April 9, 2020, Maundy Thursday Scripture Readings and Sermon
Rev. Mark Hatch
Good Friday (Maundy Thursday Below)
See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
--so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals--
so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.
Yet you are the Holy One, *
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.
They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.
All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
"He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him."
Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
and kept me safe upon my mother's breast.
I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.
Many young bulls encircle me; *
strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
They open wide their jaws at me, *
like a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water;
all my bones are out of joint; *
my heart within my breast is melting wax.
My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.
Packs of dogs close me in,
and gangs of evildoers circle around me; *
they pierce my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; *
they divide my garments among them;
they cast lots for my clothing.
Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.
Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.
I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the Lord's for ever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.
Gospel Reading- John 18:1-19:42
Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me." Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"
So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
"They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots."
And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
GOOD FRIDAY ?
Each year, in this moment, on this day, we find ourselves asking the same, enduring question: What is so “good” about Good Friday? What is there to celebrate about a grim death, upon a splintery stake, on a forsaken and barren hill known as Golgotha, the ‘Place of a Skull’? What goodness can we possibly discern in the plaintive cry of Jesus, hanging upon this ignominious cross, when he implores: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Clearly we have come to a turning point. We are at a crossroads in our life of faith. We are at a moment in time when the world shall be changed forever, even though it is a time of utter confusion, anguish, pain and despair. Where indeed is the “goodness” in all this?
Here we confront the great and age-old dilemma of the faith: if God is all loving, all knowing, all caring, universally compassionate and profoundly just, then why does God respond with silence and inaction, not intervening to save the life of the forsaken Jesus? And the corollary, arguably far more disturbing, equally remains: if God is not all powerful, somehow limited in capacity in the face of such grief, dismay and horror, not able or willing to reveal divine power and majesty short of the lurid death of a man on a cross, then who is this God of ours anyway?
In today’s passage from the Prophet Isaiah we hear a part of what is sometimes called the ‘Suffering Servant’ story. The Prophet tells of a one who “shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high”. We hear of one who “shall startle many nations”, one who is radically different from all those who have come before. This servant, though we have rejected, feared, betrayed and despised him, nevertheless “has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases...by his bruises we are healed” and made whole. Although we have gone astray, as we have done time and time again throughout all of history, nevertheless God continues to guide and direct the Servant towards a fateful conclusion of His earthly journey. Yet in all this, our faith is being severely tested. How can we reconcile these two apparently contradictory visions? ‘Who is this God of ours?’, we ask again. We are being challenged in a new and mysterious way. But how are we to respond? We are being examined and scrutinized by the God who knows all persons and by the God who is in all things, as we claim. And yet if we are human and honest and real and truthful; and if we courageously reject self-righteousness and provincialism and piety as we stand before the Gates of Heaven, then we must, in some way, remain deeply unsettled, disturbed, aghast, bewildered and very confused.
The mystery and challenge of faith, at any level, lies precisely in those moments when faith seems least evident to us; in those events and cataclysms and ‘dark nights of the soul’ where faith seems foolhardy, empty, distant, dry as dust. God upends the worldly order before our very eyes and in so doing confronts us with a situation utterly alien to our understanding. Again, we hear the words of Isaiah: “For that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.” [Isa. 52:15] Speaking for myself, I know of no more pure or perfect definition of life in the Spirit than that singular, eternal, mysterious sentence.
Faith will not be scripted or mapped out for us. Faith will not be served to us in some bland, predictable, easily digestible or homogenized recipe. Faith will not be spelled out neatly for us in some rational, simplistic or sophomoric pamphlet. Faith is not some commodity to be “owned” or controlled or sold or possessed in any material or avaricious way. Faith is not a rarefied or chummy membership privilege exclusive to some special club or secret society. Oh no, it is anything but. In none of these places is true faith to be easily and automatically procured. Rather, faith can only be discovered, nurtured, acknowledged and claimed within the confines of our broken and contrite hearts. Faith can only and most truly be found in those landscapes of desolation, those confrontations with emptiness and despair, those moments before the cross in a fit of agony and bewilderment when indeed, we wonder if faith is to exist at all. And yes, such a faith is mysterious and elusive and even seemingly absent at times, no more so than on this day we call ‘Good Friday’. So where is the goodness in this Suffering Servant? What is the “good” part of the story? Where do we turn now that we have arrived at this appalling juncture and before this graphic display?
