Love and Obedience – Sermon Notes for Easter 6, Year B (RCL)

If you’re new to my Sermon Notes, you can read about why I prepare them here. The notes aren’t just for preachers; they’re for everyone!

Thesis 

The lessons for the Sixth Sunday of Easter really boil down to those two words: love and obedience. Focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the Collect and the two Johannine texts, the lectionary passages tie together the doing of God’s will/obeying God’s commands with our love for him (and his love for us). To love God is to obey him and to obey God is to love him. 

Analysis 

Collect

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Love and desire. Upon reading the Collect I am left with two questions, “What is it that you love more than anything else?” and “What is it that you desire more than anything else?” It may seem as if the answer to each question should be different, but I believe the two should be the same. I have often heard—and perhaps you have too—the claim that if you love God he will give you all the desires of your heart. It’s used to suggest that once we love God we can ask for anything we want in more of a prosperity-gospel type setting, but I think there is something powerful going on here.

If we truly love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength then he will be the only true object of our love and desire. To love God is to desire him above all else. So when the Collect says that God’s promises will exceed all of our desires it is really suggesting that God’s promises will exceed all that we desire about him.

Follow me into the knee-deep waters of philosophy once more. James K.A. Smith (and therefore Augustine) will be our guide. Here is what I wrote during Lent:

Our desire is not in a vacuum. All desire has an object. Human desire began in creation and the only object of our desire was God; this is as it should be. However, with sin our desire became misdirected, unaligned, disordered and instead of God we found other objects and things toward which we point our desire.

Desire here is much more than affection it. It is kardias, our gut (or core) love. Through the work and person of Jesus Christ our desires can again be ordered toward God and that is the main sentiment of this collect: taming and ordering our unruly desires. To love God’s commands and to desire his promises is indeed to be a covenant-member of his family, a kingdom citizen of his already inaugurated but not yet consummated kingdom. And it is this coming Kingdom—the new heavens and the new earth—when God shall be all in all—where our true desires should be fixed.

First Lesson – Acts 10:44-48

This passage requires a backstory. One of the lesson options for Easter was Acts 10:36-43 and you may have preached from/with that text, or perhaps not. Either way it has been at least 6 weeks since Acts 10 was part of the lectionary and likely even longer than that if you opted for another text on Easter. Act 10:44-48 is the climax of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his household.

Remember, Peter first had the vision of a great white sheet with all types of animals and he was told to eat and kill. God commanded him to consume things that were “unclean” as a way of opening his heart and eyes to the reality that the new Israel was for both Jew and Gentile. Peter then goes to the home of a Roman centurion, Cornelius and preaches the Good News of Jesus. Our passage for Sunday comes at the tail end of that preaching, of Peter’s first intentional ministry among the Gentiles, and the result is conversion.

I have found that Acts 10:44 is an important verse for a theology of preaching: the Holy Spirit falls upon those who hear Peter’s words. It is not Peter who is responsible for conversion or transformation but the Holy Spirit working through human words. You better believe as a preacher that the Spirit needs to descend and be active for your sermon to carry weight or significance; maybe you could try praying at the beginning of your sermon (either privately or publicly) that the Spirit would anoint you and open the ears and hearts of those hearing your words…just a thought!

The Spirit is present and the newly converted are amazed that the Spirit would be given to Gentiles. Friends, there is neither Jew nor Greek in the body of Christ! There is no longer a dividing barrier between “us” and “them” in Christ Jesus! The Spirit goes where he pleases and pours himself out upon whom he desires—we cannot contain him.

Notice the connection here between the Holy Spirit and baptism: the two are intertwined and one cannot be separated from another. A good and healthy view of baptism would suggest that baptism (be it infant or adult) is both a baptism by water and the Spirit.

Peter is obedient to God’s command to preach to the Gentiles and through his obedience a Roman household comes to faith, receives the spirit and is baptized. I think of Jesus’ words in John, “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Peter’s obedience to Christ is birthed from his love for his master.

Psalm 98

“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” Immediately your mind should be racing to the great victory songs of Scripture: Moses and Miriam after the Exodus, Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving after leaving Samuel at the temple, Zechariah’s prophesy once he regained his voice, and Mary’s Magnificat upon learning that she would be the mother of our Lord. 

Israel rejoiced after release from Egypt, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1) and Miriam added, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:21).

Hannah prays, ““My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory,” (1 Samuel 2:1).

Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant,” (Luke 1:47-48).

Zechariah prophesies, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them,” (Luke 1:68).

The Psalmist is instructing the people: sing to the Lord because he has acted! Sing a new song because he has done great things! Notice that with each highlighted story above and the charge from the Psalmist that the call is to praise God BECAUSE he has done something. God is worthy to be praise at all times and in all places but this specific call to worship is based on His saving acts and deeds.

