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.

The Eucharistic Life

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As I was preparing my sermon notes for the Third Sunday of Easter, I was struck by the Collect. It recounts how the Risen Lord revealed himself to his followers through the breaking of bread. Specifically, though not exclusively, this is a reference to Luke 24 when Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples, who did not recognize him until he took, blessed, broke and gave them bread. I think the revelation of Jesus through the breaking of bread and our weekly celebration of the Eucharist calls us to something great.

We are called to the Eucharistic Life.

New Testament Witness

Every biblical account of the Eucharist provides the same basic structure: bread was taken, thanks was given, the bread was broken and then given.

The Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) accounts of the Last Supper are similar, but John’s Gospel does not contain the Last Supper; instead John connects Jesus’ words of institution with the feeding of the 5,000. In this story he “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” Jesus then says, “I am the bread of life,” which Paul Bradshaw explains as a possible variation of “This is my body.” He writes, “Several scholars have already suggested that this latter statement is John’s version of the saying over the bread at the Last Supper.” (Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship, p. 4)

In 1 Corinthians 11 recounts Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper. Paul records that which had been handed down to him. Paul places the meal in the context of the crucifixion and resurrection: “On the night he was betrayed…Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…” This summary has provided the foundation for Eucharistic prayers since the time of the Didache and The Apostolic Tradition.

The same structure was recorded in Acts 27 when Paul celebrated the Eucharist as he was sailing to Rome as a prisoner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus instituted four key actions (and corresponding words) that have been modeled and replicated in Eucharistic offerings for 2,000 years. These four words form the foundation of the Eucharistic life.

The Eucharistic Life

If the Eucharist is both “the sacrament of the Kingdom” (Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 28) and the sacrament that constitutes the church, and if in the Eucharist the church is not doing church but is doing the world the way it was meant to be done (combination of Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh) then the Eucharist has meaning for the entirety of our lives. To live the Eucharistic life is to live a life that is taken, thanks-given, broken, and shared.

Taken

“Take my life and let it be,” O Lord! We offer our lives up unto the Lord that he might take them, consecrate them, and send us out with purpose. The act of offering is an act surrender and reverent submission to the triune God.

The Eucharistic life offers not just us but creation as well. Jesus took the bread and the wine, the most common food and drink in the world, and in so doing he celebrated the goodness of God’s creation. He did not comment about the nature or quality of the bread and wine, nor did he suggest that they were somehow bad because they were material. Instead he took the elements and transformed them in an act of oblation. “All things come of thee, O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” We are called to stewardship in God’s Kingdom as we recognize that God is the creator, sustainer and owner of all things.

Thanks-given

Eucharisteo means “the giving of thanks.” The Eucharistic life is one that recognizes the kindness and generosity of God in all things; it is a life that overflows with gratitude for God’s redeeming work throughout human history and above all in Jesus. In both the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Life we celebrate “the memorial of our redemption,” through our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Our very lives proclaim the grace of God which leads us to a lifestyle flavored with gratitude, thanksgiving, and adoration. May we be the kind of people for whom the Doxology is ever on our lips. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Broken

Brokenness always comes with a purpose. Christ was broken that we might share in his eternal life and kingdom. We are broken that Christ may live in us. The bread was broken and the wine poured out that all may share in the feast. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast.” Jesus taught that a kernel must fall to the ground and die that it may be opened up and give new life.

To be broken does not require tragedy or great loss—indeed I pray that you never have to suffer such sadness. Rather, to be broken is to daily die to self and to rise to life in Christ; it is to pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sinfulness and transform us daily into Christ’s likeness. It is to walk humbly before our God. It is to show the world that the only reason we can be an Easter people singing “Alleluia” is because we were first a Good Friday people shouting “Crucify him!” (Pope John Paul II)

Shared

When we live the Eucharistic Life, our desire to share the Good News flows from our gratitude. It is to be always pointing people back to the One who is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. We are distributed to the corners of the earth that others may, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are shared not for our own glory but for the glory of God and for the life of the world.

The Eucharistic life is not for the faint of heart. We go back to the Altar weekly to partake of Christ’s self-oblation that we might receive spiritual nourishment and encouragement for the pilgrimage that we might:

Serve them with the very substance of your life. Paint them a picture of the Kingdom, weave them a shawl of love, sing them a Psalm of praise, write them a sonnet of promise, play them a symphony of grace, build them homes of compassion, mold them a pot of mercy. Demonstrate the Resurrection to them with your words and your actions to tell them that He loves them.

The Rev. Canon Ellis E. Brust, Church of the Apostles, Kansas City

Jesus’ life was taken by God and consecrated. It was a life that constantly gave thanks to the Creator. It was a life broken by sin and the cross. It was a life shared with all that we might come to know God. The call of discipleship is the call to follow Him and live the Eucharistic Life.

