Homily for Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2005. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts.
|Exodus 12:1-14a||1 Corinthians 11:23-26|
|Psalm 78||John 13:1-15|
Do you remember?
“Remember! Do you remember?” That’s what I imagine they were saying to each other, this group of men and women gathered in the upper room of a house somewhere in Jerusalem. It was a night not so different from tonight: an evening at or near Passover, the Jewish festival that celebrates the exodus, the liberation from Egypt. Who knows whether the disciples understood what would come next Jesus’ arrest and trial, his crucifixion and painful death. Of course they had no way of imagining what would come after that his rising to new life, bearing all of them and all of us with him. What they did know was that the night outside was dark. The forces of Caesar, like the forces of Pharaoh, were gathering around them, and in the face of the world’s brutality and violence, in the face of all the powers that try to crush the human spirit and burden us with cynicism and despair, hard-heartedness and fear, the disciples wanted to remember the truth of who they really were: a community gathered in love and, by the power of God, set free from slavery, set free from fear, and made partners with God in the transformation of the world. They wanted to remember not only the story of the Exodus, but the story of their own lives, which somehow seemed lit up from within awakened, energized the more deeply they knew Jesus.
Remember! They said to him. Remember how we took one look at you and dropped our nets, dropped everything, to follow you! Remember the miles we tramped, going from village to village, sometimes being met with hospitality and sometimes with scorn! Remember how the crowds listened to your words, and how you’d stand offshore in a boat so that everyone could hear! Remember how shocked we were when you spoke to the woman at the well, and how surprised when you blessed the sinful woman who burst into the dinner-party and washed your feet with her tears! Remember our amazement when you healed the lepers, and how frustrated we were when we tried and tried, but just couldn’t heal the epileptic child all by ourselves! Remember the joke you played on Simon Peter, when you filled his nets so full of fish that the nets started to break! Remember how funny it looked when the paralyzed man was lowered to you through a hole in the roof! Remember the surprise and happiness in that little boy’s eyes, when you accepted his gift of five barley loaves and two fish, and used them to feed a crowd of thousands! Remember the sweet taste of the wine you made at the wedding feast of Cana! Remember! Remember!
Laughter, tears, talk, memories a last supper in the presence of the one whose eyes and voice, whose words, touch, and actions were such that each of these men and women, gathered by candlelight to share a meal, dared to whisper to themselves: If God could take human form, this is what God would be like! Remember this night they must have been telling themselves. Remember!
And in that last supper, Jesus gave them something else to remember. He gave them a gesture of profound tenderness and humility: he washed their dusty feet. He gave them to each other, so that whenever they washed each other’s feet whenever they carried each other’s burdens, whenever they reached out in kindness or spoke a word of truthfulness and love he would be with them. He gave them his very self in the bread and wine, ordinary things that from now on would be filled with his presence.
The next day, on the cross, he would give them his life, so that they and we might have life to the full, so that they and we might not fear the power of death or the power of any adversary, so that they and we might know that our own Passover has arrived, our own Exodus has come.
The forces of violence are all around us tonight in the blood being spilled in Darfur, Iraq, the Middle East; in the poverty and pain in Red Lake, Minnesota; in the shortsighted greed that is trying to pillage the Arctic refuge. The forces of violence are as close as the anger, hopelessness, and fear that may grip our own hearts.
But tonight Jesus draws near to us and says: Remember. Remember who you are. Remember the love that sent you into the world and the love that will gather you up when your earthly life is done. Remember that in my name and spirit you take your place in a community of love, a community that celebrates together and searches together for ways to bring freedom, justice, peace and healing to this beautiful earth. Remember this night, he says, and remember my love. Do this in remembrance of me.