Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Maunday Thursday Sermon

This sermon was delivered 4/14/11, the last in a Thursday evening Lenten series at Fairview UMC. The series theme was "Finals Week," developed by a Creative Worship team of Lay Speakers from Mid-State District, awesome sounds, images, messages. Each of the previous sermons has taken a day of Jesus' final week, beginning on Palm Sunday. This sermon was for Holy Thursday. The sermon title was “So That” (Jesus Passed Finals Week For You SO THAT). (1 Cor 11:23b-25; 10:16-17)

A. Introduction
1. On July 26th last year, a Sunday, I came home in the afternoon after a weekend away and found Rosemary on the living room couch. She had been in prayer all day, and when she wasn’t in prayer, she had been on the phone with her nieces and nephews in South Dakota.I’m an only child. Rosemary’s sister Dorothy has six kids, our extended family, my family. Dorothy and her husband Harley, their daughter Anita and granddaughter Sally Mae had been on the way from the farm to church that morning. Daughter Anita had been in the right rear seat. Sally Mae, age seven, had been buckled in the center seat.It was a typical trip to church. Dorothy is communion steward and Sally Mae had learned from her so that even when it wasn’t communion Sunday, Sally Mae would take her own bread and grape juice in the car and have her on little communion on the way to church.

2. The gravel road to the highway was a section line, a straight shot, and the intersecting roads were section lines, all straight shots. High speeds. As he approached one of these intersections, Harley said to Dorth, “You really need to watch this one, that kid down there never slows down.” As he said it, he saw the car speeding toward them at sixty miles per hour. His premonition allows him to hit the accelerator so that instead of a direct T-bone, the car hit the left rear quarter panel spinning the car so hard that it ripped the wheels right out from under it.

3. So when I got home in the middle of Sunday afternoon, Harley and Dorothy were in the hospital. Neither Rosemary nor the nieces and nephews were sure of their condition, but it seemed promising. Daughter Anita had had to be cut out of the car and it caused a long delay. She was in the ambulance on the way to Sioux Falls, three hours away, and it was certain she’d need surgery. Because of the delay, it would be 10 hours between the accident and surgery. The force of the accident, transmitted through her seat belt had ruptured her colon.And Sally Mae, seven year old Sally Mae—the only thing wrong with Sally Mae was that she was covered in grape juice. It was almost as if it had been a protective shield of grace, of grape grace.

4. It’s Thursday night of Holy Week, the night that Christ instituted the sacrament we call Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, or the Great Thanksgiving. It was the night of Jesus’ Final Exam, the tests he passed SO THAT we could live our lives differently. In our time together, I want to talk about the events of that night and together we’ll experience this mystery we call Holy Communion and why it has changed everything for and how we live our lives, and the hope we have within us.

B. Body
1. So it’s Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus’ Final Week, his Finals Week. From the text, we don’t know much about what went on during the day. Jesus may have spent the day in the Temple teaching as he did all the other days; or he may have spent the day in Bethany contemplating what he knew was going to happen. We know that Thursday was the first day of Passover. Passover was and still remains the most important Festival of the Jewish Calendar. At the time of Jesus, Jews had been commemorating Passover for 1400 years to remember the mighty acts of God in delivering them out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of the house of bondage. On that night, 1400 years earlier, God had acted with a mighty hand and the angel of death had visited every first-born in Egypt, but death had passed over the houses of the Israelites. Pharaoh had let the Israelites go. God had commanded the Israelites to remember this day and for 1400 years they had.

2. It was for the Passover Festival that Jesus and the disciples had come to Jerusalem. We believe that as many as two million had made that journey from all over the world. Thursday was the first day of Passover. The disciples had prepared the Passover feast in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. Matthew tells us, “When it was evening, He took his place with the twelve.Now the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke take three or four paragraphs to talk about their supper that night. John, the Gospel of John, on the other hand, takes five chapters. Five Chapters!

