Thursday, April 21, 2011


St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Gainesville FL
April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
John 13:1-17, 31b-35


I’m sure many of you are aware that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Last week there were commemorations of the first shots of the war – the first shots fired by the Confederate forces on Fort Sumter, barely visible in the predawn gloom of Charleston Harbor.

Large numbers of Civil War re-enactors with their obsessive attention to every detail, down to making sure they have the right kind of laces in their boots and the right blend of coffee in their cups, converged on Charleston and recreated the beginnings of our bloodiest war - as history buffs, tourists and the merely curious looked on.

I can understand the appeal of historical reenactments like this. And I can understand why people want to be re-enactors. There’s a genuine appeal to immersing yourself in the past, becoming expert in a particular time and place, a particular group of people. I’m sure it’s fun, interesting, and educational.

But, though it may seem like it, we are not here tonight for a historical reenactment.

Yes, like those people in Charleston, tonight we are remembering an event that took place in the past. We are remembering an event that took place in a room in Jerusalem on or near the Passover, nearly two thousand years ago.

Jesus and his closest friends and disciples went to Jerusalem for the great Passover feast. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had warned his followers what was going to happen to him. Most of the time they seem to have not understood – or maybe they just didn’t want to understand.

But now in this room at Passover, even the dimmest and most stubborn of Jesus’ followers must have understood that the unthinkable was happening - Jesus’ life was going to end. Jesus’ life was going to end in an especially dismaying, shocking, horrific way.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples must have spent a lot of time remembering and reflecting on all that they had experienced with their teacher. And this last meal remained an especially vivid memory for the rest of their lives. They must have told the story of this last meal over and over.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that what we call the Last Supper is the most memorable and most remembered meal of all time.

In the brief passage from his first letter to the Corinthians, written twenty or so years later the events of that Passover, St. Paul gives us the earliest account of the Last Supper and the way the first Christians remembered it and experienced it– and have continued to remember it and experience it right down to today.

All four gospels tell the story of Jesus’ last meal with his friends, though the descriptions differ a bit.

Each year on Maundy Thursday we hear the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be written so -no surprise - John’s account of the Last Supper is by far the longest of the four.

But, what is surprising is that in his long description of the Last Supper, John makes no mention of Jesus instituting the Eucharist. There’s no mention of Jesus blessing and sharing the bread and wine and instructing his followers to do the same in his memory.

Instead, only John paints the remarkable picture of Jesus the Son of God washing the feet of his friends.

In Jesus’ remarkable act of humility, we see what God is really like. We see a God who loves us beyond our imagination. We see a God who pours out grace on us – pours out grace to serve us, to strengthen us, to purify us.

In Jesus we see what God is really like.

And in Jesus we see what we are meant to be like.

Jesus tells his followers, commands his followers, “For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”

And so over and over we gather around the Lord’s Table, hearing the words of Jesus echo down through the centuries, echo through and beyond time and space, “This is my body. This is my blood.”

And on Maundy Thursday we have a ritual foot-washing.

At the first foot-washing, once he realized how important it was, Peter exclaimed, to Jesus, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and head!” That sounds like Baptism to me. And, so from time to time, we gather around the font – as we’ll do here on Saturday night - joyfully pouring water and welcoming a new member of the Christian community.

But, aside from me, we don’t do these things in period costume as if we were historical re-enactors.

We don’t dress up as if we were at a biblical theme park. We come to the table just as we are - wearing our normal clothes – ordinary 21st Century clothes – because we are not re-enactors.

Those re-enactors in Charleston last week weren’t really firing the first shots of the Civil War.

But, when you and I come to the table with our hands and hearts outstretched, we are in a mystical but very real way gathered around Jesus at the Last Supper. We really are united with the first disciples and with Christians through the centuries.

We’re not re-enactors, we’re participants.

And when I symbolically wash the feet of a few of our parishioners, at first glance it may look like a historical reenactment. But, notice they’re not dressed in period costume.

The foot-washing is meant to remind us of what Jesus did for his followers – people just like us. The foot-washing is meant to remind us that Jesus calls us – commands us – to be like him – to live lives of loving service to others.

And so when we quietly visit the sick and the lonely – when we help someone with the rent or to fill up their gas tank – when we help the stranger even if we’re pretty sure we’re being scammed – when we pray for the suffering – when we pray for our enemies - then we’re not re-enactors.

We’re not re-enactors.

We’re participants.

In our own time and place, right here in Gainesville, we’re participants in the life of Christ – a life like bread that is broken to feed the multitudes – a life like wine poured out to quench the thirsty – a life like water washing away grime – a life of loving and humble and sacrificial service.

In Jesus we see what God is really like.

And in Jesus we see what we are meant to be like.