Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Maundy Thursday 04/13/2017

“Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  He loved them to the end.  Tonight we begin The Three Days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 38th, 39th and 40th days of Lent.  Lent is intentionally a quieter, more reflective time.  In that respect it’s similar to the season of Advent that precedes Christmas but in another way, it’s kind of the opposite of Advent.  During Advent the light inside the church increases as the December days grow shorter and darker; during Lent the darkness inside grows as the days get longer and the light outside increases.  These last three days then have a particularly dark feel to them as we recall the events around Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. 

The gospel reading for this night never changes so to begin the three days we always hear the verse that I just repeated, the last phrase of which is, “He loved them to the end.”  That is gospel; that is good news.  Even on this night, one that will end in darkness and quiet with the altar stripped and draped in black, we still hear a word of good news, a word of grace proclaimed.

He loved them to the end.  Throughout the gospels there are a variety of ways that Jesus’ love is described.  In John, where this verse comes from, lots of images are used to help us understand the nature of Jesus’ love.  These words “He loved them to the end,” are as important as any that John uses in helping us to know Jesus and our relationship with him, his relationship with us.

“To the end” is a phrase without limits.  It means that Jesus’ love for humanity extended to the final breath of his own human life, his death itself being a final and ultimate expression of that love.  To the end also means without reserve, holding nothing back and…this is love for those “in the world” as the text says, meaning that Jesus’ love isn’t just for those who have grown to a different level of holiness, his love is for imperfect “in the world” humanity.  To the end also means to the end of our lives but of course, in Christ, that end is not an ending at all, but a beginning.  This is love that extends into eternity. 

Liturgically, this is a night that is shrouded in shadow and darkness, but “He loved them to the end” reminds us of the verse from the beginning of John about the light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.  That means that the darkness of tonight and tomorrow, the quiet of Saturday cannot overcome the love that Jesus has for his own:  He loved them to the end.

These words about Jesus are then accompanied by an expression of his love that tends to make us uncomfortable.  Jesus takes off his outer robe, wraps a towel around his waist and assumes the role of the lowliest servant, washing the feet of his disciples.  Many of us, including me if I was sitting out there, join Peter when he questions Jesus about this, finally saying, “You will never wash my feet.”  Having Jesus assume that role seemed absurd, certainly undignified in the eyes of his disciples, but “He loved them to the end.”  This off putting event is another expression of that love, a powerful expression that shows that Jesus doesn’t just love what’s good about us, he loves us despite what’s ugly about us, despite that which we would prefer to keep covered up, despite that about which we might be ashamed. 

Such love does however come with a challenge:  “If I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.”  This is the Maundy of Maundy Thursday, the word Maundy derived from the Latin word for commandment.  At the end of tonight’s reading it’s repeated, “Love one another.  As I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

It’s a command that rolls off the tongue very easily; it sounds good, until you consider what it means.  Old Testament law included the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is difficult enough; but that’s not what Jesus says here.  The reason Jesus calls this a new commandment is that he says to love one another as he loves us, and the evidence is that he loves us more than he loves himself, to the point of giving his life for us.  This new commandment of Jesus becomes one of his most challenging statements, in a  sense becoming a summary statement of everything else he has said.           

What is probably foremost in most people’s minds on Maundy Thursday though is Holy Communion.  We remember that this is the night that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, the night in which he was betrayed when he took the bread and said, “Take and eat, this is my body,” and then the cup, “Take and drink, this is my blood,” followed by the words “Given for you, shed for you.”   

For you: it’s another gift of love given by Jesus to his disciples, the gift of his presence.  He knew he wasn’t going to be with the disciples for very much longer in the way that they had come to know him.  So he transformed part of that Passover meal and made it a giving of himself.  He told them that he would be present, really present as they broke bread and shared it, as they passed the cup of wine.  He gave them a gift that would be available to them and to all who gathered in his name for all time, even on the most somber evening of the church year.  With these words and this sacrament, he would not leave them alone but would empower them not only to experience his continued presence, but to continue to be his presence, his body, living and witnessing to a broken world.

Ultimately, Maundy Thursday is a final reminder of what Lent is all about.  On Ash Wednesday we enter into Lent conscious of sin and mortality, conscious of our failure to be who God would have us be.  Lent then effectively ends with a reminder of just how high the “who God would have us be” bar is with Jesus’ new commandment to love others as he has loved us, a commandment he enacted in the washing of feet, loving them to the end.  Knowing that we can’t do it could leave us despondent, but before we can be despondent, we celebrate Holy Communion, the means of grace in which Jesus comes to us and becomes part of us despite our unworthiness.

We’re then ready for what comes at the end of tonight’s worship, the stripping of the altar that symbolically moves us into the darkness and death of Good Friday and then into the quiet of Saturday.  We know that Sunday is coming, but for now there’s no rush; we move slowly as we consider the magnitude and meaning of these days and the words, “He loved them to the end.”

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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