3. I’m standing here in the serving area of a table that would have been like the ones used by Jesus and the apostles. You might be surprised to know that DaVinci had it wrong, all wrong.Rather than a table, we now know from archeological evidence that the people of the first century would have been around a triclinium—tri for three sides, and clinium, the root from which we get the word recline. It was customary to “recline at table,” feet away, and resting on the left elbow, eating with and passing food with the right hand.Jesus was the host. Again, from archeological evidence, the host reclined here, the second place in, probably closest to the door. It was the second position in so that places of honor could be at the host’s right and left. So you see, DaVinci had it very wrong.

4. In John chapter 13, it tells us that Jesus began the evening by doing a shocking thing. Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer garment, tied a towel around his waist, put water in a basin and washed the disciple’s feet, their dirty, stinking feet. Jesus performed the task normally done by servants or slaves. He went around the table to each one, ending with Peter. We believe Peter was reclining here, we’ll tell you why in a minute.When he was done he said, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. For I have set an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”Later in Chapter 13, Jesus is to give the disciples a new commandment, words to go with his acts, his example. Jesus will say, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you have love for one another. By this you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

5. After Jesus had washed their feet and at the end of the meal, he announced his betrayal, “Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Can you imagine the stir that that must have caused around the table? The conversation? It is from this exchange that we know how the disciples were seated.
a. We do know that the host sat here with places of honor at the right and left. We’ve also guessed that Peter was here. He was the last one whose feet Jesus had washed.
b. Now John’s Gospel tells us that John (John calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved) was reclining next to Jesus. It says Peter motioned to John to ask Jesus who it is?
c. Here I think the words of the King James Version are helpful. This is how it describes the scene: Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom, one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him that he should ask who it is of whom he spake. It says, “He [John] then lying on Jesus’ breast said, “Lord, who is it?”
d. Now, we don’t use the words breast and bosom in polite conversation much any more, but it sure is useful here. Can you see that John is here, directly across from Peter, leaning on the bosom of Jesus, or lying on his breast as he leaned back to ask, “Lord, who is it?”Jesus here, answered, “It is the one whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And after he dipped the bread he gave it to Judas Iscariot.

6. So let me ask you, if John was in this seat of honor, who was in the other? (Judas) Isn’t that interesting. Judas had betrayed Jesus, and Jesus knew it, yet he placed Judas in the seat of honor.That’s a test that Jesus passed that night, that I’ll bet we would have had a great deal of difficulty passing.

7. We’re in the Gospel of John. In just a minute we’re going to go back to Matthew to talk about the Lord’s Supper, but before we do I want to quickly outline John’s five chapters:

Ch 13 – (The one we’ve been talking about. Footwashing, betrayal and a New Commandment that we love one another.

Ch 14 – Wonderful words of assurance. You’re familiar with how it begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go, I will come again to take you to myself.”

Ch 15 – is about relationship, our dependent relationship with Him: “I am the vine, you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” But with this relationship, drawing on him, we can be fruitful. And relationship has everything to do with joy in our lives. Jesus closes by saying, “I tell you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Ch 16 – The Gift of the Holy Spirit. God says, “I will not leave you orphaned. I will not leave you alone.

Ch 17 – Jesus’ prayer for us: for his disciples, for the church, for the world.

8. So, back to the Gospel of Matthew. They are at table. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body.”Now, for my Scriptures for tonight, those that Bridget read for us, I actually used passages from 1 Corinthians, Paul’s letter of instruction to the church at Corinth, in this case his instruction about the Lord’s Supper. Why? Paul’s letters were actually written years and years before the gospels. These words about the Lord’s Supper were the earliest recorded. The Lord’s Supper was well established as an integral part of gathering well before the letter was written. The Lord’s Supper was a part of worship in the church from the beginning.Not only that, do you realize that these words, these words from Jesus from 1 Corinthians are the earlier recorded quotations of Jesus that we have in the Bible. Jesus’ earliest quote is his institution of the Lord’s Supper.

