In his final hours, Jesus wants us to know just how intimately God loves us. This has been handed down to us. How will we hand it down to those who come after us?
Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
Texts: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35
My brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace and love to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What traditions or wisdom have been handed down to you? I learned how to make popcorn from my grandmother. I use a big pan—the kind with two handles on it—and put in just enough oil to cover the bottom. Add exactly three kernels of popcorn, put it on medium heat on the stove, and when the third kernel pops, add the rest of the popcorn. Shake occasionally, and when the popping slows, remove from the heat, and when all the popping has stopped, pour the popcorn into the bowl. Add real melted butter and salt—don’t skimp!
Over the years, I have tried many ways of making popcorn, from air poppers to oil poppers to kettle corn makers and even microwave, and none have ever measured up. A big part of it is the taste, of course, but more important than that is the connection I feel to my grandmother. Sure, I use olive oil instead of Wesson oil, and Kosher salt instead of regular table salt, but in all essentials, each time I make popcorn on the stove, I am participating in what my grandmother handed down to me. What has been handed down to you?
Jesus knew the hour had come for him to depart from this world. Jesus knew that this was the last time he would sit with his disciples, share Passover with them. It was his last opportunity to hand down his most sacred thoughts before he died, his last chance to show them, and us, what is really important.
Tonight we celebrate Maundy Thursday, and so we begin the most sacred days of the Christian church year. This is a time set aside for us as a community to remember. We have come before our God, acknowledged our sin, and received God’s love and forgiveness. We have prepared ourselves, and now we begin this journey. Over these days, we remember the extravagant, redemptive, love of God for us and for all of creation revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We share stories of God’s loving work throughout all of history. And tonight, we remember what our dear friend, Jesus, handed down to us in the final hours before he died.
Jesus and his friends were celebrating Passover together that night. Just as we gather today to remember, they gathered to remember how God saved them. They were following an ancient command that had been handed down to them to tell and retell the story of how God brought them out of slavery and led them to freedom.
Jesus wants us to remember, too. When we are bound in shame, and the fear that we are not good enough, and we can’t see how God—or anyone else—could ever love us, Jesus wants us to remember. When we are ensnared in problems of our own making, when we have hurt those we love the most, when we have sinned and feel beyond forgiveness, Jesus wants us to remember. When our bodies and minds are falling apart, when we feel trapped and useless, Jesus wants us to remember. Even death cannot hold us forever. God freed the Israelites. God frees us from all that enslaves us. The command to remember has been handed down for centuries, and it is ours now.
On that last night, sharing a final meal with his friends, Jesus wanted us to know that God frees us. And he wants us to know how far and deep that freedom goes. Jesus wanted his friends to know that in spite of what would happen later that night and the next day, no matter how much grief and despair they would feel, Jesus’s death would not be the final word. Jesus would rise again, and death would be overcome. Jesus tells us to share the Eucharist as a remembrance of his death and promise of resurrection, and every time we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus shares his very life with us.
When we face death and grief and despair, Jesus wants us to remember that the promise of the resurrection is that God can overcome even death. We celebrate the Eucharist and we are nourished, body and soul, as our bodies are fed and our spirits filled again with the promise of life and forgiveness. Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” And so it has been handed down to us.
After Jesus and his disciples had finished eating their final meal before his death, knowing that words would not be enough, Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. It was, of course, an act of humility and service. But more than that, washing another person’s feet is incredibly vulnerable, intimate, full of love.
Jesus was telling his friends, “I know you. I know those parts of you that you keep hidden. I know your dirt, your sweat, your warts, your pain, your exhaustion. And I love you.” On the night before he died, at the last meal he would share with his friends, Jesus showed them how intimately God loves us, warts and all. There is no part of you that God does not know, intimately. And there is no part of you that God does not love.
And then Jesus says, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” We are called to know and love one another that way, actively, humbly, intimately. We are called to see one another’s warts, and love them. We are called to allow God, and others, to see our warts, and let them love us. This vulnerability is terrifying . . . and it is precisely how God heals and frees us to be the people we were created to be. And it is how God works through us to heal and free others. This kind of love will not be contained. It must be handed down, and down, and down.
As we gather to remember, and as we wash one another’s feet tonight, we are reminded by the water used to wash our feet of the waters of our baptisms, and the promise of God’s radical, unconditional love and forgiveness. We are called to remember that God overcomes even death. We are called to remember that no matter what has us enslaved, God has set us free. This is what has been handed down to us, and this is what we are called to hand down to those who come after us.
Tonight we come together to carry on sacred traditions handed down to us, and as happens each time I make my grandmother’s popcorn, we are carried beyond ourselves, beyond this moment in time. This is about us, but it is not just about us. As we wash one another, share the Eucharist, and tell the stories, we are profoundly connected to God, to one another, and to our whole Christian family around the world, going back generations and generations. We remember who we are, who we are called to be, as children of God. This is what has been handed down to you. How will you hand that down to those coming after us?