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April 18, 2019, 10:00 PM

All of Time - Sermon, Maundy Thursday 2019


Time is a funny thing. For example, have you ever noticed that the five minutes of sleep you get after pressing the snooze button on your alarm feels more like thirty seconds? But conversely, five minutes spent at work can feel more like an hour? – not here, of course, but other places where people work.

 

As humans, we are quite fond of time. We like when things go in order: nine follows eight, Thursday follows Wednesday, and lunch follows breakfast. It is both confusing and disorienting for most people when time becomes slippery and hard to handle. I often think about how hard it must be for our friends and family members living with dementia – events from a few days ago are forgotten while events from many years ago feel as near as this morning. It’s a wonder, therefore, that we as humans can survive the chronological roller coaster of Holy Week.

 

Time does funny things during Holy Week. Think back to what we experienced on Sunday: in the span of one service, we remember the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with some of us processing from Rennell Hall into the sanctuary, followed quickly by a reading of the record of Jesus’ passion, death, and burial that ends with the congregation literally on its knees.

 

Tonight, we leap both forward and backward again. We jump from Sunday to Thursday of Jesus’ last week. Sometimes I wonder what that last week was like for Jesus. Was he sad? Did he feel close to God? Did he feel the pain of God’s absence? Was Jesus frustrated that his friends still did not understand the depth of his love for them? Did time move slowly or quickly as Sunday passed to Monday passed to Tuesday to Wednesday and finally to today, to Thursday? Was time Jesus’ friend or enemy?

 

Friend or enemy to Jesus, time features prominently in tonight’s readings. First, we leap back in time to the story of the first Passover in the reading from Exodus. The descriptions of lambs and their blood on the doorposts make for very dramatic reading. We can almost place ourselves in the struggle of the slaves during that time so many hundreds of years ago.

 

Time was running out for the Hebrew slaves. The oppressive hand of the Pharaoh stretched far into their lives. Lives hung in the balance when the voice of God calls out from the heavens. God shares detailed instructions with the Hebrew slaves, not only how to eat but how to survive. By participating in this meal and the ritual surrounding it, safety would belong to the slaves.

 

The slaves’ actions echo the lack of time they had. God’s directions told them to eat with loins girded and feet sandaled. The enslaved people needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice for indeed mere moments could spare them.

 

God’s directions would be so effective that they would lead to liberation for the Hebrew slaves. And this is where we leap ahead through time in the reading from Exodus. God instructs the Hebrews to keep this feast as a day of remembrance throughout the generations. It is not just the enslaved generation that is freed. Instead, it is the enslaved generation as well as all of their descendants that are freed from bondage in Egypt. Because the people kept the first Passover, people are free, even to today.

 

The first Passover has been remembered and reenacted for millennia, bringing the joy of the exodus from Egypt into present-day lives. Even to this day, our Jewish sisters and brothers remember and reenact that first Passover by abstaining from certain foods, including leavened bread, and focusing more intently on prayer.

 

In the hands of Jesus, however, the Passover meal takes on a different meaning. We hear about this new meaning in tonight’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The author talks about an inherited tradition – a tradition passed down not only from the exodus of the Hebrew slaves but also passed down from Jesus. Even from the earliest days of the church, people gathered to mark the passage of time. Early Christians remembered the life and death of Jesus by sharing bread and wine.

 

Already for these early Christians, time is doing funny things. Around the table, they look back to the life and death of Jesus while also looking forward to the return of Jesus in the second coming. Simple acts of taking, blessing, and breaking are transformed and imbued with meaning in the context of time. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” reads First Corinthians. Present actions reach back into the past and reach into the future, all at the same time.

 

And this is the celebration we have every week we gather together as a church. We reach into the past, into the life of our spiritual ancestors, into the life of Jesus, while also reaching forward into the life of fulfillment we expect to experience at the return of Jesus.

 

All of time meets together at the altar whenever we meet to pray and celebrate the Holy Eucharist. We celebrate with Christians around the world whenever we remember the life and death of Jesus in the context of communion. We join in celebration, not only with Christians around the world, but also with Christians throughout the centuries: centuries past as well as centuries to come.

 

The Last Supper” may not be the best name for what we hear about in tonight’s readings. It was, of course, the last time Jesus met around the table with those he loved before his passion and death. But in addition to being a “last,” Jesus’ last supper is also a first. It was the first celebration of a holy meal that we still gather to celebrate today. The last supper was the first Eucharist. The meal looks back to Jesus’ life and death, but it also looks forward to his return in glory. The last supper looks forward to Jesus’ second coming, but it is also intensely focused on the present: our present struggles, our present regrets, as well as our present joys.

 

As I mentioned earlier, time is a funny thing. All of time comes together at the altar. When we approach this holy space, we gather with Christians throughout the centuries: past, present, and future. When we approach this holy space, we bring all of us – all of our past, all of our present, all of our future, to bear on this Holy Communion. When we approach this holy space, all of who we were, are, and are to become meets Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine.

 

Let us pray. Jesus, you are above all time yet live deeply in the present. We praise you and we thank you for the gift of yourself in the Eucharist where we meet you with all we were, are, and are to become. Be present to us, dear Jesus, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread on this Holy Thursday and every time we gather in your name. In your holy name we pray. Amen.


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