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 Does It Mean To Abide? – Sermon Notes for Easter 5, Year B

Thesis

What does it mean to abide in Jesus? It’s a beautiful word but too often we miss out on any substantive definition or depiction. The RCL lessons for Easter 5 provide some concrete portrayals of this concept: trust, obedience, proclamation and a sort of “knowing” that moves beyond cognition and into something deeper. Prepare yourselves because Easter 5 and 6 will both feature gospel lessons from John 15.

Analysis

Collect

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This is another situation when the Collect and the Gospel lesson seem to miss each other by a small margin. Upon first reading of the Collect one would assume that John 14 is the appointed text given the reference to “the way, the truth, and the life.” However, the Gospel lesson appointed for Year B is John 15:1-8 where Jesus talks about abiding in him and his relationship with the Father. There is a connection to John 14 and although it is simple it is also overlooked: John 14-17 constitutes the “Upper Room Discourse” from which we get Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. The final “I Am” statement of John’s Gospel should not be separated from his words about abiding or from his priestly intercessions.

To abide in Christ is to know him as the way, the truth and the life. To know him ‘perfectly’ is to abide in his love just as he abides in the love of his Father. To follow him (think to last week about the Good Shepherd) requires a trusting obedience and foundation of “knowing” that moves beyond mental assent. It is a knowledge that is based in love and based on faith. Jesus is the life and therefore to know him is to have life, both now and evermore.

First Lesson – Acts 8:26-40

The Lectionary gives us another opportunity to discover Philip’s apostolic witness. It was on the Fifth Sunday in Lent that we last encountered Philip. Philip was then approached by some Greeks (read: Gentiles) who desired to see Jesus. Philip and Nathanael took the Greeks to Jesus in a move that reminded the reader of Philip’s “Come and see” comment to Nathanael after encountering Jesus at the beginning of John’s Gospel. The two Philipian stories serve as bookends on the “Book of Signs in John and now we are again reading of Philip’s ministry among the Gentiles.

Here Philip encounters a god-fearing Ethiopian Eunuch who has been worshipping in Jerusalem and is now traveling home. It is important to note that the Holy Spirit leads Philip to the man. The Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness is the same Spirit that urges Philip to the Wilderness Road and to engage the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip is an example to us all in that his ministry is not complex or complicated; in fact, it is actually quite simple: obedience and gospel proclamation. In this story we see that Philip is both obedient to the urging of the Holy Spirit and that he proclaims the Good News of Jesus to the Eunuch and to those in Azotus.

The Ethiopian Eunuch is reading from Isaiah and cannot understand the words on the page. Think about the lessons from last Sunday and how Jesus had to open the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures. Philip makes himself present to the man and asks him plainly, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip then takes the opportunity to explain the Scriptures to the Ethiopian and he does so through the lens of Jesus; just as Jesus explained the meaning of the Scriptures to the companions on the Road to Emmaus and how they were fulfilled in him, so too does Philip present Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah, the law and the prophets.

What is the proper response to Gospel? It is conversion and initiation! The Eunuch is baptized on the spot after hearing the Gospel. Baptism is an extremely important event in the life of an individual and in the life of the church; it is one of the two dominical sacraments and it is initiation into the family of God. It should not be entered into carelessly but it also should not be withheld until someone reaches a certain level of spiritual knowledge or maturity. The Eunuch was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit because clearly he believed that Isaiah foretold of Jesus who was both crucified and risen. There would be time after ‘conversion’ for mystagogy, discipleship or “membership classes.”

Psalm 22:24-30

What a difference a month makes! It was just one month ago that we were reading this Psalm but in a much different context. Psalm 22 came up on Good Friday and I wrote about it here in relation to Jesus’ words on the cross.

Just to recap, verses 24-30 form the movement of the Psalm from lament to praise. The Psalmist and those proclaiming the Psalm in the holy gathering are able to place their trust in YHWH because he is faithful. The Psalmist has these things to say about YHWH:

Kingship belongs to God, he rules over all nations

He alone is worthy of all worship, all bow to him

He has performed saving deeds 

The Psalmist can therefore move from “my God why have you forsaken me?” to “My soul shall live for him!” based on one reason: God’s covenant love is steadfast and he has revealed himself as faithful time and time again. Even in the midst of lament there can still be praise!

