Maundy Thursday Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 24 March 2016
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Why is this night different from all other nights?1
Our Jewish brothers & sisters asks this question at the Passover meal each year.
John & I have been blessed to participate in the Passover meal with friends & to ask: “Why is this night different?” The question opens the opportunity to teach children [& remind adults] of their heritage [our heritage] as the people God has delivered from slavery in Egypt.
Our lesson in Exodus says, “If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor...” This meal is to be shared in community. The meal of Holy Communion that we share is shared in community.
Like the unleavened bread of Passover, which is built on an earlier tradition that nomads observed in their community,2 we share unleavened bread, which is made with little human interference, an apt gift for a holy meal3. It is made quickly so that people can move quickly to leave behind the old life in Egypt & move into new life with God4.
Then why do we move more slowly this night?
Why do we have more silence?
Why is this night different?
Tonight we commemorate Jesus’ giving us a new meal based on the Passover community meal. We leave the old life behind to live into new life God offers us through Jesus. Sometimes this new life with God challenges us. We see Peter face the challenge of letting Jesus wash his feet.
Why do we wash our feet tonight before we share the Bread & Wine? Why do we strip the Altar? Why do we have no dismissal? We have no dismissal because tonight we start our Liturgy. We continue it tomorrow. We conclude it at the Easter Vigil – that great celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection.
In tonight’s part of this Great Liturgy of Jesus’ saving work, we do what Jesus commands: to love each other as Jesus loves us. This love is strong enough to bend down & wash the feet of others.
Jesus takes on a menial task to show us clearly how strong God’s Love for us is. Jesus takes on a menial task to show us how to serve each other, to give us courage to serve the least among us. To give us courage to be served.
We wash our feet because our Lord Jesus washes the Disciples' feet THEN he gives the New Commandment. This new mandate [in Latin mandatum] gives us the name for Maundy Thursday, the day we receive the new mandate, the new mandatum, the New Commandment.
Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Love is the central aspect, the essence of our life as the Body of Christ. Love does overflow more & more in this happening community where we live God's love.
God's love is central to our calling as Jesus' disciples. This is true for us, it was true for the Disciples & for the Christians in Corinth to whom Paul writes. Jesus gives us work to do, serving where we are, sharing Jesus' love. Sometimes this means we have to stoop to serve. Sometimes this means we have to allow someone to stoop & serve us.
We see that impulsive Peter has trouble with this new command. Is it surprising that he has trouble letting Jesus wash his feet? We will see more of Peter’s impulsiveness tomorrow. Tonight we see Peter's impulsiveness at the community meal.
The Rev. Arlette Benoit of St. Paul's, Atlanta, notes5: “...Peter is the one who voices his uneasiness & disapproval towards what Jesus is doing...” Maybe he's saying what other disciples are thinking.
Put yourself in Peter's sandals: you're watching Jesus washing your fellow disciples' feet. One by one, Jesus gets closer to you. Closer. Closer. Suddenly it's almost your turn!6
How do you handle this?
"[Peter] probably [has] flashbacks...probably [thinks]: ‘Oh, if I had enough faith to continue walking on that water…maybe I would be worthy for Him to wash my feet...maybe I should have shut up & listened more. Maybe that would have made me worthy for the Son of God, my Messiah to wash my feet. Maybe I should not have outed him & called him Messiah…I’m definitely not worthy. I am a sinner.’"7
Aren't we all? How impulsive are we in our response to one who is in a different station of life than we are? One who is different & offers us humble service?
The grace we can gain from tonight’s being so very different can reduce our impulsiveness. It can slow us down to think, to ponder, humble service.
Why do we strip the Altar, & move more slowly & have more silence? We strip the Altar to enter the time of remembering the stripping away of Jesus from his friends, the stripping away of all that Jesus has: his clothes, his life.
We move more slowly & have more silence so that we can “hear” & “see” God better. When we slow down & have more silence, we are like a pond where water is stirred: Debris that has settled to the bottom gets stirred up & obscures the water. When we let the water rest it becomes clearer8 & we can see more clearly below the surface.
When we slow down & have more silence, we can more readily “see” God. When we slow down, we can make better decisions – decisions that can affect this Body of Christ & beyond.
Slowing down before reacting gives pro athletes the advantage of waiting until just the right moment to move. I learned this reading Frank Partnoy’s insightful study Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. He examines good & bad procrastination.
"The central element of good decision-making...is a person’s ability to manage delay.”9 He says:
"We are hard-wired to react quickly. Modern society taps into that...10 [We see this in Peter.] We like to believe there is wisdom in our snap decisions, & sometimes there is. But true wisdom & judgment come from understanding our limitations when it comes to thinking about the future...11 A wise decision requires reflection, & reflection requires a pause."12
Our Lord Jesus takes time this night
to wash his Disciples feet.
Our Lord Jesus takes time this night to share
a special meal in a new way.
Our Lord Jesus takes time this night to give us
a new commandment.
Our Lord Jesus does all this
in the context of community.
Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. Boston: Grand Central Life & Style. Hatchette Book Group. 2012.
Benoit, The Rev. Arlette. “Shareholders and Partners with Jesus, Maundy Thursday (C) – 2016”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/03/08/shareholders-and-partners-with-jesus-maundy-thursday-c-2016/ Accessed: 24 March 2016.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 7 March 2013.
Long, Thomas G. What Shall We Say? Evil, Suppering, and the Crisis of Faith. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2011.
Michno, Dennis G. A Priest’s Handbook: The Ceremonies of the Church. 3rd Edition. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 1998.
Mitchell, Leonel L. Lent Holy Week and the Great Fifty Days: A Ceremonial Guide. Lanham, MD: A Cowley Publications Book. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2007.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds.: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Partnoy, Frank. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. New York: Public Affairs (Perseus Book Group). 2012.
Passover Haggadah.. Winn Dixie. Miami: OneWorld Designs. 2009.
1 Passover Haggadah. Winn Dixie. P. 6
2 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 142.
3 Ibid. Pp. 142-143.
4 Ibid. Harper’s
5 Benoit, The Rev. Arlette. “Shareholders and Partners with Jesus, Maundy Thursday (C) – 2016”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/03/08/shareholders-and-partners-with-jesus-maundy-thursday-c-2016/ Accessed: 24 March 2016.
6 Note: Idea paraphrased from Ibid.
7 Benoit, The Rev. Arlette. “Shareholders and Partners with Jesus, Maundy Thursday (C) – 2016”. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/03/08/shareholders-and-partners-with-jesus-maundy-thursday-c-2016/ Accessed: 24 March 2016.
8 Note: seeing my experience with our backyard water garden this way is influenced by Bacon, Ed. 8 Habits of
Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind. P. 31.
9 Partnoy, Frank. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. P. 244.
11 Partnoy. Wait. P. 245.
12 Ibid. P. 246.