Maundy Thursday Sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church            Maundy Thursday 2022


A while ago I heard a part of an interview with two Jewish comedians who were summarizing the essence of many Jewish celebrations.


So I crafted it in the form of a Japanese haiku!


They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!


That’s the stark and yet joyful background of the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends, his students and fellow-travelers, the night before he died. It didn’t take divine foreknowledge for Jesus to perceive that his death was near. His pattern of confronting religious authorities brought their final solution: eliminate him.


They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!


Someone might ask me, “what does the word “Maundy” mean? It’s a word derived from Latin: Manadatum — which means commandment. But this day’s commandment  is not of the official Ten Commandments. It’s the new mandate of Jesus, impossible to legislate, but essential for authentic Christian life.


This mandate of Jesus is found in the final verses of today’s Gospel reading:


“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.”

Such a mandate was counter-cultural in the Roman province of Palestine in the first century. It remains counter-cultural in our divided country today, and in a world that seems intent on reverting to a brutal philosophy that “might makes right.” And yet, the way of loving one’s neighbor remains the high challenge for authentic Christians.


They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!


After more than two years, we seem to be emerging for the worst of the Covid epidemic. Of course, we are taking prudent precautions at this church and in other places as well — masking, distancing, ventilation — to name the most obvious.


As we take stock of what has changed, it seems like the practice of sharing a common cup for Communion will be “on hold” for the foreseeable future. Our parish has taken a page from Protestant churches in using small glasses set in a tray. I would paraphrase the implicit theology this way: one tray, many glasses.


Let’s go a little deeper. During the most rigorous months of the shutdown, we realized

how much we depended on community — this specific community — for mutual spiritual support and basic human fellowship. Zooming in on a screen is better than nothing, but mediated worship can’t give us the fullness of Christian community.


They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!


So we’re grateful that we once again can gather to share the spiritual food and drink — the blessed bread and wine that presents to us, by faith, Christ’s body and blood. And yet this particular day — Maundy Thursday — includes the ritual washing of feet. This practice is for now another casualty of the Covid epidemic. But I still intend to use the wording found in the Book of Common Prayer — mindful that we are not physically re-enacting the practice Jesus told us to do.


At the Passover meal Jesus shared with his beloved friends (which we call the Last Supper) he could easily foresee his immediate future — he would be handed over to the power of the state. so he gave two signs, two very puzzling signs of how authority would operate among his followers after his departure.


The first puzzling sign the one who leads the best is the one who serves the most. Who’s washing the feet? Who’s the servant of the servants? That’s the leader!


And the second greater puzzling sign: an ancient ritual meal now becomes Christ’s Body and Blood! What did he mean? He gave no theology, no explanation of these symbols. But precisely because he did not explain himself, his followers puzzled over it. I imagine his conversation went something like this:


“Do you remember the night before he died, how he met with us in that upper room,

passing around ordinary bread and wine and calling it his own Body and Blood?” And then, as his bereaved friends re-enacted those most peculiar words and deeds, they found Jesus, present among them again in a spiritual form, as he had been among them physically. The eyes of their minds were opened and they once again perceived the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.


They tried to kill us — // we escaped — our enemies  // are dead now — let’s eat!