Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday March 24, 2016 by Sr. Debra Johnston, SSJD

Let us pray. 
Gracious God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight for you are our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 
I expect that the Passover meal that Jesus ate with his disciples in that upper room on that last day before his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and death must have held an atmosphere that was similar to that of the first Passover that Moses ate with his dear ones in Egypt. As we recall that first Passover, I imagine that in the midst of hopeful anticipation for a better future, there would have also been felt, an underlying tension. While seated at table secure in the knowledge that the lintels of their homes were marked with the lamb’s blood. While confident that the angel of death would pass over their dwellings, I wonder --- were they able to hear the death cries of the Egyptians. 
Originally there had been the nine plagues. Had each of them ended with a promise broken? Regardless of what had been, a wondrous and terrible thing was happening around those first 12 tribes on that night. That wondrous yet terrible thing would ultimately result in the Pharaoh finally letting the people go. It would also result in the deaths of the entire first born of Egypt. Life and Death; this is the paradox of the Cross. It is the paradox of the Passion. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! 
History reveals that the Exodus was not without hardship. I realize what a total and complete understatement this is! Freedom for the people of Israel would come through an experience of the wilderness that would require them to journey through the difficulty of learning a new way of being. Physically they had been liberated; it would take a longer time, --- perhaps 40 years, probably longer -- for their minds to be liberated from thinking as slaves to living as free. History also reveals that God gave the Israelites tools to help them in their transformation. These same tools have been handed down through the ages and given to us. Recall that it was shortly after Israel’s departure that Moses was given the Ten Commandments. It was by these commandments that they were to live. Among other things these commandments were intended to help transform and more clearly define their relationship to God and their relationships with one another. God’s signature of love for all God’s people was revealed ‘in, with and around’ the Ten Commandments. 
I have to confess that when I was preparing for tonight and thinking of the Exodus and the hardships that the people of Israel had faced and would continue to face. My mind also moved to the people of our time. Most of us in the western world cannot comprehend the fears, injustice and abuses that are faced by much of our world’s population. For the most part we live in safety with freedom.
I found myself envisioning God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses and then I envisioned the tablets themselves. I saw that these specific instructions from God to God’s people, contained life. They revealed the kind of support for all life that I believe God’s wants us all to share in. 
As I thought of this I recalled a scene in the movie ‘Schindler’s List’. This movie is a true representation of the life of Oskar Schindler. He was a business man who believed that he would take advantage of the economic situation in Germany at the beginning of the Second World War. His motives at the beginning of the movie were purely selfish. However as he learned what was happening to the Jewish people around him, he provided work for them in his factories. His factories became a place of refuge and safety for them. 
At one point Schindler was negotiating to have his factory workers moved to a new munitions factory, (One that would never produce weapons that actually worked) when their train was rerouted to Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps. When Schindler heard of this he took all of the money he had made and bought the freedom for the people who had worked for him in his factories.
Itzhak Stern was Oskar Schindler’s right hand man. He was the one who helped Schindler compile the list of names. It wasn’t until the list was almost complete that Stern realized that Schindler was in fact paying for the lives of each individual on the list. It was then that Stern held up the list and with his hand gently circling its perimeter said, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.” In total there were 1,200 names of men, women and children on the list. 
Maundy is an English form of the Latin word for commandment. The primary theme for today is Jesus’ new commandment to ‘love one another
On this night we remember that on the night before our Lord’s crucifixion Christ by his actions, --- instituted command --- and words, revealed a new unconditional signature of God’s love for all. It came when Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around him-self, poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, --- it came in his gift of bread and wine, his body and blood --- and it came when Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus’ love for his followers was and is a transformative love. It is demonstrated both in his example of servant hood and in his gift of himself in Holy Communion. When Christ commands us to love one another as he has loved us, his command is that our love toward one another ought also to be a transformative love. 
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” The mission of the first disciples, of the early church and for us is to emulate for one another, even in the midst of confusion, chaos, our own fears, hatred and death this divine, transformative love. Our Lord knew that like the people of Israel, his followers in every generation would ultimately --- at some point along the way --- experience a spiritual wilderness that would require them to journey through the difficulty of learning a new way of being. Each generation is called to learn and embrace the new way of being that is revealed to us in our Lord’s command to love. Every time we encounter another individual the Christ love within us ought to affect change. It is not by our own merit that this happens; it is by our willingness to let Christ work through us that this happens. 
Tonight we remember that as their ancestors had done so many centuries before Jesus in his time, with his dear ones also gathered for the Passover meal. They gathered with hope and anticipation for a better future yet in the midst of the underlying tensions of their time. 
We too gather in this place, in this troubled time, with Christians around the world, looking to God in trust and hope, and with thanksgiving. We know that the paradox of the cross and passion of our Lord remains and we believe that life and resurrection is victorious even in the midst of this paradox. 
For us, it was on this night that the Passover feast became the feast of our Lord. It is in this sacramental feast of our Lord’s body and blood that we participate most intimately in Christ’s love. Remembering our Lords Last Supper with his disciples, we eat the bread and share the cup of this meal. Together we receive the Lord’s gift of himself and participate in that new covenant which makes us one in Christ. The Eucharist is the promise of the great banquet we will share with all the faithful when our Lord returns, the culmination of our reconciliation with God and each other. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! 
In this Lenten season we have heard our Lord’s call to intensify our struggle against, sin death, and the devil – all that keeps us from loving God and each other. This is the struggle to which we were committed at Baptism; God’s forgiveness and the power of God’s spirit to amend our lives continue with us because of God’s transformative love for us in Jesus, our Saviour. Amen.