Is the goodness to be found in what the Letter to the Hebrews calls “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” [Heb. 10:10], that lurid and devastating sacrifice that still makes me shudder when I dwell on it for any length of time? Though we proclaim that this sacrifice was made on our behalf and that this sacrifice “has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” [Heb. 10:14], still we must ask ourselves, and we must ask the world, is this what we require of God so as to make our faith real? Is there no other way for humankind to escape the demonic clutches of our own self-interest and pettiness, and to free itself so that love and not hate might guide us in our ways? Is there no other path which we might follow towards the Kingdom but for that rocky, terrible trail which leads to Calvary, by way of our own backyard? Do we really believe, in essence, that something can come from nothing?
The 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross saw it this way: “It now remains to be said that, although this happy night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; and that, although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and raise it up; and, although it impoverishes it and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so only that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, and thus to have fruition and experience of all things...” 
In the season of Easter we always try to make some larger sense of these perplexing and frightening questions, questions which strike at the heart of our faith. On Easter Eve, at the Great Vigil, we exit the shadows of Lent and Passiontide and emerge into a new light and a new beginning, in ways both large and also very small. How often I hear so many say they wish they could skip over Good Friday and wake up at Easter. How easy that would be for all of us, but not really. Because if we are honest with ourselves, we know in the depth of our soul that such a detour would merely undermine and derail the larger and more portentous journey which is very much at hand.
And so we return to this day, and to the challenge of finding meaning in an apparently meaningless event. Meaningless, on first blush, for those of us amongst the crowd whose frenzied shouts of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”merely hastened Jesus’ journey to the cross. On that fateful day so long ago, mob rule and vigilante justice unwittingly set in motion an extraordinary and radical transformation of the world. As the Passion events unfolded before their very eyes, and as we heard on Palm Sunday, little could the ignorant and frenzied and broken mass of humanity have known that they were sowing the seeds of their own salvation. Little could they have known that in that desert of hate and death there would soon bloom a lush garden of love and life. And this, of course, is the goodness of Good Friday.
Many have said, “It is always darkest before the dawn.”
The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see; I meet my shadow in the deepening shade.” 
On Good Friday, don’t we all.
Francis Quarles, a 17th century writer, put it rather nicely as well, I think: “The way to bliss lies not on beds of down, And he that has no cross deserves no crown.” 
No cross to bear, no crown to wear. Let us hold fast to this elegant, enduring and enigmatic truth, as the ancient mystery continues to unfold before us.
St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, ch. IX. Dover Thrift Editions, NY. c2003.
 Theodore Roethke, “In a Dark Time” from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Copyright © 1963.
 Francis Quarles. Esther (1621), Sec. 9, Meditation 9.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant and the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds.
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Gospel Reading- John 13:1-17, 31b-35
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. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So 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. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' 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."
Sermon: Taking Jesus at His Word
TAKING JESUS AT HIS WORD
Do you ever wonder, deep in the recesses of your heart and soul, what the world or what your life or what our life might look and feel like if we actually took Jesus at his word? That may sound like an unsettling or even a ‘trick’ question, but I mean it quite seriously. Indeed, I think it is exactly where we need to be on this sacred night. For while all our scripture and all our liturgy on Maundy Thursday is about remembrance, about some moment in the history of God’s work, and about some way in which to commemorate God’s might and power, we are clearly not meant to be stuck. We are not meant to be nostalgic. We are not meant to be dreaming back in glassy-eyed delusion to some halcyonic and allegedly golden age. Neither, to be sure, are we meant to be grinding our way through some repetitive and arcane ritual: we must ever and always guard against becoming mere “technicians of the sacred” as Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold once warned us during a clergy conference. We are not meant to be mired only in ‘what has been’, without a profound and deep and ever awakening sense of call and mission towards that ‘which still might be’, towards that which is yet to come, towards that which is emerging if we will but let it be so.
I am not a trained anthropologist, but in the life of faith and the journey of the Spirit ritual has always seemed to me to be the time and the place and the setting and the mystery where and within which we come to remember and to recall, precisely so that we can then be reinvigorated and renewed and redirected forward on the journey. In the midst of one of the oldest rituals in all of Christendom -- the washing of feet and the breaking of bread -- I am ever more convinced that the living, breathing summons of God in Christ is to go forth from such places and from such ritual, out into an alive movement of spirit and optimism; into some new and pregnant era of possibility and dreams, into a beckoning land of milk and honey and hope and charity and kindness and grace. And this, my brothers and sisters, is precisely where the challenge to truly accept Jesus at his word is placed squarely before us.
