May I speak in the name of the one

Who, loving God,

And loving us,

Walked through death into New Life in the Spirit,

A love stronger than death

Amen.

On this Maundy Thursday,

Where we will receive communion for the last time before Easter,

Where we will wash each other’s feet,

Where we will strip the altar bare,

Where we will sit in desperate and sometimes agonizing silence,

Sitting with these readings that are so grisly and harsh

And so much about death:

Why are we here?

Why do we insist on this story,

Again and again,

Year after year?

 

If you listen, to all of these stories together,

You’ll start to hear:

Death is in all of them.

“When I see the blood, I will pass over you,

and no plague – of death – shall touch you.”

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the Death of his faithful ones.

“As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,

You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

“Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world.”

One way in which scripture is MUCH more honest about our condition than our culture is:

Scripture does not shy away from death.

Scripture knows that death is always and everywhere with us,

Our constant enemy and companion.

Death is always present in our communities,

No matter how we try to hide it or mask it or run from it.

There are broken marriages.

There are children left at the bus stop by the driver.

There is crippling anxiety.

There are chronic health conditions.

There is depression, and darkness, and suicidal thoughts.

There is the lost job, lost income, lost livelihood, lost identity.

There is the father we cannot forgive,

The mother who abandoned us,

The parents we can never please and who don’t even see inside of us,

The children who run as far from us as they can.

There is the government that tears families apart,

The banks that deny our loans,

The highway projects that divide our communities,

The systems that create and perpetuate generational poverty,

And the privilege that allows us to be blind to suffering here and everywhere.

There is the death inside each of us

That lets us judge each other by our height, our skin color, our abilities.

Death is everywhere,

And it touches each one of us,

Every day.

 

So. Why are we here?

Why do we tell this story, again, and again, and again?

 

We tell this story because the stories are true.

We know they’re true, because unlike the stories we come up with for ourselves,

These stories contain all the death in the world.

We tell this story because we know exactly how dark it gets.

And we tell this story because we know that there is light at the end.

 

But today is not about the light.

The light only has meaning

If we walk through this darkness,

Individually and together.

Where is death alive in your life, right now, today?

In your community? In your culture?

Jesus knew his hour to depart the world had come,

And he loved his friends to the end.

Jesus, knowing he was going to die,

Wrapped a towel around his waist,

And washed his disciple’s feet.

Jesus, who could have run away from this death,

This totally avoidable confrontation,

Instead shared a bittersweet final meal with his friends,

Keeping them close at hand and close to heart.

Jesus, who as a member of the oppressed and occupied people

Of a foreign military empire,

Knew exactly what kind of death he had to walk into,

Gave his friends one last commandment:

Love one another.

And, friends, that commandment was radical.

First of all,

It is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus says
I give you a NEW commandment.

Jesus, the Jewish Jesus, is careful in public always to give his answers and teachings

According to the law.

This is the only NEW commandment Jesus gives:

Love | One | Another.

But it’s also the beginning of a radical new way to live in the world:

Love | One| Another.

In just a few hours, Jesus will tell the crowd, the mob, Pilate, and Herod

What he himself already knows:

My Kingdom is not of this world.

I won’t live and die for the power you seek.

My new commandment is this:

Love | One | Another.

 

Jesus knew he was about to die,

And the last thing he said to his friends was to Love One Another.

To his friends who would follow him to the cross,

To the ones who would abandon him and run from the mob,

Even to the one who betrayed him,

Jesus says, Love One Another.

Jesus turns his pain into a precious act of love,

His fear into a beautiful end of love,

His death into a new command of love.

 

Friends, this is why we are here.

Because in telling this story,

In hearing this story,

In acting out this story,

In living this story

We are receiving the Holy Spirit’s power

To live in Jesus’ love,

The love he received from God who was his Abba.

In facing down the death that is always present with us,

And giving it to the one who took that death into himself,

The Spirit gives us power to turn to love.

As we receive communion,

The body of Jesus broken and given for us,

We are made into God’s image in the world.

As we come forward and wash each other’s feet,

We practice becoming the love of Jesus for each other,

God’s love for a broken and hurting world.

As we overcome our own fear, our own awkwardness, our own embarrassment,

The Holy Spirit builds in us the trust to create

The community of God’s love and justice

That this world so desperately needs.

We are not just here to tell a story.

We are not just here to imitate it.

We are here to be filled with the power of God,

To let the Spirit of this story

Fill us with Jesus’ own life

So that at every moment of our death

We may turn to love instead.

So that we might go from this place

Enabled and empowered by God to co-create

A world where, when death comes,

We can turn, as Jesus did, to love.

So that when depression rears its head,

We can turn to love.

And when our parents just don’t understand us

We can turn to love.

And when our children are on our last nerve,

We can turn to love.

And when the radical mongers of hate in our government destroy our communities,

We can turn to love.

And when even we unknowingly damage the things and people we love the most,

We can turn to love.

We are here because Jesus commands us to love one another.

And in the mystery of the Spirit,

Hearing those words, eating this bread, washing each other’s feet,

Jesus fills us with his power,

So that at every moment,

In all the messy difficult terrible truth of the death in our lives,

We will be able to turn to love.

So, friends, tonight we will eat, and wash, and pray, and chant, and sit,

And as the lights go out,

I invite you to make fearless inventory of the death in your life.

And open your heart to all of it, life and death.

And ask for the Spirit’s grace, the presence of Jesus, and the love of God

To help you,

Even in the face of death,

To turn again,

To turn each moment,

To turn always back to love:

The love of God for Jesus.

The love of God that Jesus showed to his disciples

And to all of us,

The powerful love of the spirit that is here,

As tangible as the bread and cup being shared,

As tangible as feet being washed,

More powerful than death.

Amen.