The joy of Psalm 98 is found in the hope that YHWH is not yet finished in his salvific works. Verse 4 says, “He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,” though Israel would sing this Psalm while in exile and under foreign rule there was still hope because YHWH had revealed himself as faithful and had promised freedom to his people.

We proclaim the same hope in our Eucharistic prayers: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Or even, “We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.” Our Christian hope is based on that which has already taken place—we cannot have hope without remembrance as the foundation and we cannot remember without seeing hope born in our hearts as a result.

Epistle – 1 John 5:1-6

For five chapters John has talked about sin, light, darkness and love and now we arrive at the most concrete statement describing such love. “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.” This may be the capstone of John’s argument in his first epistle: to love God is to obey him. We love because he first loved us—our loving response is nothing short of obedience, submission, and reverence.

Notice what John does in the last line of this passage: the combination of water and blood. John records this in his gospel, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out,” (John 19:34). The water and blood comment in 1 John must certainly be a reference to his own gospel account. Jesus’ baptism wasn’t simply by water when John baptized him in the Jordan, he was also “baptized” by his death which is why baptismal imagery suggests that when one goes under the water he/she dies with Christ and when one emerges from the water he/she is rising with Christ. One cannot truly understand the sacrament and call of baptism without seeing the road of discipleship leads to the cross.

Christ the conqueror of all things, he is Christus Victor, and by his death he has trampled down death. Our faith in him, in his resurrection, is therefore able to conquer all. We do not conquer, but in Christ we are more than conquerors. It’s a small shift but it’s an important one. Faith is born in us by the Spirit and is made perfect in Christ; Christ is the conqueror of all and invites us to be conquerors with him, through his work.

The hinge upon which John’s epistle—indeed, his view of discipleship—hinges is loving obedience.

Gospel – John 15:9-17

We again encounter John’s combination of love and obedience. Jesus shows his disciples how to love and to obey based on his relationship with the Father. Because the Father has loved him so he loves us and we are therefore called to respond with love; because he has obeyed the Father we are invited to obey him through loving action. My comments from last week can be found here and are still applicable to this week’s lessons. To abide is to love and obey.

Jesus predicts his death in saying, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He has already suggested in John 10 (read two weeks ago) that he has the power to lay down his life and pick it up again. He has already mentioned earlier in John’s gospel that he will destroy the temple and raise it up in 3 days. Finally, he has already shared a meal and foot-washing with his disciples and claimed that he would be betrayed. There should be no surprise by John 15—for the disciples or the reader—that this story is moving toward the point of no return.

Why shouldn’t it be a surprise for the disciples?

Because Jesus is inviting them to participate in the drama of salvation as friends rather than servants.

Because Jesus has shared his life and ministry with this group of followers.

Because Jesus is calling his disciples to become apostles and carry on his ministry.

The reference to “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” and “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another,” point directly back to John 13 and the washing of the disciples’ feet. You cannot separate John 13 from John 15—they are not only part and parcel of the same concept, they take place on the same evening in the same discourse!

One bit of humbling reality: Jesus’ chooses us; we do not choose him. Now, in Christ the way to salvation has been opened up to all people, but it is still Jesus who moves first. The call to discipleship, as I’ve said before, is simple: Jesus calls and we follow. We do not need to go out and find a master, rabbi, mentor or pastor; we do not need to go and find the Shepherd. We are the sheep of his pasture and he has called out to us already, the question is now this: do we hear his voice and will we answer him? That’s the true call to discipleship.

Liturgical Considerations

The Psalm is quite clear that we are to SING and make a joyful noise to the Lord. Here is something I’d like you to consider: consider working with your music and/or liturgy minister to pen a song or prayer recounting the mighty acts of God in the life of your own church. This is a type of lyrical/musical/liturgical Ebenezer, a remembrance stone based on the many ways God has acted in, through, and amongst your flock. Perhaps you had a building campaign, or a tragedy in your congregation, or an important leadership transition or anything else significant and now is the time to praise him about it.

You could incorporate this piece into your opening worship or the prayers of the people or even as a responsive reading as part of your sermon. The important point here is that your church has the opportunity to corporately and concretely give thanks and praise for God’s saving deeds. Use the songs of Moses, Hannah, Mary and Zechariah as a launching pad into your own celebration. 

Synthesis

The second half of Eastertide has shifted from encounters with the Risen Lord to Jesus’ words and teachings prior to his death. This shift can and should be seen as an exploration of Jesus’ call to his followers about what it means to be a disciple and ultimately what it means to be the church, the pilgrim people of God. Shifting from a week in John 10 to two weeks in John 15, Eastertide culminates in Jesus’ highly priestly prayer recorded in John 17. Jesus prays that we all may be one and the following week we celebrate Pentecost and the birth of the church.