9. The early church and St. Paul thought communion was important, that it was central to their faith, their worship, their walk of discipleship: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Remembrance is a packed word.
a. It means remembering the past, the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ for us and for our salvation.
b. It means remembering for us to look inward and examine ourselves and knowing that if we confess our sins that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse from all unrighteousness.
c. It means looking outward for we are commanded to love one another, even as I have loved you.
d. It means remembering to look forward to the promises of God in Jesus Christ. “I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again to take you to myself…. If it were not so would I have told you?”
e. Remembering means looking upward at the cross of Christ, for God in Jesus Christ is present at the meal. He is the host of the meal.
f. And remembering means knowing that God will never leave us alone, that he will always be present with us in the Power of the Holy Spirit.
g. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

10. The table of the Lord, the table of Jesus Christ is all those things and more. Something happens at the table that changes us. It is a mystery. In fact, the English word we use, sacrament, in Greek is the word “mysterion.” The Lord’s Supper changes us, we know not how. It is a mystery.
a. How is it that God can take ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary us, us, and make them holy, set us apart? It is a mystery, but this we know:
b. Jesus is present, grace is present, we are covered in grace.
c. In fact, John Wesley called the sacrament a means of grace. A means by which we can immerse ourselves in the grace of God, make ourselves available to his grace.
d. Just as Sally Mae was covered in grace that morning. Can you not see, can you not feel that grape colored translucent shield surrounding Sally Mae as she was present at the Table of the Lord that morning? Even if that table was in the backseat of her car. We cannot know, we cannot understand, but we know that she was covered in grape juice, she was covered in grace.

11. The Table of the Lord is ready. It is not the Table of Fairview, this church or any church or denomination, it is the Lord’s Table and all are invited, all are welcome.You will be offered the loaf where you may break off a small piece and dip a corner of it in the grape juice. You may take it standing here in readiness to serve. You may take it kneeling or at table in prayer and reverence feeding on him in your hearts. If you are unable to come forward and would like to partake, make yourself known to the ushers and we will serve you at your seats.Please come, please come to the table of the Lord.

(After everyone is seated, the lights go out for 10 seconds. When they come back on, Jesus is in prayer in Gethsemane.)

12. The Bible tells us that after supper, and after they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives where there was a garden and there Jesus prayed in great distress:
a. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but thine be done.”
b. We know then that the guards came along with Judas who betrayed him with a kiss.
c. Jesus told those present, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will send 12 legions of angels?” And then Jesus allowed himself to be taken away.

C. Close
1. With that Jesus chose to accept his Father’s cup. Jesus chose to take the Final Exam. He could have chosen not to take the exam at all.

2. It was our exam, not his, one that we could never pass; but Jesus passed the Final Exam for us SO THAT. SO THAT
a. So that you can be at table with Jesus, seated beside Jesus, dine with Jesus, even though from time to time you betray him, we can have a relationship with Jesus. “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and dine with you and you with me.” We can dine with him, we can have a personal relationship with Jesus.
b. Jesus passed Finals Week for you so that you can see the mighty of God in Jesus Christ for you and for your salvation.
c. So that you can look inward and lay your sins before Christ with the sure and certain knowledge that they will be forgiven. The man said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”
d. Jesus passed Finals Week for you, so that we can be obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, looking outward and serving a world in need, for we are called to love one another. “A new commandment I give you that you love one another.”
e. So that you can look forward to the promises of God. Have an eternal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. In my Father’s house are many rooms, many dwelling places, many mansions. “There’s a mansion just over the hilltop.” So that you can have an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.
f. So that God will be with you always in the presence of the Holy Spirit. “I come to the garden alone…and he walks with you and he talks with you, and he tells you you are his own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other will ever know.”
g. Jesus passed Finals Week for you so that, and here’s the good part, here's the part that I love: So that you may have life and it abundantly. So that you life may be full. So that Christ wells up in you. So that Christ’s joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. So that you may be filled with joy of Christ and immersed in his grace.
h. So that in some mysterious way you are changed. The filling and fulfilling relationship with Christ will not and cannot leave you alone.So that you will never again be the same. Jesus passed the final exam for you so that.

3. The ushers are coming forward to give you your diploma for Finals Week. It is a diploma that you did not earn for a test you did not pass. Jesus passed it so that we may have life, we may have joy, we may have abundance.Every time you look at this diploma on your refrigerator or on your mirror, “Jesus passed Finals Week for me… SO THAT” You fill in the blank. Only you can fill in the blank. It is your life. It is your relationship with him. You joyfully fill in the blank and give thanks. So may it be in all our lives. Amen.