April 28, 2013

posted Jun 19, 2013, 12:30 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Jun 19, 2013, 12:30 PM ]

04/28/13 Sermon (April 28, 2013)

“Maundy Sunday”

Scripture Reading: John 13:31-35 (Liturgist)

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Sermon: “Maundy Sunday”

This Sunday, like all the other Sundays during this Easter Season, we find ourselves again at a Table.  We’ve eaten at a post resurrection table, by the lakeside. We’ve celebrated an endless feast, a victory banquet with all the saints of all times and places in heaven, and today, we eat with Jesus and his disciples, sharing a last supper together on the night of his arrest and his betrayal.

Those of you who care about these things might recognize this text as being the main text for Maundy Thursday, which we usually observe during Holy Week. Of course, we didn’t have a Maundy Thursday Service this year, we ate a traditional Seder Dinner instead. And, I’d like to again thank Robbie Edwards and Dee Rice and everybody who helped make that dinner such a meaningful event. One of my favorite comments about that service was when one of our guests said, “This has been the best Seder Dinner I have ever attended, including the one in Jerusalem.” So, kudos to our Worship and Music Committee for doing a great job.

But back to Maundy Thursday. You know, before I went to Seminary, I had no idea what Maundy Thursday meant. I was the music director, and when I was notified that Maundy Thursday was coming up, all I could do was crack stupid jokes, like, “Are you sure it isn’t Maundy Tuesday, or Maundy Wednesday?” Yes, I was one of those funny music directors.

But when I went to seminary, I learned that that there’s a reason that it’s call Maundy Thursday, and that reason comes from our scripture today. During dinner with his disciples, Jesus told them, “I give you a new commandment.” And in Latin, the words ‘new commandment’ are ‘Mandate Novum’. Throughout the last 2000 years, this word, ‘Mandate’, ‘commandment’, has filtered from the Latin through Old English and Middle French variations, until now, and pretty much through the English speaking world we know it as Maundy Thursday, because that’s the day on which the Lord gives us a new commandment, to love one another as he has loved us.

The problem is, today is not Thursday. It’s Sunday. Which means I get to use my stupid joke again. Happy Maundy Sunday, everyone!

You know, this business of loving one another is not particularly new, or original. You may have read about it in other books, books like Leviticus. In fact, it’s not a concept that is unique to Christianity, or even to Judaism. We find versions of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ in the Code of Hammurabi, in Confucianism, in Taoism, in ancient Egyptian literature, in Plato’s republic, in Seneca’s Rome, in Sanskrit, in Buddhism, and in pretty much every religion’s code of ethical behavior.

This commandment doesn’t seem new at all. It seems old. It makes me wonder why Jesus would think that repeating a four-thousand year old covenantal promise to love your neighbor as yourself could be in any way be called a new commandment. What’s new about loving your neighbor? What’s new about loving each other?

And besides, how do you command someone to love someone else? I mean, how do you love someone on cue? Is love just a feeling that you are able to force into your heart, just because Jesus said so? I’m not sure that we can tell ourselves to feel love for someone else.

So what is Jesus thinking, telling us to go around and love each other? And what about this love is new? What about this love is different from all the ways that we have heard before?

Maybe it’s not the what that is new about love. Maybe it’s the who, the how, and the why.

Do you remember when there was a lawyer talking to Jesus? He was trying to figure out the fine print of how to live a good life. Do you remember that Jesus told him to love his neighbor, and so the lawyer wanted to nail down the details, and he asked, “Well, OK, who’s my neighbor?”

Jesus told a story about how a person from a different country, a hated member of different religion, a foul, repugnant heretical enemy, a Samaritan, helped a Jew who had been beaten up and robbed. The Samaritan helped his enemy with his wounds, made sure he had a place to stay, provided for his food and care, not because he was a friend, not because he was a fellow believer, not because he was a fellow countryman. But simply because the Jew was a human being, a child of God. That’s what loving your neighbor looks like.