This progression is not a coincidence! To encounter the Risen Lord is to be called further into discipleship; as we spend a second week in John 15 may we remember that we love and obey him because he has revealed himself as faithful and loving through the crucifixion and resurrection.

To love God is to obey his commands. His new commandment (John 13) is to love one another. The great commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In Jesus our desires and love are re-directed, re-aimed at God and we can find our heart’s truest desires and more when we love him because he is the object and subject of our love! Love is not passive, it is active and it is obedient.

Have you heard the call?

Have you responded?

Will you love and obey?

This is what it means to be a disciple…this is what it means to be the church.

What is Eastertide? : An Invitation to Cling to the Risen Lord

Easter Sunday is over…now what? Well, for Christians who are part of the Church that adheres to the church/liturgical calendar, we have just entered Eastertide. Also referred to as Easter Season, Paschaltide, or Paschal Tide, Eastertide is the season of the church that begins with Easter Sunday and ends with the Feast of Pentecost. There are a total 50 days to this season during which we celebrate the Risen Lord. But why do we observe it and what does it mean?

Jewish Origins

Many feasts of the church find their origins in the Old Testament and the festival (and liturgical) life of Israel. Before Easter there was (and still is) Pesach—Passover—and before Pentecost there was (and still is) Shavu’ot—the Feast of Weeks. It is important to remember that the story and history of the church is not separate from, nor greater than the story of Israel. Indeed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the one whom we worship and serve! As Paul remarks in Romans, we have been grafted into David’s line—into Jesse’s branch—and are part of the new Israel.

Israel was in bondage and slavery in Egypt and cried out to the LORD for deliverance. The LORD raised up Moses to deliver his people that they might worship him in the wilderness. The Last Supper is proof that Passover cannot be separated from the crucifixion: all four gospels place Jesus’ last night on earth in the context of Passover. Passover is therefore both the story of YHWH’s redeeming work in rescuing Israel from Egypt and the narrative context for Jesus’ work on the cross and tomb.

Shavu’ot is another Jewish festival and it takes place 7 weeks after Passover; thus the name “Feast of Weeks.” On this day Jews celebrate the giving of Torah by YHWH to Israel on Mt. Sinai. The Law was given to a people already redeemed and was based upon YHWH’s covenant with his people. Shavu’ot is also observed as a harvest festival for during the seven weeks between it and Passover; Israel was to be planting barley and other grains during that time, literally “counting the omer.” This feast is therefore both a celebration of YHWH’s gift of the Law—and therefore the constitution of his people—and a thanksgiving celebration for the harvest; it is also the context for Pentecost.

Christian Context

We know from Scripture that Jesus appeared to his disciples and some 500 people after his resurrection and before his ascension (1 Corinthians 5:6). During this time he spoke peace to his disciples, he opened their minds to the Scriptures, he broke bread with them, and then he ascended to the right hand of the Father. We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension during Eastertide (May 14, 2015); as one of my seminary professors used to quip, “We need to get Jesus good and ascended if he want him reigning over all things.”

Jesus commands and commissions his disciples at the Ascension. ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age, ” (Matthew 28:18-20). After this the disciples are left alone to find one to replace Judas and then the Holy Spirit is given to the Church at the Feast of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the Greek word for Shavu’ot and the Church’s celebration happens parallel to that of Israel. While Israel was celebrating the gift of Torah and the harvest, the Church was being given the Holy Spirit who would lead and guide her into all truth. For the Law to be written upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) the Spirit would need to be given, received and active in ministry.

In short, the Jewish festivals of Pesach (Passover) and Shavu’ot (Pentecost) are transformed by the triune God for the new Israel.

Passover and Shavu’ot are not replaced or retired but made new. They still form the interpretive matrix for the church’s celebration of God’s actions in and through Jesus. We are not suggesting that Easter is merely symbolic of Passover or Pentecost of Shavu’ot, but that these feasts also happen within the context of Israel’s story.

So What?

First and foremost, Eastertide is a season for feasting.

Jesus said in Matthew 9:15, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Eastertide is our celebration of Jesus’ earthly presence post-resurrection and therefore is not a time for fasting. As a church we have just emerged from the wilderness and fasting of Lent and we can now enjoy a time of God’s plentiful bounty.

We need to be careful with this one, however. It would be all too easy to take the things we’ve given up during Lent and to over-indulge in them during Eastertide. I gave up social media for Lent and I took on fasting on Fridays—can you imagine how much food I might eat or Facebooking I might do if I decided to over-indulge? I don’t want to imagine! Rather, our passions and desires should have been reoriented during Lent, that our celebrations and feasting may be more about God than about our own tastes and needs.

