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March 29, 2016, 8:40 AM

Community-Maundy Thursday


Exodus 12: 1-4, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17
 
The Reverend Nick Keeney, a pastor in the Susquehanna Conference and a former member of the Wyoming Conference, of which we were a part, was invited to be chaplain for the day at the Pennsylvania State Senate on March 14th. On Facebook, he shared that he was able to have some private conversations with two different senators, one republican and one democrat. He shared that both of them expressed how difficult it is to work within the current political climate. One senator stated that this is the worst he has seen it in his entire career, that people from opposite sides of the aisle won’t return calls or sit down to discuss their differences. This senator said, “It sounds like I’m describing junior high right now, but that’s what it has come down to.”
 
We all feel it, don’t’ we? This great division that plagues our community, our nation, and our world. We feel it in the current run for the White House, in our city-town of Oneonta, in our state politics. We feel it in the United Methodist Church as we look anxiously toward General Conference in two short months. We feel it in the horrific violence, fueled by insane hatred, in Belgium, Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, and in our own nation. There is such fear and anger, such worry and anxiety. Sometimes it can make us want to weep…or scream. Is there any hope for unity and peace?
 
In the midst of all this, I have been eagerly anticipating tonight—Maundy Thursday. We are in the holiest time in our church calendar. This entire week of journeying with Jesus is critical to who we are as followers of Christ. Easter is always the glorious pinnacle to the week, as we gather in the light of resurrection. But my aching heart needs tonight most of all, I think. Tonight with its gift of hope for community.
 
Every Maundy Thursday we are graced and blessed with three wonderful scripture passages; from Exodus, 1 Corinthians, and the Gospel of John. The Exodus passage we just heard is the story of the first Passover and the command to observe this holy meal and liturgy for generation upon generation. 1 Corinthians gives direction and explanation for the celebration of Holy Communion—the Lord’s Supper—in the community called church. And John’s gospel account is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the gifting of the great commandment, to love one another as Jesus has loved them. These three passages are a blessing of hope for the divided world. Here’s why…
 
These passages have the ability to remind us that our generation, our current reality, is not unique to now, but has been a part of humanity all along. The Israelites as a nation and vast community are living in darkness, oppression, slavery, violence, and fear. The Corinthian church is deeply divided and fractured. The disciples gathered around Jesus on their last night together are deeply flawed, not of one mind, and clueless about the future. Many (if not all) of them are still trying to figure out who Jesus is. Into these very human communities in need of deep healing, God gives the gift of unifying and comforting ritual.
 
For generation upon generation, the Hebrew people have come together every year to eat the sacred meal of Passover, gathered as small communities around tables in homes and temples, and to remember the defining story of the Exodus. The youngest child at the tables asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And the answer is given, “Because once we were slaves, but now we are free!” The Seder meal of Passover is a powerful reminder of God’s presence and salvation in the darkest of times. It is a ritual and meal that unites Jewish communities across the globe.
 
For a church deeply divided, reflecting the divisions of their larger society within the community of faith, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the meal and ritual instituted by Jesus. Despite their wealth or lack of it, despite their stations in life, the people of the Corinthian church are to sit side-by-side at Jesus’ table, to share the bread and the cup, and to ensure everyone is nourished and loved.  This is to happen each time they gather, uniting them across economic, social, and gender lines.
 
For a group of followers who keep getting it wrong, who haven’t figured out some important stuff, who are going to live a nightmare the next few days, Jesus gives a ritual that embodies his command to love. Against that all-to-human instinct to be strong and in control, against the siren call to the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality, Jesus creates a ritual of ultimate humility, vulnerability and service. In washing one another’s feet, they are united in seeing each other in their vulnerability and in learning compassion for one another.
 
These gifts are now ours, and we embrace them anew each year on this holy night. We gather at the table of grace and healing, with echoes of exodus and freedom whispering around us, and are served of the cup and bread of life, side-by-side, everyone served, difference aside for a moment.  We come to the basin and towel, feet and soul bared, washed in the warm water that cleans so much more than our feet. We experience this simple gesture of love that connects us in new ways with one another and puts life in better perspective. Community is nourished and strengthened. Community is created from diverse people with different ideas and thoughts and understandings, but united in these simple acts of grace. We are nourished here with hope of a world transformed to resemble the way God dreams.
 
May we go forth into this night ready to invite others to sit at the table together, to serve, and allow others to serve us.  Amen.

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