Epistle – 1 John 4:7-21

I have made several comments in recent weeks about the apparent disconnect between the RCL lessons for Year B and the appointed Collects. That being said, I have been extremely pleased with the Eastertide Year B pairings of John’s epistle and his gospel. 1 John 4 matches very nicely with John 15 as they both stay focused on one topic: abiding. Even better, John gives us another word for our working definition: love.

To abide is to love and to remain in God’s love. The basis for all such love is the love of God that is first, it is sufficient and it is complete. God loves us and therefore we should love one another. God so loved the world that he sent his son to be the sacrifice for our sins; therefore we should love each other.

The contact points with John’s gospel are amazing. 1 John 4:9-10 matches up with John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:16b is John 15; 1 John 4:21 is John 13 with the new commandment. The possibilities for overlapping and interrelation are endless but one point is clear: we are called to radical love of God and neighbor because God loves us radically.

There is a big difference between “the fear of the LORD” as seen throughout the Old Testament and the concept of fearing God. The fear of the LORD is a phrase that is used to convey the awesome and awful-ness (original meaning) of God. Almighty God is awe-inspiring and therefore we should have a healthy reverence for his might and power. That being said, he has drawn close to us and has revealed himself in both testaments as loving and as good. It’s like that famous scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: the children are with the beavers and are eventually told that Aslan isn’t safe, but he’s good. We can draw near to the throne of grace because the Lord has conquered all by trampling down death by death and has beckoned us. He loves us and now we too can love him.

Gospel – John 15:1-8

As mentioned in the ‘thesis’ section, John 15 is part of the Upper Room Discourse and it precedes Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Jesus has shared a meal with his disciples, he has washed their feet, and he has declared himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father but through me.”

We now enter into a lengthy section with the analogy of vine, vinedresser and branch. I have already made reference to my friend, Margaret Feinberg, in my sermon notes for Easter 4, but I commend her book to you again. Margaret spent time with a shepherdess, a vintner, a farmer, and a beekeeper in order to unlock some of the lost meanings of biblical imagery. Much of the western world is no longer agrarian and so certain references that were normal for 1st century Israel are lost on us. Pick up a copy of Scouting the Divine for Easter 5 and 6 to read about vines and branches.

The analogy is simple: Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and we are the branches. Branches that bear no fruit are removed. Branches that bear fruit are pruned. Why would you prune a fruitful branch? By removing the branches that have no fruit you are able to give more nutrients to those that do and by pruning the fruitful branches you are helping them to grow stronger. I have a Forsythia bush and several Lilac bushes in my backyard and I have been told to prune them by up to one-third after the first bloom of the year. In gardening ventures one cannot win through preacher’s math! You have to cut to grow. Plants are able to devote more healing, sustaining and growing attention to areas that have suffered intentional cuts.

How do we abide? Well, it’s a two-way street as Jesus abides in us. Jesus’ words are to live in us and we can then live in him. In fact, we can do nothing apart from Jesus! Have you ever heard someone say, “I love Jesus but not the church. I’m just going to do “church” on my own,”? Church cannot be down alone or apart from Jesus because it is the body of Christ. You cannot have the church without Jesus. Through obedience, and love, and action we are able to abide in the vine and therefore in the Father as well. Link John 15 with 1 John 4 for a robust image.

Liturgical Considerations

Consider using the Apostles’ Creed this Sunday instead of the Nicene Creed if you plan on highlighting the baptismal scene in Acts 8. The Apostles’ Creed is the baptismal statement of faith of the Church and can/should be used on Sundays when there are baptisms or when we reaffirm our baptismal vows. I’d encourage you to have baptisms on this Sunday if you have any in the pipeline and/or weren’t able to baptize during Easter/Easter Vigil. Baptism is certainly a way of “abiding” in Jesus.

