important in later discussions about communion.  Other more immediately pressing things occupied their thoughts and in the midst of that and in the midst of the insanity and chaos that were breaking loose outside, in the midst of the disciples’ fear Jesus provided comfort. 

With his presence and a piece of bread and a cup of wine, Jesus provided a place of security and a moment of peace and reassurance for those closest to him and I think that is something we can relate to when we receive the sacrament.  Distant from it as we are, it is hard to picture exactly what was going on in Jerusalem that night but we do have other points of reference; we do know something about what the disciples were feeling. 

When I ask people why they come to church there’s more than one response but a common one has to do with the sense of being away from the stresses and demands of life for awhile; it’s about church as a refuge or a sanctuary.  That is a common image of the church and for many there is something different just in being in a space like this, and it may be during Communion that this difference, this sense of refuge and sanctuary is felt most profoundly.  We can relate to what the disciples were feeling that night and we can relate to what they experienced.   It’s appropriate that Sanctuary has been our Communion music throughout the season of Lent. 

In the Lutheran church we also call Holy Communion a “means of grace.”  If I asked you to define “means of grace” you might not be able to do it; I might not be able to do it.  But while we may not be able to put it into words, from our experience of receiving communion we know exactly what is meant by “means of grace” as by means of the sacrament we know of Jesus’ presence with us, we find that moment of sanctuary.  We might not be able to explain it, but we know what it is.  It’s Jesus’ gift to us, just as it was his gift to the disciples that night and it is remarkable.

The second remarkable thing he did that night was to wash the disciple’s feet.  How remarkable that was is reflected in how difficult it is each year to get people to participate in the ritual of footwashing.  The reason for that, to put it bluntly, is that feet can be pretty disgusting and we all know it; I’m glad that as the pastor I’m the washer and not the washee otherwise I wouldn’t want to participate either, but I think that’s just the point Jesus wanted to make. 

I’m sure feet were disgusting in his time too, probably more so such that only a lowly servant would wash the feet of others.  So when Jesus wanted to model the nature of the care and love for others he was talking about, he chose this as the example.  When he gave the new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” this was the action that was fresh in their minds.  For the first disciples and for us it provides a pretty dramatic example of how we think about the life Jesus calls us to.

With these two actions of Holy Communion and footwashing we are drawn into fellowship with God and with each other which of course is what a life of faith is about.  Even knowing the danger developing outside, Jesus was still providing for us, still drawing us to him.  As this service concludes and the altar is stripped, the church is dark and we enter into the absence of Friday and Saturday we remember those two actions of Jesus.  The absence is real, but we know that there’s more; Jesus has provided.

Rev. Warren Geier
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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