Second, Eastertide is another invitation to tell time differently.

Rather than telling time according to the Julian or Gregorian calendar, or based on sporting events, or holidays or family celebrations, the church tells time according to her corporate memory of God’s acts of salvation. Sure, May 14, 2015 is a lovely date but the Feast of the Ascension has far greater meaning. Remembering Eastertide means we remember the Resurrection and Pentecost; it means we remember Passover and Shavu’ot; it means we remember God’s actions and ongoing activity in his world.

Third, we can and should cling to Jesus.

When Mary Magdalene encountered the Risen Lord in John 20 she was told to not hold onto him. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father,” (John 20:17). We however are on the other side of the Ascension and can cling to Jesus. In fact, I think we should see the season of Eastertide as an invitation to cling to the Risen Lord! The post-resurrection accounts of Jesus show him teaching his disciples and followers the meaning of the Scriptures, how the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms had been fulfilled, and how he was leaving them with peace.

As we await the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, may we cling to Jesus with joy and gratitude for all he has done.

May we observe a holy Eastertide with feasting and celebration.

May we tell time according to God’s righteous acts.

May we proclaim with our lips and lives, “Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

“My Lord and my God!”

Sermon Notes – Easter 2 – Year B

“My Lord and my God!”

Thesis

We are concluding Bright Week with the words of St. Thomas when he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” These words are significant to believers, but why? What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord and God? My hunch for this week’s sermon is that the lessons flesh out what it means when Jesus is understood as Lord and God. Give people Jesus this week!

 

Analysis

Collect

“Show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” The Collect launches us into radical discipleship very quickly. Our walk needs to match our talk (don’t you just hate that phrase?!). Or, to put it in the vernacular, we need to be “smoking what we’re selling.” I don’t mean to be crass, but that is a good image. Are we really living out in the here and now what we claim to believe on a Sunday morning? Do our lives match that which we proclaim in the Creed, the prayers of the people or the Eucharist?

Our faith is based on the Paschal Mystery. That is, our faith is based on the combination of Cross and Empty Tomb. I heard N. T. Wright put it this way in a lecture last year, “The resurrection of the Crucified One gives meaning to the crucifixion of the Resurrected One.” Our faith is based on the intersection of this two events; no, it is actually the interweaving of these two events into a holistic whole.

Because Jesus is both crucified and risen can we profess and show forth as agents of reconciliation.

First Lesson – Acts 4:32-35

We’ve gotten a bit ahead of ourselves in this lesson. It’s important to bear in mind that between Easter Sunday and Acts 4 is Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church. Acts 4:32-35 makes little sense without the empowering ministry of the Spirit.

The young, little church is growing daily. What sets the church apart from competing narratives and groups is her common lifestyle. (The Resurrection of the Son of God also sets the church apart…!) Acts 4:32-35 is a dynamic picture of the church fulfilling that which her Lord called her to on Maundy Thursday: love one another, and they will know you by your love. The church was in the business of caring for one another and for those around them.

At the center of this life of overflowing love was the apostle’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection these actions would simply be like welfare, or a non-profit organization, or any other modern group that does “good” for others. No, these actions only gain meaning because they stem forth from the Risen One. A church that has faith without actions is dead, but a church that has works without faith isn’t a church at all.

Psalm 133

The concept of fellowship is continued in the selection from the Psalter. Psalm 133 is one of the Psalms of Ascent; indeed it is the second to last Psalm of Ascent and was part of the crescendo of liturgical proclamation for Israel as she sojourned to Jerusalem three times a year for festivals. This is both a present aspiration and eschatological image. Fellowship such as this, true koinonia, is possible in the here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, this fellowship will only fully and eternally be known when God is all and all and we are praising and reigning with the triune God. May we strive toward such unity in our churches and in the Church, and may we know that this side of eternity we will only see as through a glass dimly lit.

Epistle – 1 John 1:1-2:2

1 John continues the trend of fellowship and the call to discipleship. Before we can unpack the message of 1 John 1:1-2:2 we need to understand who is writing. John is writing and he is doing so in harmony with others who have experienced the Paschal Mystery with the five senses. Paul may have been a Jew of Jews, but John and the disciples could boast something greater: they heard the voice of Jesus for three years, they tasted the bread and wine offered by the Lord, they smelled the fragrant oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, they saw his tears as he wept over his friend Lazarus, they saw him hanging on the cross; they touched the scars on this hands and wound on his side. In short, the true Apostles of the church are able to claim authority of teaching because they received it firsthand from the Lord himself. You’ll notice that Paul claims the same authority in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere; they all claim that they are passing along what they have received (paralambano) because they can trace it to the source. That’s John’s point: trust me, I know what I’m talking about because I know from whom I received this.

