Posted on: April 23rd, 2011 Tomorrow: Death (Maundy Thursday Sermon)

John 13:1-15

Maundy Thursday – A

“Tomorrow: Death”

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?

Would you take the day off from work and be with your children? Would you clear your schedule so that you could be alone with your husband or wife for several hours? IF you are a single person, would you try to make some sort of statement, maybe create some art, paint a picture, of what is most important to you?

In tonight’s story from John 13, Jesus has realized that his hour has come. He realizes that the time has come for his exodus (as Luke’s Gospel puts it), his departure from the world and back to his father.

You see, from the beginning of John’s Gospel John has been telling us that God’s glory would be revealed in the climax of Jesus’ life.

In John 2, for example, right after Jesus turns water into wine (and note that both water & wine re-appear for us tonight, both in our Gospel lesson and in the rituals we perform tonight) his well-intentioned mother wants Jesus to display his glory.

And how does Jesus respond? He looks at his mother and tells her, “My hour has not yet come.”

My hour has not yet come. The hour for my glory, the glory of the Father, to be displayed and lit up for all to see … has not yet come.

This same thing happens again and again in John. People look at Jesus, and they begin to get a little glimpse of his glory, and then the text says, “but his hour had not yet come.”

Chapter 7: “No one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”

Chapter 8: “No one could arrest him, because his hour had not yet come.”

But then in chapter 12, right before tonight’s story, something new happens. Out of the blue, some Greeks, some Gentiles, show up and want to hang out with Jesus. Then, right at that moment, Jesus realizes that his hour has finally come.

And so we come to this fateful night. He knows his hour has come. He knows that his entire life and ministry and all the conflict which has been provoked … he knows that it is coming to a head, and he knows it is coming to a head, tomorrow.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?

His disciples were expecting a normal Passover meal. They had done this before, and here they were with their rabbi, and they were about to enjoy this annual ritual meal together.

And then Jesus does something completely unexpected. He gets up from the table, disrobes, puts a towel around his waste, and begins to wash their feet.

His disciples are dumbfounded: what is he doing? Not only is this not part of the Passover liturgy, but … um, rabbis don’t do this sort of thing. In fact, not even slaves do this!

In that world, slaves were the absolute bottom rung on the social ladder, but even they were given the dignity, even slaves had rights. It was unlawful for a man to require a slave to wash your feet. That was just too demeaning, too gross, too debasing.

And yet, this is precisely what Jesus does. And for his disciples, it does not compute. His action will not fit into their grid, it will not fit into their categories.

Why not? Why didn’t they get it? Why didn’t they get what Jesus was doing?

Yes, his behavior is unexpected for a Passover meal. Yes, this behavior is bizarre to say the least for a rabbi. And so they were sort of shocked & flabbergasted.

But the scriptures lead us to a deeper reason as well, a deeper reason for their lack of comprehension. In his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, Richard John Nuehaus puts it this way:

“To those accustomed to living in a world turned upside down, setting it right cannot but appear to be turning it upside down.”
As Jesus began to perform the most grotesque act they could imagine, it looks like the world is being turned upside down.
But that is because they themselves are living upside down, living in an upside down world.
And so are we. You and I, like them, live in a world where might makes right, where the appearance of success matters most, where weakness and dependence are shunned and excluded and ridiculed.
But Jesus comes, he does this, and he is showing us true reality. He is showing us how things are in his family. He is showing us what life is like with his father and the spirit. He is showing us how to live.
If you knew you were going to die tomorrow night, what would you do?
Tomorrow night, Jesus is going to die.

And what does he do? He humbles himself, he lowers himself, to the level beneath the slave. He gives up his rights. He serves his friends. He serves you and me. He served us to the point of death.

And then he looked at them, he looks at us, and he says, “Go and do likewise.”

Tonight, we will ritually participate in this act of service. Even though it is not nearly as scandalous for us as it was for them, it’s still kind of awkward.

As you do this, join me in ask God to make us humble. Ask God to make you loving.

But more than that, I invite you to do something else. I invite you to thank him for his humility. Thank him for turning the world right side up.

Receive his love for you.

You know why? You can never serve others until you let him serve you. You can never love others until you let him love you.

What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

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2 Responses to “Tomorrow: Death (Maundy Thursday Sermon)”

  1. Kelly Jennings Says:
    April 23rd, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Rock on, bro!

  2. matt Says:
    April 27th, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Kelly, hope your Holy Week & Easter was blessed!

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