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Before Death

4/18/2019 Maundy Thursday The text is John 13:1-17, 31b-35; I Corinthians 11:23-26.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s gospel is all about the night before Jesus’ death. We know the story well. It is a story of betrayal. It is a story of intrigue. But, most of all, it is a story of great love. For on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus spent time with his disciples, serving them and teaching them many things. And Jesus blessed their lives and ours with a special meal. This is what Jesus did, knowing that he was about to die. This is how Jesus chose to spend his final hours.

Nothing that Jesus said to his disciples at his final meal could have prepared them for what was about to happen. Yes, they knew Jesus as a man of faith and a great prophet. They had heard his words and experienced his divine power in the miracles he performed. They had walked with him and they had prayed with him. He had touched their lives. And yet, the disciples remained in the dark. Maybe it was because the Jesus they knew was in the prime of his life and showed no signs of illness. Maybe they thought that the leaders of the day wouldn’t dare touch him because of the great crowds that believed in him. Maybe they thought Jesus would restore Israel to its former glory. But for whatever the reason, although Jesus had told them that he must die and rise in three days, the disciples remained in the dark and they were completely unprepared for what was about to happen.

On the night before his death, Jesus knew that his time was coming when he would face the cross. He wished he could avoid such a horrific death, but if need be, out of love and in obedience to his Father’s will, he would endure such a death for us and our salvation. So, as the meal progressed, Jesus got up from the table, stooped down and washed the disciples’ feet. To say that this was a surprising turn of events is an understatement. The washing of feet was something reserved to the lowest of servants. Yet, out of love, Jesus performed this ritual and in so doing showed the disciples what they must do in order to follow him. And Jesus gave them and all of us a new commandment, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus instructed his disciples that the blessing of his love is something that is to be shared. Jesus blessed his disciples with his love so that they could bless others with the love they received from him. For, we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

To help us along the way, on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus also blessed us with a special meal which we will share on this evening. The taste and smells of this special meal stays with us. It strengthens us in special ways. It lingers in the same way as the aroma, texture and taste of Gramma Connery’s pancakes has remained with me all the days of my life.

I can still remember the first time that I received this special meal. The bread seemed to taste a lot like I image cardboard to taste, and the wine was stronger than I expected it to be. I remember that my glasses fogged and my face flushed as wine was not a customary drink for me. By human standards, this meal was sparse. And yet, for us, this meal is sufficient, for in it we receive God’s good gifts. And God’s good gifts make it a feast – a meal of love – to be shared with the whole family in Christ.

The disciples had no idea that they were going to receive this special meal as they sat down to eat with Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed. The food looked the same. The unleavened bread was on the table and wine was abundant. But, on this night, our Lord Jesus Christ took the bread and wine and he blessed them and he gave them to his disciples with new words, with new meaning. As Jesus took the bread and broke it, he gave it his disciples saying, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and he took the cup of wine and passed it to them saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” In this act of consecration, these foods became a vision of the future, a future which pointed to the cross and beyond that cross to the forgiveness and oneness we all would and will forever share in Christ Jesus.

On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus blessed us with this special meal and in this special meal we are blessed by Jesus’ presence in and through the bread and wine we eat and drink. The Lord comes to us in this meal and nourishes us. He stays with us and strengthens us. The meal helps us to remember the sacrifice he made for us and his great love for all the people.

All this he did on the night before his death. At the final meal with his disciples, Jesus gave us gifts of love, a new commandment and a special meal to sustain us. May these gifts wash over us. May we share them and cherish them. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



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