For God is light and in him there is no darkness. Fellowship is first and foremost with the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit). It is out of the overflow of koinonia amongst the Trinity that human koinonia has substance. Again, a church that has unity within itself but is not unified with the Godhead is not a church at all.

We lie against the light if we claim to be the light and/or if we have darkness. Sin has no place in the Christian life. That does not mean that we are sinless. Far from it! We are still sinful but we are no longer slavers to sin because Jesus is our Advocate. We have been changed from sinners to saints but we still sin regularly. But what would it look like if our sins were truly upsetting to us? In the early church there was a belief that postbaptismal sin was unacceptable and that you could be absolved only once for sin after baptism. I’m not suggest this to be true in the least, but think about the severity with which they viewed sin. Does our sin grieve us? Do we strive toward holiness or would we rather toe the line of sinfulness without actually touching it? I want light! I want holiness!

Therefore, our fellowship with each other is made real because we have been cleansed by the blood of our Advocate. We can have right relationship with each other only because of the right relationship we’ve been given through and by and with Jesus. Fellowship is a call to discipleship. Again, our actions and our words need to match up.

Gospel – John 20:19-31

The Gospel lesson picks up right where we left off last week: we’re still on Easter Sunday. Mary has just run from the Garden to the disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord.”

The disciples are still gathered together (expect Thomas and Judas) and Jesus appears. What does he speak to them? He speaks peace. He is peace. He breathes his Holy Spirit over them. Just as YHWH breathed life into humanity (ruach) in Genesis 2, so too does Jesus give new life to his followers. And this new life is empowering. The Holy Spirit gives them the ability to forgive sins, to lose and to bind. To receive the Holy Spirit and the true shalom of God is to be commissioned for ministry.

Thomas isn’t present. We don’t know where Thomas was but we do know that he had doubts. Friends, doubts are ok! Thomas isn’t rebuked for his doubts by his brothers or our Lord. Thomas isn’t told to suck it up and believe because questions or the need for proof is wrong. No! Thomas is given the opportunity by our Lord to touch his wounds and to worship. Thomas worships on the spot with his proclamation: My Lord and my God. In touching the Lord’s hands and side, Thomas knew that he was encountering the crucified and risen Lord. He know that Jesus wasn’t appearing as some sort of ghost or aberration but in the flesh, in the present, in reality. That is the God we worship. That is the Lord of all creation. But are you worshipping him? Jesus is a big boy, he can handle your feelings of doubt, but when you encounter the risen Lord what is your response?

Liturgical Considerations

The Second Sunday of Easter (the Sunday of Thomas) is the conclusion of Easter Week (Anglican and Catholic) or Bright Week (Orthodox). In the patristic church, and still in the Orthodox Church, Bright Week was a weeklong celebration for the newly baptized. Indeed those who had been baptized on Easter were to wear their white garments for the entirety of Bright Week. During Bright Week the newly baptized went through mystagogy; that is, they were instructed in the Holy Mysteries of the Church and were therefore illuminated (i.e. made bright).

Such a historical reality could factor into your sermon this week because at the end of Bright Week shouldn’t we all be able to properly proclaim, “My Lord and my God” like St. Thomas? What would it look like for you to offer some real catechesis and instruction during Bright Week, or at least to have your people reaffirm their baptismal covenant if you didn’t do this via Easter Vigil? To be discipled is to grow in wisdom, stature, understanding and most importantly: more and more into the likeness of Christ. Inviting people into the mysteries of the church—both through participation and instruction—is a form of spiritual formation and liturgical catechesis.

 

Synthesis

If you haven’t noticed it already, one of my favorite approaches for sermons is to use phrases from the lessons as points in my “So what” section at the end. These lessons are no exception. I’m not going to put the meat on these points because I’d rather you receive inspiration from the Spirit and use some sanctified imagination as you know your context better than I do. Here they are:

  1. “We have seen the Lord.”
  2. “Show forth in their lives what they profess by faith.”
  3. “Peace be with you.”
  4. “My Lord and my God!”

Remember, this is the conclusion of Bright Week and the Sunday of Thomas has been part of the liturgical calendar of the church for many hundreds of years: do something about it. His words are offered to Jesus as reverent worship; may we worship at the Lord’s feet like Thomas. May we see the Lord and profess him with lips and lives. May we offer the world the shalom of God.

For the Life of the World

For The Life Of The World

Sermon Notes for Maundy Thursday, Year B 

Hypothesis

The lessons appointed for Year B, along with the Collect for the Day, compose a beautiful harmony of biblical imagery brought together in one event: the night before Jesus died. We see the Passover, the Eucharist, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and Jesus’ command to love one another all in the same scene. All discipleship and Christian ministry should be eucharistic and loving in nature.

