image source: http://www.turnbacktogod.com

RCL Maundy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1 and 10-17, I Corinthians 11:23-26,
Saint John 13:1-17 and 31b-35

The canvas tonight is bigger than any I know. It’s bigger than Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, almost twelve feet by fourteen and one-third feet. Tonight’s canvas enlarges every Feast and Fast in the Church’s calendar, but there is one thing in it to remember above all the others. And through it all, there is the marvelous which is not only possible but always potential and which finally occurs in the Resurrection of the Lord.

Tonight’s canvas includes the Institution of the Lord’s Supper which you heard in the Epistle, itself the earliest written account of the Last Supper in the New Testament. And behind it is its prototype, the Institution of the Passover which you heard in the Old Testament Reading. The Passover and the Lord’s Supper are meals celebrating the end of bondage, the release from captivity, actual and figurative, as well as liberty, and the gift of freedom to be what God intends us to be. We Christians believe that the Lord’s Supper fulfills and completes the Passover, for in it we pass over from slavery to sin, to ultimate freedom in the Resurrection of humanity.

All of this lives on tonight’s canvas. But the main thing, the most important thing, is what Jesus teaches his disciples in the Gospel. He takes off his outer robe and puts on a towel, and he washes their feet. You need to know that in Jesus’ culture, the lowliest slave could not be compelled to wash another’s feet.

In this symbolic act, Jesus transforms himself into someone lower than the lowliest. He is willing to do for them what no one could be forced to do for them. He teaches them that doing for each other such things perpetuates his presence among them. And then he commands them to “love one another” just as he has loved them.[1]

As God is my witness, I have rarely seen that love in Christian communities in over three decades of Priesthood. But I have seen it here, in this parish. I have seen it in the people here tonight in the most awful of circumstances. I have received that love here. And when people share the Lord’s love, when they become lower than the low for each other, they stand, in every good sense, in the doorway of the marvelous and in the doorway of the supernatural. They stand in the doorway of eternity.

Tonight’s canvas is huge, but when we study it, we find that Jesus has given us a sacramental means to ensure his presence. But he has also given us a moral and ethical means to ensure his presence, and he has commanded and enabled us to do both. Insofar as we truly identify with him, we shall do both.


[1] Saint John 13:34.