Saturday, 7 April 2012

Maundy Thursday Reflection

What follows is the Maundy reflection delivered at St. Peter's Woodmansterne by Rev. Art Baron. Enjoy

Philippians 2.1-11 and John 13.1-17; 31-35

An old Doctor friend of mine had a favourite story which he used to tell his medical students with only a moderate degree of approval.

It was a particularly busy day at the Pearly Gates, following  something of a minor disaster on earth, with a large crowd of people queueing to get in to heaven when somebody strolled up from the back of the queue and was immediately let in by St Peter. ’Who does he think he is?’ mumbled the crowd. ‘Oh, that’s God, somebody said, ’but sometimes he thinks he’s a Doctor!’ As you might imagine some of William’s students did not get the joke. And in fairness most of the Doctors I know do not fit the description in the joke.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi we are told that Jesus knew he was ‘in very nature God,’ but ’did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing’ emptied himself, became a servant, a mere slave.     

Many years ago in a small town in Russia, according to legend, there was a rabbi who disappeared each Friday morning for several hours. His devoted congregation, young and old, boasted that during those times, their rabbi went up to heaven and talked to God!

One day a stranger moved into the town and, to say the least, was sceptical about these claims. So, he decided to check it out for himself. Late one Thursday night he hid himself somewhere in the rabbi's house and waited and watched.

He saw the rabbi get up, say his prayers, and then dress in peasant clothing. Then, the rabbi grabbed an axe, went off to the nearby woods, and cut some firewood, which he then carried to a shack on the outskirts of the village. There, an old woman and her sick son lived. The rabbi left the wood, enough to last a week, and then sneaked back home.

Having seen the rabbi’s actions, the newcomer stayed on and he too, became a member of the congregation and a disciple of the rabbi. Whenever he heard one of the villagers brag, “On Friday morning our rabbi ascends all the way to heaven,” the newcomer would maintain a discreet silence.

On the first Maundy Thursday, some two-thousand years ago, another rabbi (a title that means teacher), a rabbi Who also claimed to be the visible, physical, tangible, human incarnation of God Himself, not only took the form of a servant but sacrificed his own life for the benefit of others including you and I.

On the night before His arrest and subsequent trial and  crucifixion, Jesus took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel  round his waist, poured water into a basin and, no doubt on his hands and knees, bent over and washed the dirty and calloused feet of his disciples, including the one who he knew would betray him. Peter, who was probably the most vocal of his disciples, objected, saying ’you shall never wash my feet.’  This was the work of a servant, Peter thought, not of his Lord and Master.

Jesus, in effect, told Peter that the Saviour is a servant. The human race could only be saved from the sin that otherwise kills us by a Saviour so humble that He is willing to serve the lowest of the low and even die for the worst sinner who ever lived.

After washing the feet of all twelve of His closest followers, even the one He knew would soon betray Him to the Jewish temple police and the Roman soldiers, Jesus put His outer clothing back on, resumed His place at supper, and no doubt with all eyes fixed on Him, spoke:

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Jesus is saying that like Him, we should serve each other and others. Jesus says that when we serve others in His Name, we do more than make them feel good. We give them a glimpse, a window, into the Kingdom of God. He then in effect says, “Do this. Be a servant like me.”

Jesus also said that we should take up our cross, whatever that may represent for each one of us, and follow him. The famous German theologian and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die, which in his case literally meant execution at the hands of the Nazis. It is in serving others that we should die to ourselves, to our own needs, our own wants, our own desires, and our own selfish ambitions.

Today, Christians of all denominations and none, followers of Jesus from around the world, celebrate Maundy Thursday. Maundy is an Old English word from the Latin mandatum, which means mandate or commandment. On that first Maundy Thursday, after washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus gave them a new commandment. He told them to love one another.

There is a good reason Jesus linked servant hood and love in the way that He did that night. Servant hood in Jesus' Name is so extremely powerful because it is the most profound, meaningful, and practical way we can fulfill His command to love others.

And God knows that in this upside down, morally bankrupt, selfish, war and riot torn world, a world full of disease, famine, and earthquakes, we desperately need to love each other. The love of Jesus, really and truly lived out by Christians in the guts of everyday life, makes a difference in this world and to the lives of ordinary, and not so ordinary, people! In Proverbs chapter 29 verse 18 we read “Where there is no vision the people perish” or “where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” Let us play our part in helping to restore that vision of which the writer of proverbs speaks and in the love we show and the service we render to others that demonstrates His presence in our lives.

We all have our own agendas and often put our own selfish desires before the needs of others. We build walls between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and others. We can begin to think that we’re somehow entitled to being first. And when the world refuses to bend to our wills and preferences, we may dig our heels in and we may even become angry and bitter at not getting our own way.

Our lives make a lot more sense once we embrace the simple insight that the world doesn’t revolve around us, but around God. When we dare to serve others as Jesus has served us, we give Him an opening that He fills with His love and his grace and his peace. It is the servants who follow Jesus who show us all what the Kingdom of God is really like.

Just as amazingly, like that rabbi who sneaked away on Friday mornings to serve without recognition, those who serve others in the Name of the God made known through Jesus Christ., get to feel what heaven is like themselves!

Speaking for myself, I’m praying this Maundy Thursday that God will keep making war on my ego and that as I surrender my life to Him, Jesus will make a willing servant out of me because I love experiencing what heaven is like and I love sharing it with others!

When I was a child at school in the days when hymns were sung and prayers marked the beginning and the end of the school day we often said the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola which was one of the headmasters favourites. It was a prayer which influenced me greatly and ironically a catholic prayer which  probably gave me my protestant work ethic, and I should like to finish with it now:

Dearest Lord,
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing Your Will.


Till Next Time!

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