Tonight and in this sacred hour we have received a “new commandment” -- a “maundatum novum” (John 13:34) -- that we should love one another as we have been loved [this is where we get the term 'Maundy' Thursday]. Even more, the appeal is undeniable that we must then take that love out into a disbelieving and heartbroken world and make it manifest, alive, and utterly real. As you know, that is no easy task. The mission is challenging not simply because love takes work, but because unconditional love requires an absolute acceptance of God’s presence, grace and beauty that few are ready for. It’s always easy to love someone or some thing or some idea which we like; it is always far more challenging when the person or place or time or thought is initially contrary to our inner selves. Ours is not the first generation, nor shall we be the last, to seek out someone, some group, some person or persons, some ‘Other’, for whom we will offer Christian love, kind of, but only in a conditional and measured sense. We shall not be the first nor the last to fall short of the Kingdom of God as we often Pharisaically pick our way among the supposed sheep and the goats, the allegedly worthy and the outcast, those who are just like us and those who are altogether different. And this has been happening since the first words of Genesis.
But Jesus will not let us do so. In fact, the steep price and the radical call of this “new commandment” cannot be overstated: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” [John 13:34] Now I have read this passage probably 200 times in my life and to me there is no way around it. There is no mincing of words or of sentiments. Jesus is not saying love “some”. Jesus is not saying love others “kind of, maybe, a little bit”. Jesus is not saying “do this kind of in the way that you sort of, maybe, saw me do it” and then only to those whom you like or know personally. Jesus is not saying “just do what you have always done; don’t take risks”. Jesus is not saying “well, just do your best but it’s okay if you don’t feel like welcoming everyone to the table.” It’s really, exactly, precisely, and sometimes painfully, the opposite. We are to love, one another, each other, both known and more defiantly unknown, warts and all, without condition, in the deepest Christian sense. And if there is a more difficult or daunting challenge in all of the life of faith, I, for one, have yet to hear it.
There is always a great risk during Holy Week and that risk is that we shall try to project that love or that message into another time and place, another year, a different setting, some far away land or distant past, even when the fundamental call -- the radical and transforming demand of Jesus, in essence -- is to live that love right here, right now, in this very time and in this place.
Fifteen years ago, when I was serving a parish in northern Canada, I used to walk the mile or so from my small house to church every Sunday morning. One day, just before Holy Week, I passed through Little Park, cutting across the town’s greenspace, as was my norm. And as I did so, 2 profoundly intoxicated men saw me coming, staggered up off the community bandstand, weaved toward me and began shouting for my attention. Instinctively, reflexively, indeed immediately, I crossed to the other side of the street, put my head down, hastened my step and soon enough they had retreated to their sad den of heartache and inebriation. And the truth is this: I have been ashamed of myself ever since. As if this were yesterday. I had failed to abide by the simplest, most Christ-given, most scriptural, and most clear commandment of all -- to love one another. No ‘ifs’, no ‘ands’, no ‘buts’. No conditions, just love. I had the chance, as always, in the guise of a stranger, and I did not take it. I ran. I fled. I jumped on a metaphorical ship like poor old Jonah and sailed away, far from it all. The experience was one which I imagine all of us have faced, at some point, but I can recall the feeling in my heart and in my soul, the feeling of failure and injustice and ignorance, the feeling of defying and disappointing Jesus, the feeling of a cold hard stone weighted within me, as if it happened this very evening.
And so that, in part, is why I am here tonight. And that is why, on this day, and whenever we are permitted, I must always wash your feet. Not in servitude but as a servant, not as punishment but for my own personhood, not in humiliation but with humility. In doing so I pray to be reminded of my own weakness before God, my own failings and brokenness. But I do so also to recapture that idealism, and essence, and spirit of true love and abiding hope without which scripture and faith would have no meaning. The new commandment, made real and lived out. And I pray this hope and dream for all of you as well. Because as ancient and lovely as our liturgies may be, irrelevance is not our goal, and neither is it the call or the expectation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in this most precious and holy hour.