Sermon for Maundy Thursday 1 April 2010
I Corinthians 11: 23-26
By Sharyn Hall
In St. Paul’s account of what we call the Lord’s Supper, Jesus urges his disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup, not only once, but often, in memory of him. Twice he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Usually we concentrate our theological interest on the words, ‘in remembrance of me’, as we debate the issue of transubstantiation. However, I wish to emphasize the words, “Do this.”
Jesus lifted up bread and wine, gave thanks to God, and offered the bread and wine to his disciples as the gift of himself. We receive the same gift every time we come to the Lord’s table to eat and drink with him. It is a miraculous gift, which keeps on giving (to use a colloquial phrase).
But this gift is also a covenant uniting God with humanity in a new agreement of mutual love and mutual acceptance. The old covenant between God and Abraham was an agreement of future conduct, which gradually was bound together by imposed laws. The new covenant, which Jesus embodied in his Last Supper, is not imposed by rules of behaviour. The covenant offered by Jesus is open to be freely embraced as a new or renewed relationship with God.
Because it is freely given, this new covenant is fulfilled by those who seek it. This covenant is a gift, which each person is free to receive or reject. Jesus offers us a tangible gift, which we can see and touch and smell and taste. It is a gift, which we can hold in our hands. As I watch people come forward to receive a morsel of bread or a wafer in their outstretched hands, it seems to me that God’s gracious Spirit is also reaching out to draw people closer to God. I can see an image of humanity in those hands – young and old hands, delicate and scarred hands, hands of many sizes, shapes and colours.
This evening we will recall the action of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples by washing each other’s hands, those same hands, which will reach out to receive the body of Christ. In our culture, hand-washing is a frequent act because we do so much with our hands as human beings. We work, eat and express our thoughts and emotions with our hands. Our identity is imprinted on our hands. It is a remarkable fact that among billions of people in the world, no two fingerprints are identical. Our hands can express our individuality and our independence, and our hands can express our need for other people in our lives. The act of washing another person’s hands can be an act of kindness, respect and love. To allow our hands to be washed by another person can be an act of trust, humility and recognition of our need for others.
We can wonder about the hands of Jesus. He grew up working with Joseph as a carpenter or builder. Likely his hands became strong and rough and weather-worn like many other men and women. With his hands he offered bread and wine to his disciples to give them hope, courage, healing or forgiveness, all gifts which Jesus has given to generations of Christians. Every time we eat this bread and sip this wine, we acknowledge that this gift is more than ground flour and fermented grapes. In whatever way we try to comprehend the mystery of this sacrament, we are drawn toward God by taking into ourselves the bodily gift of Jesus.
Unlike the old covenant, this new covenant cannot be broken. Some people would argue with that statement, declaring that only worthy people should be accepted into this new covenant. Beware of criteria for worthiness, lest such barriers exclude us all! Jesus said, “Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me; I will never turn away anyone who believes in me.” Jesus offers us a relationship with God, which is generous beyond measure. The new covenant of Jesus is an open invitation to accept the hand of God reaching out to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.