On a night like tonight, a full moon’s radiant light revealing the festive crowded streets of an overflowing Jerusalem, flocked the friends and family of Jesus to celebrate the annual Passover meal. They gathered in the home of someone who must have been very hospitable, who didn’t need a RSVP list, who did not have money in the budget to hire a servant to clean people’s dust covered feet, who didn’t freak out when dirt began collecting on a clean tiled floor, who must have awakened early to prepare the bread, gather the fruit and haul the wine to the upper room.
After all, it was time to commemorate history’s greatest act of emancipation: to remember when after 400 years of slavery, the Israelites were finally freed. The story of Passover goes like this— the enslaved Israelites in Egypt were instructed by God through Moses to smear the blood of a lamb on their doors so the spirit of Death would pass over their homes. The Egyptians who did not sacrifice a lamb lost their first born to Death, leading the Egyptian Pharaoh to relinquish to Moses’ request to let the people go. Finally, after generations of being enslaved, the Israelites were free. No greater holiday was known to humanity in all of the Middle East than the Festival of Passover.
Journey back in time with me to that night in the upper room with Jesus and his friends and family, and ponder the week leading to this Passover meal. Six days ago, we were welcomed for dinner at Mary and Martha’s home, the sisters of Lazarus, the guy Jesus raised from the dead. When Mary washed the feet of Jesus with costly perfume, Judas became angry at the waste, saying that the oil was worth 300 pieces of silver…it was an uncomfortable scene causing visible tension among the disciples. But then came the excitement of a palm-branch parade as we entered Jerusalem, the wonderful shouts of Hosanna—finally people understood how awesome Jesus is. On Monday, we wanted to relish in the jubilant feelings from that triumphal procession, but instead Jesus enters the sacred Temple Mount and causes havoc by turning over all the tables with perfectly counted coins on them, payment for Temple sacrifices. It was really quite unexpected, as we had never seen Jesus so incensed. Thankfully, after that Jesus got a good nights’ sleep, returned to the Temple, and taught about loving one another even though the moneychangers were still trying to clean up the mess he caused the previous day and giving us very annoying looks.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Jesus taught in the Temple, and at night he would journey up the trail to the mountain ridge to an ancient cemetery, known as the Mount of Olives. But now, on this Thursday night, moonbeams revealing a feast, it was time to relax, to eat, to drink and to be merry, and hope the Passover celebration would bring back some sort of normalcy to our lives.
Two thousand years later, here we are, yearning for our own sense of normalcy in our own hectic lives, celebrating our own banquet in the midst of March Madness, political elections, terrorist intrusions, life transitions and preparing for when God provides for us a deliverance that brings us freedom.
Tonight is an echo of that moonlit night in Jerusalem, a night we call Maundy Thursday. Or Mandate Thursday—That night in Jerusalem, Jesus commands his friends and family to love one another. But how?
To act out love, by washing the feet of one another.
Think about the gross-ness of what city streets with little sanitary practices would be like on the feet. At the entrance of homes, sat a basin with water. Not even slaves were required to wash the feet of their masters—and yet Jesus begins bathing the feet of those gathered out of love. His last night with his friends, he wants to share in celebration. A Passover party, enjoying the food and fellowship, a festival remembering the Exodus, a time to be grateful no matter the difficult journey towards freedom.
And so as you come to the table, you are tracing the steps of the past, shaping a path for the future. In the past, we are shadows of those who ate and drank as members of a faith community; in the present we experience the profoundness of the past; and shape the future by loving one another. Jesus loves us by celebrating this Passover we come to the table to praise God to realize that when we celebrate Communion, we take the sorrow and transform it to an occasion of great thanksgiving.
On this 24th of March 2016, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on these gifts of grape and grain, transport us in time as we commune under the same evanescent full moon in an upper room in Jerusalem, that we may also follow the commandment to love one another.
By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, One with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, no matter what tomorrow may bring.