The other liturgical element on offer is the Eucharist. In the Rite of Baptism we see individuals initiated into the family of God and in the Holy Eucharist we see the church become that which she already is and we are all nourished in the Body and Blood of Jesus. In short, the Eucharist is a tangible example of the Lord’s invitation to abide.

The combination of baptism and Eucharist—and the two should never be separated—would be a robust example of knowing and following Jesus.

Here is the baptismal liturgy from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer

Here is the baptismal liturgy from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer

Synthesis

To abide in Jesus is to love him and to know him to be the way, the truth, and the life. To abide is to have the abundant life promised by Jesus and to have it now. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another.

We see Philip abiding in Jesus through his obedience to the Holy Spirit and his proclamation of the gospel. We see the Psalmist abiding in YHWH through his praise even in the midst of tribulation. We see John calling us to abide in Jesus through love in his epistle. We see Jesus calling us to abide in him through keeping his words.

We are invited into an abiding relationship through our baptism and through regular participation in the Eucharist. May your sermon be an invitation into such a relationship and may it be life giving, even if you have to offer some pruning along the way.

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.

He Is Risen Indeed, Alleluia

Sermon Notes – Easter Sunday – Year B

He Is Risen

Thesis

 Choices abound on this blessed morning. Preachers can choose between 3 Collects 7 lessons. It’s a good Sunday when the only lesson without a choice is the Psalm! The most important thing to remember in the midst of all the decision-making is the reality that has changed history: He is risen!!

I am putting these lessons together as if I were to be preaching on Easter Sunday. I may offer a passing comment randomly about the other lessons but basically I am going to cut 3 and 7 down to 1 and 4.

Analysis

Collect

My desire would be to use the second option because it is the Collect that goes with Easter Vigil. It reminds us that an Easter faith is one maintained and strengthened through the Baptismal covenant. However, as not all churches have a Vigil but all will celebrate Easter, I would select the first option because I like its cadence better. Honestly, the first and third options have the same message: Christ has died, Christ is risen, he is victorious, and we are called to die in him and find life in him. Simple message but that’s the point. Easter is simple: he who was dead is no longer dead; he is among the living! The ramifications of the Resurrection are also simple: victory, new creation, salvation, and the call to discipleship.

First Reading

I would include Isaiah 25:6-9 as my first reading. It reads like the eschatological vision of the heavenly city in Revelation. Death has been swallowed up. There are no more tears. The LORD has saved his people and is all in all. Isaiah gives an eschatological vision that is echoed by Jesus, the New Testament writers, and John. It is a vision of the eschatological banquet table that has been set up by YHWH. The table is heavy-laden with rich food and drinks. Who is present? All peoples! Who presides? The LORD!

This has been accomplished through death. The idea of a mountain should immediately bring a plethora of biblical images to mind: Mt. Moriah with Abraham and Isaac, Mt. Carmel with Elijah, Mt. Sinai with Moses, Mt. Tabor with the Transfiguration, and Jerusalem as the City on a Hill. God has been relating to this people through mountain-top experiences and this mountain-top experience will literally change the course and meaning of human history.

God will finally be all in all for his people. He has always been all in all but they (read: we) didn’t know it. He will be their God and they will be his people. His shalom will be known throughout all the earth. Only the victory of Almighty God will be known and it will be celebrated. This passage preaches itself.

Psalm

As I mentioned above, there are no options for the Psalm. This is a song of exultation (v. 15) because the Lord has acted (v. 24)! He has acted through the cornerstone once rejected (v. 22) and won for his people salvation (v. 14 and 21). The Lord is the one who has accomplished this (v. 23).

Written in a format similar to the great songs of the Bible: Moses, Miriam, Hannah, Zechariah, Mary, etc. this Psalm is to be read with great joy and passion on Easter morning. God has acted definitively and decisively on behalf of his people. His actions have opened the gates of righteousness (see Collect #3). This is a song of victory, of thanks, and of joy.