 

Analysis

Collect

The Collect immediately identifies this night as the night before Jesus’ death and the night on which he instituted the Eucharist. One cannot separate the Eucharist from the Crucifixion; to do so would be to rob one of interpretive meaning and the other of a sacrificial nature. We are to receive the meal in two ways: thankfully and in remembrance.

To receive thankfully is to understand the nature of the Eucharist. From eucharisteo it literally means, “the giving of thanks.” Every story in the New Testament with reference to the Last Supper (and John 6) always includes Jesus (or someone else) giving thanks for the elements. The call is not merely to give thanks for the bread and wine but to live lives that are thankful to Almighty God.

Remembrance is a word that muddies the water in Eucharistic theology. For some the idea of remembrance is merely the ability to bring an image or thought to mind. It is a memory. However, many others and I are of the opinion that it is a dangerous memory. It is the act of dragging into the present something from the past in order to make it real, to make it present. This type of remembering is what the Jews did (and still do) annually in keeping Passover. They remember the Exodus as if they were actually there. The word for this is anamnesis and Jesus says to “to do this in anamnesis of me.” It is an active, volatile, efficacious and dynamic memory.

These are the two appropriate responses to the Eucharist as outlined in the Collect. We should bear that in mind…

 

Old Testament

Speaking of Passover, the Old Testament reading recounts this great event. The last verse gives us a clue about the meaning of the Passover, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” This is to become the festival of festivals for Jews and then for Christians; it is to be the center of the calendar and liturgical life of the people as they remember annually the mighty acts of their saving God.

This isn’t just a meal. No, it is a meal tied to a historic event that is retold, reenacted and re-presented on an annual basis. The Exodus wasn’t simply a saving moment but rather the key event in the history of Israel when YHWH kept his covenant, made a people for himself, and gave his people a land, a hope and a future. All of this is tied up in a single meal. This is extremely important for our understanding of Paul in 1 Corinthians.

For now it will suffice for you to remember the story: Israel has been in slavery for 400 years because a Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. God’s people had become too numerous for the Egyptians and they were oppressed and enslaved. Moses heeds YHWH’s call from the burning bush and is sent to deliver Israel from the hands of Pharaoh. Why? That God’s people might worship him. Pharaoh’s heart is continually hardened throughout the plagues until finally the tenth and worse plague, that of the death of all firstborns, is sent upon all Egypt. God provides a way for his people to be safe: to mark their doorposts with the blood of a pure lamb that God might literally pass over their house. This is also bound up in the meal.

 

Psalm

This is a Psalm of praise. As I am neither a scholar of the Psalms or a Hebrew linguist there are only two images that I want to highlight: “the cup of salvation” and the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” The context for both these images is the might and redeeming works of God. God has done x, y and z and therefore I will respond thus. Our two images are therefore responses to what God has already accomplished. Neither is the cup raised or thanksgiving sacrificed as a means to an end but rather as a response. Remember why God redeemed his people? That they might worship him!! The call of all creation from the beginning of creation has been to worship God in the majesty of his splendor…that has not changed! Our response to God’s goodness, grace, love, and mercy should be WORSHIP.

 

Epistle

We have now arrived at a central text for the Pauline understanding of the Eucharist and indeed for Maundy Thursday.

To jog your memories, Paul has been writing to the Corinthians for several chapters about different issues hindering or affecting the community. One such issue was the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Another issue was a misunderstanding of misappropriation of the agape feast during which the rich were marginalizing the poor. Neither of these were acceptable in the new community formed by Christ.

Paul then goes on to the tradition of the Eucharist and relates it to the Corinthians. You can read this alongside the Institution narratives in the Synoptic Gospels to see the similarities.

First, this is a tradition that Paul has received and passed along. The word here is paralambano and it is much like an Olympic runner who passes the baton to the next relay runner on his/her team. Indeed this is much the basis for the idea that Apostolic Succession is not to be understood in terms of the office of Apostle (or bishop) but in the passing on of teaching and tradition going back to Christ. (I am not going to wade into any conversation regarding Succession at this point.) Paul received this tradition, likely from Peter and the disciples during a trip to Jerusalem, and has found it significant enough to share with one of his churches.

Second, this event took place on the night before Jesus’ death. This is important because as I’ve already mentioned the Eucharist and the Crucifixion cannot be separated—the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is only understood within the context of the Crucifixion.

Third, the four actions are present: “took…given thanks…broke…gave.” These are the same actions we see in the Synoptic Gospels, in John 6, and at the end of Acts when Paul is shipwrecked. Paul also relates Jesus’ words—and they are words that we should take literally—“this is my body…this is my blood.”

