Message for Maundy Thursday on John 13:1-17, 31b-35 given on April 14, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas. You can watch this sermon or the entire worship service here.
[On Palm Sunday, after the processaional entry, offering and prayers, we did a Living Lord's Supper drama with actors dressed and seated like the DaVinci painting pictured here (the script is designed for Maundy Thursday, but we wanted the bigger Sunday crowd!). We adapted the script for Palm Sunday and you can watch the video here.]
When I was a kid, I wondered why in Holy Week, we had a Monday Thursday. And if today is Monday Thursday, then why isn’t tomorrow Monday Friday and Easter, Monday Sunday? I thought Monday was the least favorite day of the week, so isn’t one Monday enough?
It was much later when I learned the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin word, mandatum, which means “command.” Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he loves them, so it is Commandment Thursday, Mandatum Thursday, which has over time, has been compressed to Maundy Thursday.
Jesus reveals the radical nature of his love, which is hard for us to grasp and embrace. The nature of Jesus’ love is so far from our experience and our most basic human tendencies.
We are more familiar with the Iron Rule*—Do unto others before they do unto you
This rule represents the survival of the fittest—I am going to take from you before you take from me. My needs and my priorities determine my actions toward others and nothing else. We see the Iron Rule writ large in the news in the Russian war against Ukraine. The attitude is that they will take what they want however they see fit because what they need is all that matters regardless of the method, and who dies in the process. Fear leads us to do unto others before they do unto us.
Then we move up to the Silver Rule . . .Do unto others as they do unto you.
The Silver rule works well when everyone is operating positively and generating good will. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It is a transactional relationship that works until our fallible nature gets the better of us. Then it quickly becomes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can lead to revenge and vigilantism.
The silver rule is why we love classic movies like The Godfather which dramatize organized crime. There’s always an accounting of who did what to whom, and who pays the price. The Silver Rule can also excuse us from ever taking initiative, because it offers a loophole for people who never want to make the first move. If we do not trust others, we hang back, only responding based on how others’ treat us.
Then we move up to the Golden Rule—this is the rule that we know the best. Jesus gives us the Golden Rule in Luke chapter 6 when he says, "do to others as you would have them do to you." Every major religion shares the Golden rule in common containing some version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you in their teachings. We all learned this in elementary school, and we are all the better for it.
But there is a drawback to the Golden Rule—it is limited by our own imagination. We have a hard time imagining other people’s needs and desires when they fall outside of our own experience or culture. My husband, Dan works through this every week serving a multi-cultural church in Garland. The role of an elder in Pakistan or Cameroon is different from an elder here, so communication about expectations and how to treat one another is essential to build Christian community. The Golden Rule can break down, especially in cross-cultural situations because the way we like to be treated may not be appropriate in another cultural setting.
This moves us one step higher up to the Platinum Rule which says, Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
The Platinum rule requires investment in a real relationship and true listening. We must get to know the person in order to understand what’s important to them, what they value, and how to communicate on their wavelength. The Platinum Rule is something we do every day because it’s important in all healthy relationships, from friendship, to marriage, to parent-child relationships, to cross-cultural dialog and ministry.
We hear Jesus do this very thing when Blind Bartimeus begs him for mercy in John, chapter 9. Jesus asks him, What would like for me to do for you? Jesus engages in a relationship instead of making assumptions about what Bartimeus needs and wants.
Asking this question, "What do you need us to do?" is important as we seek to create more just and equitable systems and workplaces in our society in the wake of the #Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements. It requires deep listening and real relationships to understand other people’s experiences which may be different from our own.
Which brings us to tonight when Jesus ups the ante on all of our human relationships even more with a New Commandment, which is called the Titanium Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done to you. This is what Jesus means when he says to his disciples at the Last Supper: "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."
What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? To do unto others as Jesus has done to us?
On this night Jesus eats his last meal before he dies. He invites his disciples and closest friends to celebrate the Passover meal with him. Try to imagine it:
• Jesus knows Peter will deny him, not once, but 3 times.
• Jesus understands that Judas will sell him out.
• Jesus knows all of the disciples except John, his Mom, and a few women will run away when he needs them most.
• He’s facing an excruciating death knowing that most of the people he’s close to will abandon, deny and betray him.
If it were your last meal on earth would you invite these so-called friends to join you? How do you face the most difficult and horrible hardship of your life knowing everyone who’s close to you will fail you? What does Jesus do? He invites them to share the bread, enjoy the wine, and eat their fill. Jesus invests the last energy he has in nurturing relationships with fallible, broken, fearful people. And Jesus does not stop there. He dives even deeper.
Jesus not only shares a meal with them, Jesus kneels at their feet, takes the position of a slave—the lowest person on the very bottom rung of the social ladder, and he washes the feet of his fearful, fallible followers—the feet that will run away and abandon him. To love as Jesus loves is to serve those who fail you, to embrace the ones who hurt you, to indulge the ones who do not show up when you need them most.
Loving our enemies is not enough. People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples when we serve and care for those who fail us. Imagine washing the feet of your nemesis, your political polar opposite, your ex-boyfriend, ex-wife, your ex--whomever--that’s the Titanium Rule that shows the world whom we follow.
How can we do this? There’s only one way. By coming to this table where Jesus invites us to participate in his life, be filled with his love, partake of his body. Jesus says, "this is my body, this is my blood – This is myself - I give you myself – I give you all that I am. Be filled with my Spirit."
And he already knows—he already knows that at some point, we will abandon, deny, and betray him in one way or another this week—yet he says, "come. Come to the table, let me serve you with my very life, let me love you, even and most especially your fallible, feeble, fearful souls. And then pass it on, pay it forward as best you can. Let someone see that I love them because you show up to serve, because you show up to love, because you show up to forgive."
Jesus says, "Love as I love you. Go from this meal and pass it on."
*This desription of human relationships with metal names come from the work of Leonard Sweet, Professor Emeritus of Evangelism at Drew Theological Seminary
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