You see, Jesus has been preaching the who, the how, and why of this new commandment during his entire ministry. At the Last Supper, Jesus finally comes out and says it. “I give you a new commandment,” he says. “Love.” Who do you love? Each other. Your neighbor. Your friend. Your enemy. How you love each other? Sacrificially. Why do you love each other? Because everyone, even your enemies, are made in the image of God. And God so loved the world that he sent his only son, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

And I think maybe that’s what’s new about the love that Jesus is talking about. It’s a love that reaches past the letter of the law. Past the boundaries of countries. Past the obligations of religion.

You know, a few times each month, folks come to the church for help, and the first thing they think they need to do is explain to me how they are Christians. And there’s a good reason for that. They’ve experienced the reality that some churches won’t help people who are not members of the their own church. And some churches won’t help someone who’s not a Christian.

And so I have to take a few minutes just to convince folks that they don’t need to prove their Christian bona fides to me. I don’t care if they are Christian. I don’t care if they pray. I don’t care if they go to church. I don’t care if they believe in God. I just care that they are hurting and need help. But it’s disheartening to discover that some folks do care. Some folks simply do not love people who are not like them, who don’t think like them, don’t believe like them. Their love is reserved for the familiar, for the known, for the friend, for the member of their own  closed-in community.

But you know something? That is not a new kind of love. That’s an old kind of love. From the earliest cave man tribes of the neolithic era, folks have banded together to help each other out. And this connection to like-minded communities was strong and fierce. They would do anything for each other. But only for each other.

This kind of tribal love became part of the Mosaic Law, in fact, part of pretty much every religion, and it’s a good thing, a necessary thing, but it is limited in its scope because it’s reserved for your literal neighbor, part of your your clan, your kin, your friends, your religious brothers and sisters. And so, a love for those who you already love is not a new commandment.

But the kind of love that Jesus is talking about is bigger and more difficult than that. And that’s why people will know that we are Christ’s disciples if we love the way Jesus loved.

It is not that difficult to take care of our own. It’s not that hard to take in members of our own family, to help someone that we know with their problems. It’s not that hard to give to someone you’ve grown up with, with someone you’ve known all your life. That is not a hard thing. You may not want to do it. You may grumble about it. But you do it, because that is what you do.

But Jesus is calling us way past that kind of familial love. Jesus calls us to a love that puts the needs of strangers above our own; a love that is dangerous, even radical. Jesus calls us to love people who don’t love us. Jesus calls us to risk being ridiculed for our naivete, to be shunned for our associations, to be condemned for the kinds of people we let into our lives that need our help. Jesus is calling us to love the people we hate.

This kind of love is hard work. And Jesus knows it. He knows that there are going to be tough times ahead for his disciples. Friend and foe and family will be hard to sort out. Old associations will be broken. Old boundaries of ethnic and religious communities are going to be redrawn. Old notions of who is in and out of God’s plan for salvation are going to be turned upside - the last will be first, the least will be lifted up, and God will be glorified in the scandalous death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Nothing will be as it was. And that’s why this is a new commandment.

We are being called to love people we were never expected to love before, in ways that we have never felt before, for reasons that we can’t fully understand.

And Jesus says this is what it means to be his disciple.

Now, if Jesus had left it at that, that we were commanded to love others in the same way that he loved us, and then he had died and that was the end of it, then I would suggest that that would be a burden we just can’t bear.

But that’s not the end of the story. Yes, Jesus’ death shows us the risk of loving others. Yes, his death shows the depth of his love for us. Yes, he died for our sins, and he also died for those who sin against us. This is the love that he was talking about. But there is more to this new kind of love than death.

Because Jesus didn’t stay dead.

This is the gift of the Easter Table. At the last supper, we are given an impossible task: to love with a love freed from the prison of the law, released from the restrictions that our world places on it. And on Easter Sunday, in an empty tomb we discover that this kind of love is not given in vain. The impossible has become possible, because the love Jesus commands cannot be contained by something so small and trivial as a grave.

Every time we come to this table, we are reminded of that eternal, undying, new kind of love, and its call on our lives. And every time we come to this table, we are fed by the one who gives us everything we need to share this love with the world.

By this, they will know we are Christ’s disciples.

Thanks be to God. Amen