Fourth, they (we) are to do it in remembrance anamnesis of Jesus. This is that active remembering that I wrote about above.

Fifth and finally, to celebrate this meal is to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. That is, it is to proclaim the Lord’s victory. Passover recounts God’s victory over Pharaoh just as the Crucifixion and Resurrection prove God’s victory over sin, evil and death as Jesus “trampled down death by death.” To celebrate this meal is to rejoice victoriously and to hope for the completion of that which has already been inaugurated in Jesus.

That is a lot of meaning for 4 short verses and as I’ll argue below, such robust meaning needs to be read into John 13 and Maundy Thursday…

 

Gospel

The first thing to notice here is that the gospel lesson does not record the Lord’s Supper. Very interesting on a night when we celebrate the washing of feet and the Eucharist. Just look at the Collect: “Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.” You would certainly assume that the institution narrative would be read, but it isn’t. In fact, John’s Gospel is the only one of the four to exclude the traditional story of the Last Supper and instead John has opted to give an extensive look into the Great Commandment and the washing of the disciple’s feet.

Furthermore, most Johannine scholars point to the feeding of the crowd in John 6 as the eucharistic story of this gospel. Jesus performs the same actions of taking, thanking, breaking and giving. Jesus gives us the foundation of most eucharistic theologies in his words about being the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the manna that the Israelites ate. Paul Bradshaw has argued as to whether or not John 6 should be considered the earliest eucharistic text (chronologically). Either way, John 6 has to be read into John 13 given the words written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: “on the night before he was betrayed our Lord took bread…”

John’s choice to relate the washing of feet and new commandment instead of the Eucharist is important. Jesus is about to move into four chapters of his High Priestly Prayer before his betrayal—these prayers demonstrate the nature of Jesus’ relationship with God, his relationship with his people, and the call to embrace the Holy Spirit. In short, Jesus’ prayers have as much to say about discipleship as any other words recorded in the Gospels. Jesus sets the stage of “love in action” by commanding his disciples to love one another.

He first demonstrates this love on a very realistic and common level by washing their feet. I would HIGHLY encourage you to have a full feet washing as part of your liturgy. I do not think it is sufficient for only the clergy to wash each others feet or to have some sort of symbolic or representative (read: vicarious) washing ceremony. Jesus did this for his followers that he might call them to love one another.

You can get creative and talk about how stinky, crusty, and nasty the disciples’ feet must have been or illustrate just how out of place it would have been for Jesus’ to do this. You can pick on Peter—don’t we all love to do that!—and comment on his words of pride and then zeal. You can certainly do all of this but I think that painting the picture of love in action and then moving into the Liturgy of the Feet Washing and the Liturgy of the Table is more than sufficient.

Jesus will then follow up this ritual of love by demonstrating the fullness of his love on the cross.

 

Synthesis

This is the Passover meal that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and so it already has an anamnesis factor to it. The Jews around Jerusalem were celebrating the mighty acts of God that night and Jesus changes the meal by giving his disciples a new command and a new meal.

Maundy Thursday—maundy coming from the Latin for mandate—is really about two commands we’ve been given as disciples: love one another and do this for the remembrance of me.

I am yet again reminded of the beautiful line from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with reference to Jesus’ betrayal. It reads, ““On the night He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world.” This is what Fr. Alexander Schmemann explored in his book For the Life of the World. It was no mistake that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, as if he forgot that he was to be betrayed. No, Jesus went to the Garden with the same face-set-as-flint with which he turned toward Jerusalem earlier in the gospels. Why? That he might offer himself as the cup of salvation, the perfect sacrifice, for the life of the whole world.

That is why we love, that is why we worship, and that is why we make Eucharist: for the life of the whole word. This is where discipleship gets serious. It’s all fun and games when we’re checking boxes off our “Piety Chart” for personal growth but it is an entirely different subject when we realize that in our love, worship and making of Eucharist we are bringing the world before Almighty God. We are bringing our neighbors, our family members, strangers, and all who do not yet know Christ (literally the whole of creation) before God that they might experience the riches of his goodness and mercy. Think about that as you’re having your feet washed and you’re partaking of the Elements.

So, what does it look like for you to live a life of thanksgiving? Of remembrance? Of love? Of discipleship? What does it mean for us to drink the Cup of Salvation—of Jesus’ oblation—for the life of the whole world? Remember, Israel was blessed to be blessed! Are you blessing or are you sitting on your blessed assurance?

 

 

Re-post: “The Discipline of Fearlessness”

I am in the process of moving some of my favorites posts from porterctaylor@wordpress.com over here to my new blog. This is another Lenten reflection from three years ago (February 27, 2012). Enjoy!

I deal with fear.  I would not say that I am a fearful person, per se, but I definitely struggle with a type of fear.  I am not afraid of death or eternity (though I used to be!), and I am not afraid of spiders, clowns or the number 13.

