Thursday, March 28, 2013

Recieve and Hand On

A Sermon Preached at Diocesan House, Bethlehem PA
Maundy Thursday

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Psalm 116: 1, 10-17
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

At the very juncture where Jesus turns to face into the storm to come—knowing full well what awaits him—he pauses to have supper with his friends. His thirty-some years of life, and three years of public ministry, are about to culminate in three catastrophic and literally earth-shattering days.

Everything has led to this moment.

In John’s gospel, Jesus is fully aware of what is about to come:  the betrayal and suffering, and also the glory. Knowing that God has given all things into his hands, knowing that he has come from God, and will be going to God, chooses humility. At this moment of knowledge and power, when all things are in his hands, he takes those hands and serves.

Jesus kneels down, and in the hands in which he holds the whole world, he gently cups feet of his friends, washing , drying, loving.

In a time such as this, at a moment like this, Jesus simply serves.

Peter has difficulty receiving this gift. He retreats from the moment of intimacy, connection, and service, first by withdrawing, “no, no I won’t let you,”  then by asking for something other than what Jesus is offering, “not just my feet, but all of me.”  But Jesus is firm.  He is offering one gift at this moment:  the gift of simple, loving service.

How difficult it can be for us to receive.
How difficult it can be for us to receive compliments, acts of kindness, a gift of service.  Like Peter, we defend ourselves.  From compassion, sympathy, gentleness, benevolence, thoughtfulness, and even humility.
Service to others, even service as simple as an act of kindness, is at the center of the passion story. It is Jesus’ last lesson for his friends before he dies. This teaching is so important, he even makes a commandment about it.  A new commandment, mandatum novem:  love one another, as I have loved you.

The symbol of this love is not a miracle, or a dramatic act, or a display of power.  It is the simple act of washing someone’s feet.

Service to others marks us as Christians. In fact, the third of The Five Marks of Mission adopted by the Episcopal Church is “to respond to human need by loving service.”  And to respond to others, to give to others, we must first be open to receive.  We cannot give what we do not hold.

A few moments from now we will open our hands to receive the sacrament. We do this because it was handed down to us. From Jesus to his followers, from St. Paul to new believers, from one generation to another, across time and tradition.

How will we pass it on?
The psalmist asks, “How shall I repay the Lord, for all the good things he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:10)  Our answer might be, by spending our lives in discovering how we are loved. By opening our hands to receive the good God gives us.  By using our hands to reach out to others in loving service.

Receive and hand on.  Just as we do around the altar.  Receive and hand on. Just as we do with the important things we learn. Receive and hand on. Just…receive and hand on.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013
Image credit: jannoon028 / 123RF Stock Photo