“Rebecca Sermon by: The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
April 18, 2019
Maundy Thursday

 

Welcome to the Upper Room

Texts:

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Welcome to the upper room. I’m glad you got your invitation. I bet you’re wondering why Jesus has asked you here. Well, I can tell you … it’s because Jesus knows.

He’s heard Caiaphas plotting: “It is better [that] one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (Jn 11:50).

Jesus knows.

“Leave [Mary] alone[, Judas]. She bought [the nard] … for … my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn 12:7-8).

Jesus knows.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (Jn 12:27).

Jesus knows.

What would you do if you knew? Knew that the hour had come for you to depart this world. You’d gather those who you love, wouldn’t you? You’d want to do some things for them – say some things to them?

Tonight, in this upper room, Jesus has gathered his disciples for one last meal. Here in this room, time will stand still while he does some things for them – and says some things to them. Welcome. I’m glad you’re here to take it all in.

Shhh! John’s setting the scene for us – it opens as it will end – with love:

Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Did you catch that? He loved them to the end. That word “end” in Greek – telos – is multivalent. It can signal the end of a process previously begun – as in, Jesus has loved the disciples right up to the end of his life. It can also signal the full extent or perfection of something – as in, Jesus has loved the disciples perfectly “in a way that surpasses all imaginable loving.”[1] John’s telling us that this night is about love. Oh sure, Jesus’ whole life has been about love; yet on this night, his love will find its fullest expression – will reach its ultimate goal – will be perfected.

Watch as Jesus takes water and transforms it. During supper, he rises, removes his outer robe, pours water into a basin, and washes the disciples’ feet. This is no ordinary washing – no household servant stooping to do a job. Rather, Jesus himself – fully human companion and the “Word of God … the One in and through whom everyone” [2] here in this room – together with the very water in the basin – was created kneels and washes. Watch … just as Jesus was washed by John in the Jordan, the disciples now are washed by Jesus here in the upper room.

Peter resists until Jesus explains: “Unless I wash you, you have no share [ no inheritance ] with me.” No, this is no ordinary washing, for in this action, the disciples receive an inheritance with Jesus – they become, as he is, children of God. How? Through water – an outward and visible sign infused with inward and spiritual grace, through Jesus’ perfect love given to his friends. In this washing, they are baptized.

Look now as supper is ending. Jesus takes bread and wine and transforms them. He’s got a loaf of bread, he’s giving thanks, he’s breaking it, and giving it to them. Notice, as Malcolm Guite, Anglican priest and poet, has noticed of this moment:

It is the Word himself who says of that bread, ‘This is my Body’: the same Word through whose utterance everything that is became itself. When this Word speaks … something substantial, and new, is brought into existence. … The body and blood he took for [their] sakes, woven in Mary’s womb, is shared with [them] as he shares [their] nature, extended to and through [them], so that [they] too are Christ’s Body.[3]

In this sharing, the eucharist is born and the newly-baptized disciples receive Christ’s body into their own bodies and are thereby themselves transformed into the body of Christ.

Jesus has done what he longs to do for his disciples before he leaves. What’s that he’s saying? Can you hear him? “It’s all about love – all the teachings, all the healings, all the signs … everything I’ve said and done is about love. Let me make it easy for you to know what to do after I go, because I know my hour has come to depart from this world. I give you a new commandment – a novum mandatum – that’s why’s you’ll call this day Maundy Thursday. Love one another. Just as I have loved you. You’ve experienced my love in my teachings, healings, and signs. You’ve experienced my love tonight as I’ve washed you with water and fed you with my body and blood. Oh how I know what’s coming – my final act of love for you. Where I am going, you cannot come. But you’ll experience the telos – the hour when you’ll know the perfection of my love. For I love you with a love that surpasses all imaginable loving. That’s how you’re to love one anothter: just as I have loved you.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Tonight, before the arrest and the trial, before the mocking and the scourging, before the nailing and the dying, we are here in the upper room with Jesus. He knows the hour has come, but before he goes, he wants to wash us with water, feed us with his body and blood, and share with us his new commandment – “love one another just as I have loved you.” Welcome to the upper room. Take it all in. Soon, we’ll wash feet; allow Jesus’ perfect love to shower you. Then, we’ll then celebrate the eucharist; allow Jesus’s perfect love to feed your body and soul. Perhaps Malcolm Guite’s poem for this day will enhance your experience of this place as it has mine:

Here is the source of every sacrament,
The all-transforming presence of the Lord,
Replenishing our every element
Remaking us in his creative Word.
For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,
The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,
The fire dances where the candles shine,
The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.
And here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.[4]

And all God’s people said, amen.

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[1] Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B., The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina, Vol. 4, 373-374.

[2] Malcolm Guite, Word in the Wilderness: A poem a day for Lent and Easter, 164.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Malcolm Guite, “Maundy Thursday” from Word in the Wilderness: A poem a day for Lent and Easter, 163.