I am afraid of living as a new creation.

Before you write this off as a silly idea, let me explain.  Lent is a season of self-reflection and examination.  During this period we discover the areas of our lives which miss the mark completely and those that are misdirected or misinformed.  I have been thinking about fear for the past few days and I think I’ve been given an insight:

I am not afraid of what I am as much as I am afraid of what I could be.

I am afraid of what the Lord can do in and through me. 

I see my sin and know the areas which need to change, but when push comes to shove I am afraid of what that change might look like.  I prayed several weeks ago for the gift of creativity.  Since that prayer I have had the itch to write poetry, continue this blog, and to begin painting.  I want desperately to do so, but what happens if I am actually good at it?  What happens if I had a gift of creativity?  Can I accept the fact that change and transformation are good?

The title of this post exhorts us to the discipline of fearlessness.  The goal of this discipline is not to become a type-T personality with the need for an adrenaline rush, nor is the goal to move through life unafraid.  Instead, the goal is to hold in tension the reality of our sinfulness in one hand and the hope of new creation in the other.  The goal is to live without fear of what God is calling you to be and of the ongoing work his Holy Spirit is doing to transform you.

My commitment is to continue working on this blog, my poetry and any other creative endeavor that the Lord puts in front of me.  I will not allow the fear of new creation and unknown transformation to cause me to live as the old man.  He has called and I will follow.

That’s the goal.  What’s the discipline?

Fix your gaze upon Christ. 

When Peter began to walk on water and it was only when his eyes were off of his master that he began to sink.  Peter was afraid of what he was doing and it had a detrimental effect.  Fix your gaze firmly on Christ and ask him to continue in you the works he has planned and started.  Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be manifest in your life and for an anointing in Kingdom work.  Seek the Lord in everything you do and know that in him you are a new creation – the old has gone and the new has come.

Living as a new creation should be cause for rejoicing, not for fear.  We are not trying to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps or celebrate our own ability, but rather we are celebrating the diverse gifts of our creative God.  We are acknowledging that he is the Creator and we are his creatures…(it’s almost as if we are admitting that we are dust and that to dust we shall return…)

Our challenge this Lent is to take on the discipline of fearlessness with the knowledge that the Risen Lord is calling and drawing us to himself.

Fear not, He has redeemed you and called you by name.

Child, you are His.

Re-post: “Ascribe to the Lord…”

This is a post that I wrote for my old blog. It was published a little over three years ago (February 28, 2012). Enjoy…

I recently wrote a paper for an Old Testament assignment about the nature of worship in Genesis and Exodus.  As I wrote about what it means to worship, I had this verse from Psalm 96 ringing in my ears: “Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name, bring offerings and come into his courts with praise.”  This is the verse that many faithful Anglicans and Episcopalians hear read before the tithe offering is taken up by the ushers.  This verse locates our financial offerings within the realm of worship.  What else should we locate in the realm of worship?

To worship is to assign worth.  In and through worship we assign worth to God.  Before trekking up to the summit, Abraham told his servants to stay behind while he and the boy “went to worship.” Abraham gave worth to God when he walked up Mt. Moriah with Isaac and raised the knife to sacrifice the son of promise.

The act of faithful obedience to God on behalf of Abraham was an act of worship.

When Moses saw the burning bush that was on fire but not consumed, he went to take a closer look.  God spoke to Moses and told him to take his shoes off because the place that he was standing was holy ground.  Moses agreed to the request of God, and in taking off his shoes he demonstrated that God was worthy of such action.

Israel was to be released from Pharaoh’s oppression to the liberation of YHWH for a purpose: to worship in the desert.  God’s intention was to form the Israelites as the people of promise through the right and proper worship of God their Redeemer.  The songs of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15 are good examples of sung worship while Moses’ 40-day retreat atop Mt. Sinai exemplifies continual worship.  Israel demonstrated that God was worthy of their praise, that the LORD was worth their worship.

Faithful obedience to God will always result in worship.

Paul tells us in Romans 12 to offer our very selves as a living sacrifice.  Our entire being is to be an offering before the Lord.  Why?  Because it is our spiritual act of worship!  I can worship with my wallet in the same and significant way that I worship with my songs and service.  I can worship God by responding to His call.

We are to worship through faithful obedience.  No matter the cost.  No matter the call.

I love what Bonhoeffer says about discipleship.  He says that the significance is not in the call or in the one being called but rather in the one who is calling.  Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”  We do not know where that will take us, or how we will get there, but we answer because the one calling is the Faithful Israelite.  May we ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name with our wallets, our words, our wills and our lives.

Worship is the life we are called to live before the one who makes that life possible.