Triduum 2023 Day 1: Maundy Thursday

This is my sermon from Maundy Thursday, We are using Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year A. The lectionary for Maundy Thursday was Exodus 15:11-21, Psalm 136:1-16, Hebrews 11:23-28, and Matthew 26:17-56.

Maundy Thursday is one of those heartbreakingly hopeful days. We have Jesus’ betrayal by one of his friends. We have Peter saying, “Oh, yeah. I’ll stay awake. I won’t deny you.” And we know that doesn’t happen to be true. And we have all the others, the other ten disciples, who are there, and Jesus is saying, “My friends, this is such a hard night. Would you please just be with me? Stay awake with me in my torment.” Even those who knew Jesus best, who loved him, who had given up so much to be with him in a time in which, clearly, it was dangerous to be with Jesus, even those who had made that kind of commitment, couldn’t stay true to it when “the rubber hit the road.” Their own needs, their own brokenness, their own fatigue, all of their own stuff overpowered what it was that they wanted, what they needed, what they knew they had with Jesus.

I think about that because it’s such a great allegory about what it means to be a disciple in 2023. It’s really easy to say, “I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. I love my church community. I love God’s people.” And for each of us there’s that point at which something about who we are and what we need prevents us from going that one step closer, that one step deeper into the heart of God, because that’s just who we are. We are not perfect people. We are not perfect disciples. As faithful as we are, it is always an ongoing journey, it’s a work in progress, if you will. I think that actually is more than just okay because it is when we choose to continue to be the work in progress, each time we make that choice we’re choosing to follow Jesus, we’re choosing to be faithful.

But it’s still sad. I’m sure it’s the same for some of you: I keep wishing I could wake up one day and be the perfect follower of Christ, and have all the stuff I have to pray that God forgives me for to go “Poof,” to be gone, because my heart’s desire is to be the perfect follower of Christ. But, alas, humanly made, it is what it is. That’s the heartbreaking part of it.

The hopeful part of it for me, as told in this story from Matthew, is the breaking of the bread. Maundy Thursday is the day we in the church believe Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. This is the day that Sacrament – which is one of two we have in the Episcopal Church, the other being Baptism – this Sacrament that reminds us that we are a part of Jesus and Jesus is a part of us in a way we can’t fully understand because it is a holy mystery of what it is that we are actually doing when we say prayers over bread and over wine, when we come together and a priest says, “The Body of Christ, the bread of salvation” or similar words. It’s something we can’t understand, yet we know to be true.

As we move through the Triduum, the days between now and Easter morning, let’s us be mindful that there is something truly holy about paying attention to the rhythms of this week, paying attention to the fact that on Maundy Thursday Jesus gave us two incredible gifts: one being the Eucharist, the Table fellowship with Jesus; the other being the footwashing, when Jesus kneels at the feet of his friends and tends to their bodies. We have these two gifts of grace, which we get at the same time as our human brokenness is flashing like neon lights. The cock crows three times and just as Jesus said, Peter betrays him. Jesus says, “One of you is going to betray me,” and Judas says, “It isn’t going to be me,” and then, lo and behold, in comes the betrayer and it’s Judas.

The great hope – it’s the hope we carry through Good Friday and Holy Saturday and into Easter – is that this promise that God has given us to be with us always, to redeem us from our sin, to transform our lives so we become more the disciples of Christ that we would want to be, that promise is right there with us, even as we’re doing some pretty awful things. That doesn’t give us a bye on the pretty awful things, but it does remind us that God doesn’t love us because we’re perfect. God loves us because God is perfect. And that is one of the things that is said in this Gospel, “No what I want but what you do.” All of this is, as much as we might want it, is possible for us because God is who God is and God does what God does. These three days remind us of that in a that reminds us of that in a way no others in our history have or ever will. Amen.

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