There is a response from the one who enters through the gates: thanksgiving. Entrance is not merely enough. Think of Jesus’ parable about the wedding banquet and garment. It was not enough for the man to attend the party. No, he needed to have on the right garment and participate. It is also not enough for us to “walk through the gate” only to remain the same. We are called to respond and that response is thanksgiving—it is eucharisteo.

Second Reading

Now I would select Acts 10:34-43 because it has more of a creedal dimension to it than the passage from 1 Corinthians 15. Actually, the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 that I would have included would have been later in the same chapter when Paul remarks on the necessity of the resurrection because without it we are to be pitied more than all men. Moving right along…

Peter is in the house of Cornelius and has received his vision of the sheet, the animals, and God’s voice telling him to kill and eat. That is, Peter is realizing that in the Kingdom of God all are invited and the world has been changed. He is now relating to Cornelius’ household that which has taken place in Jesus. Peter is speaking to gentiles. This is massive! The gospel of Jesus Christ is now beginning as a grassroots effort and it will one day make its way to Rome and then the ends of the earth. Peter is putting into practice that which he has learned from his heavenly vision just verses before. This is the work with which the Lord commissioned his disciples: Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth!

Even in the English translation there is a good cadence to this passage; Peter’s words are expertly chosen and none are out of place. It is very creedal. Remember that the books of the Bible were written many years after these events took place; my point is that Peter’s homily on the action and work of Jesus is part of an oral tradition that has been passed along from the time that Acts 10 took place in real life to the time it was put on paper by Luke. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about passing along that which he has received (paralambano) and this is such an example.

The story is simple: God sent Jesus, John announced Jesus, Jesus healed and taught, he was put to death, God raised him from the dead, and he appeared to the disciples and others. It is not as poetic as the Apostles’ Creed but it matches the Creed’s simplicity. This is the story to be told over and over and over again; it is the story of victory, of action, and it is a story that literally transforms lives.

Think about what happens to Cornelius’ household after this: they believe and are baptized. The response of belief was followed up by baptism into the covenant and therefore discipleship.

Notice also how Peter makes reference to being a witness. A witness is not merely someone who sees an event—it is much more than an “eye-witness” like we are used to. No, Peter is a witness by testifying and proclaiming the truth. That is how you demonstrate your witness: through action, not vision.

Gospel

This is the toughest choice you’ll face: John’s poetic and powerful version of the resurrection or Mark’s abrupt end. I actually enjoy Mark’s ending as much as I do John, but because John 18-19 was used for Good Friday and is fresher in the minds of the people I would select John 20 for Easter Sunday.

John begins with the phrase “on the first day of the week.” This is a very important concept for Johannine theology and the early church. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus) highlights this in The Spirit of the Liturgy. The first Easter has three different yet intertwined meanings: it is the first day, the third day and the eighth day. As the first day it is the day after Sabbath, it is the day of creation. As the third day it is the third day from the Crucifixion. As the eighth day it is the first day of a new week and is therefore the day of new creation. John has been piecing his gospel together in such a way that this day in chapter 20 is both first and eighth day. Baptismal fonts tend to be eight-sided as a reminder that you are being baptized into new creation. Baptism and Easter go hand in hand. File this bit of “Eighth Day theology” away because you’ll want to come back to it throughout your ministry.

Mary is the first to the tomb on this day and she sees the stone is rolled away. She fetches Peter and John who race to the tomb; John is faster! They both go in and see the tomb empty, the linens rolled up and the story says that John (the author) believed. They didn’t understand but he believed.

Meanwhile, Mary is still in the garden. She is weeping. Her Lord has been taken away. Two angels visit her and inquire about her crying and she tells them why. She turns and sees Jesus only she doesn’t see Jesus. Anecdotally, I proposed to Rebecca in Paris and did so by arriving unannounced. Rebecca was completely unaware that I was coming to Paris from Atlanta, GA. I stood against a light pole in Place Vendome and read a newspaper while Rebecca and her family made their way toward me. Rebecca looked up and saw me, only she did’t see me. She looked back down and then did a double take when it registered that I was right in front of her. I was out of place, out of context in Paris and she had no category for that. Mary sees Jesus but this is also out of place, out of context because he is supposed to be dead. Instead he is living, he is standing, he is breathing and he is calling to her. She needs a moment before she can realize what is happening.

