He Loved them to the End

Apr 14, 2022

Maundy (Holy) Thursday Sermon
April 14, 2022
John 13:1-17, 32-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Tonight, we heard these words describing Jesus’ last day with his disciples, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved to the end.” Tomorrow we will hear the haunting, “It is finished.” But that will NOT be the end; Jesus’ love will not be finished.
     However, what if we did not know that to be the case? What if the resurrection was not yet a reality? Can you imagine yourselves as one of the first followers, clueless about what will soon occur, even though Jesus has said that in Jerusalem, he will be arrested, suffer, die, and on the third day rise? How would you want to be “loved to the end?”
     Sometimes, when a loved one dies, the memories that are with us immediately are of things that happened closest to that one’s death. Later, other happy or challenging or unique or warm moments come to mind and are accompanied by laughter and tears. Yet, what happened in the hours or days before the loss stays with us. I tested this proposition and found it true of those closest to me – regardless of the number of years that have passed. I still remember what happened on that day and, in some cases, the day before.
     Perhaps Jesus understood this; he knew he was about to die, so he created for his loved ones two significant, blessed memories they could bring to mind among the painful ones of what happened during those days immediately before and of the crucifixion. Jesus gathers them for a meal, he shares last instructions concerning that meal, he serves them by washing their feet, and he gives them a new commandment, to love one another in the way that he had loved them.
     He touched them with his words and with his hands, impressing on their minds this memory of him. Amazingly, tonight we still remember. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and “For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” That word, “remember,” can be mundane: remember to take out the trash. It also can be profound: remember those who sacrificed on our behalf. And, it is sacred: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
     But it’s not just a matter of reflection. Did you notice that it is not “believe this” or “reflect on this” in remembrance of me, but “do this?” When we share the bread and wine, as we will do tonight, we recall Jesus’ death on our behalf; we receive forgiveness and strength to live out our faith from the truly present Lord, and we rejoice in the promise of eternal life. In our doing, we recall, receive and rejoice.  Then, in our lives of faith, we follow the example that Jesus set for us; we serve, that is, we love sacrificially.
     This is a bodily activity for the body of Christ; that is why the community of faith is so important. Communion (which comes from the word community) and serving are not intended to be private practices. Pastor and author Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together, when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to DO, specific ways of being together in their bodies that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself…. Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on. Things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another.” (1)
     The Pandemic was so difficult because of the distance and inaction it imposed on everyone. It was particularly challenging for the church since Jesus called us into community and service. “Remember me by doing,” Jesus says: gather, worship, grow in faith, share the meal and GO! While there may be new, technology-based ways of doing these, it is still all about community and service.
     In the most recent edition of “Living Lutheran,” Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton notes that returning to a post-pandemic world, like the return of circulation, is initially painful. She says, “We will need to rebuild those structures necessary for a healthy society – compassion, respect, sacrifice for the greater good, the celebration of diversity, justice. And we will need the word of the Lord, the Word that calls us back to our center, which is the steadfast love of God….” (2)
     That’s the love that loves us to the end…and beyond! AMEN
(1) “Remember and Re-membering”, a sermon on Luke 22:7-34, quoting Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
(2) Living Lutheran, April 2022, “The Way Back to our Center” by Elizabeth A. Eaton, pg. 46