I love what John does her: Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener. But isn’t he? I mean, the original vision in the Garden of Eden was for Adam and Eve to be the stewards of all creation and to care for the garden. Jesus is the Second Adam, the New Adam so isn’t it fitting that he is mistaken for being a gardener? He IS the gardener!

Jesus calls Mary by name and that is how he is revealed. She knows that voice, she knows that name, she knows the one who is speaking to her and so she turns to embrace him. Oh that we would embrace our Lord like that! Jesus commissions Mary to be the first bearer of Good News and to announce to his followers that he is alive.

Let’s think once more about being a witness. In 1st century Jerusalem it was unthinkable for a woman to be a witness. (If you believe any of the early beliefs that Mary was a harlot—and I am not endorsing those here—then you would have a doubly unfit witness). Jesus reveals himself as Risen Lord first to a woman and has her go and spread the news. The Good News of Jesus is ushered forth from Gethsemane by the wrong person because God’s kingdom is full of all the wrong people. What does she announce? “I have seen the Lord.” It is always simple with John. “Come and see.” “We would see Jesus.” “I have seen the Lord.” And yet, and yet, isn’t that just perfect: our rationalizations and mental constructions of evangelism and controlling the Spirit are nothing compared to the simplicity of Jesus’ call.

Liturgical Considerations

The principal service of Easter is at it’s absolute best when it is celebrated in conjunction with the great Easter Vigil on Saturday night. Look at the second collect; it references “this holy night” which only makes sense when you are saying/hearing that prayer during Vigil. It is one of the few Collects that takes anamnesis seriously and suggests that this holy night is actually the holy night. I a sense it transports believers to the Upper Room with the disciples who are in mourning and waiting only to be greeted by the Risen One.

The beauty of following the Light of Christ (Paschal Candle) into the sanctuary, of hearing the Exultet, of reading 10 lessons covering the salvation history of the Old Testament and in welcoming others into the baptismal covenant—meanwhile reaffirming your own faith—places a particular meaning on Easter that is lost without keeping Vigil. I’m sure it is far too late to consider keeping a Vigil this year but I would encourage you to do two things immediately: 1) set up a meeting with your worship arts team (or whomever is responsible for liturgical services in your church) during Eastertide and begin planning for Vigil 2016. 2) Find a local church that is offering a Vigil this year and join them. The historicity and beauty of this service is wonderful. Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Ill has a Vigil that is top-notch.

Don’t forget about those “Alleluias”! You have hopefully hidden the “alleluias” (unless your Orthodox) for all of Lent and are finally able to use them in their proper context: greeting our Risen and Living Lord.

Synthesis

What does all of this mean? It means that Jesus is risen from the dead! He has trampled down death by death and has returned to his followers; he does not return as a ghost but as the Risen Lord with a glorified body.

Resurrection was a widely held belief by Jews of the day but no one anticipated a resurrection before the Resurrection on the Last Day. Peter, John, Mary, etc. had no category for the beginning of new creation as seen in Jesus. But John believed and Mary announced.

The first day is the third day is the eighth day and it is the day on which Jesus begins putting the world to rights. New creation is being ushered in one bit at a time, awaiting the return of the King that all may be made new. This is the work to which you have been called: to witness, to announce, and to embody.

Peter witnessed the events of Jesus first hand and shared them with Cornelius’ household and countless others. Mary was the first to embrace the Risen Lord and she was sent away with a mission: to announce his resurrection. Are you about the work of building for God’s kingdom? Are you looking forward to the eschatological banquet by making Jesus known in the present? Remember, Easter and baptism go hand in hand. Baptism is not a silver spoon, it is an invitation into the very life of the triune God and it is an invitation to radical discipleship. Will you answer? Will you follow? Will you announce?

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: “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.