Breaking Open A Different Kind of Bread – Notes for Easter 3

Sermon Notes – Easter 3 – Year B – Breaking Open A Different Kind Of Bread

Thesis

The Collect appointed for the day would fit nicely with the story of Jesus breaking bread with disciples on the Road to Emmaus, but unfortunately that is not the scene with which we’ve been presented. Instead we have Jesus eating in front of his disciples and then breaking open the Scriptures for them. Remember Jesus’ words while in the wilderness: “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Perhaps we can begin seeing the Scriptures as a form of heavenly manna that sustain us; perhaps we can allow Jesus to break open the Scriptures for us that we might understand him and the Story even more; and perhaps when the Scriptures are opened and we are feasting on the word we will be more able to feast on the Word of God weekly through Eucharist. 

Analysis 

Collect

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This Collect feels a bit out of place in Year B given the Gospel reading. It pairs up much better with the story of Jesus joining the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus when he is truly revealed in the breaking of bread. This reference has to be at the forefront of your mind as you write and preach, but you might want to avoid the desire to move from here to there. A reference here or there will be sufficient because to jump from one to the other would be to confuse the narrative. What really jumps out, then, from this Collect is that we need our eyes to be opened and we need to behold the Lord’s redeeming work. Preach on that. Let the Road to Emmaus come up next year, or the year after, and preach a beautiful sermon on the four-fold action of the Eucharist then.

First Lesson – Acts 3:12-19

I’ll be honest: this is a bizarre selection from the RCL. We are still moving in a non-linear fashion as we encounter Acts during Eastertide. Last week we were in chapter 4 and today we move back to chapter 3; both of these chapters take place after Pentecost and we are still 35 days away from that feast! What’s more, this lesson leaves out verses 1-11 and 20-26. It is not that this is a stand-alone pericope and the verses I’ve just mentioned are dispensable. Rather, the former provide the context and the latter provide further meaning and explanation from the lips of Peter. If you use this passage in your sermon you’ll have to help piece Humpty-Dumpty back together.

Verses 12-19 come on the heels of a healing miracle. Peter has healed a well-known lame man. This man was carried to the gate of the temple (the Beautiful Gate) so he could collect alms. Peter has no money to offer him. Instead he offers him healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. People see the healed beggar “walking and praising God” and they want to know more. This is the context of Peter’s homily about the person of Jesus. Without verses 1-11 our pericope doesn’t make sense.

Peter explains who this Jesus of Nazareth is. The crowd is beginning to attribute healing power to Peter and John but Peter wants to correct this immediately. The power doesn’t belong to him, it belongs to Jesus. Peter connects the dots between the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (recalling the mighty works of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness) and the Jesus whom they murdered (the Faithful Israelite). YHWH has glorified Jesus even though you killed him.

Peter holds nothing back in his message: “you killed the Author of Life and God raised him from the dead.” The Cross and Resurrection—again, see them as one—are the central event in Christianity; indeed they are the hinge upon which the history of the world turns. They killed Jesus but God had the last word: resurrection, new life, new creation…victory.

It is Jesus the Risen One who has made this man well. Not me. Not you. Jesus. I’m reminded of N. T. Wright’s strong urging in After You Believe when he states that we are to build for the kingdom. We cannot build the Kingdom just as a stonemason does not build the cathedral. The stonemason builds for the cathedral in whatever tiny way he or she is able; likewise, we don’t build the Kingdom—God does—we simply join God in his already active, always present work.

Peter’s last line (in this lesson) is scathing: “you acted in ignorance and so did your rulers.” But ignorance doesn’t get them off the hook. They still need to repent. They need to turn to God. And so do we. Faith in the Son of God means that we can no longer feign ignorance; it means that we are called to proclaim the works of God just as Peter did; it means that we are called to witness to what God has done in Christ.

Again and again in the book of Acts we see Peter (or others) encountering the powers, principalities or peoples of this world who are opposed to the Risen One and he does so with a proclamation that bears witness to who Jesus is and what he has done. Are we telling the story? Are we proclaiming truth? Are we witnessing to the works of the Almighty?

Psalm 4

This Psalm of praise and supplication is bookended with remarks about God’s sovereignty. It is particularly meaningful in the context of Easter 3 because it further demonstrates the call to place one’s trust in God. God is worthy of our trust. He has demonstrated time and time again that he is faithful, that he is active, and that he loves his creation.

Verse 2 strikes a discordant note with the rest of the Psalm. Here talk of idols and false worship sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of the living and active God of Israel. But isn’t that the point? How can one worship an idol when he has seen the lame healed, or the blind given sight, or the dead raised to life? How can idols compare to Almighty God? They cannot, but are we offering the world a picture of the triune God that is authentic and awful (in the truest, awe-inspiring sense) or are we giving the world a “Jesus-in-your-pocket” version of Christianity?

The Psalmist declares God to be “defender of my cause”; one who “does wonders”; one who “will hear me”; one who puts “gladness in my heart”; and one “who makes we dwell in safety.” That is a powerful picture compared to lifeless idols of wood, metal, money, or anything else that is not God.

Epistle – 1 John 3:1-7

We are children of God and are therefore somehow like God. Not perfectly and not completely this side of Glory, but we are still his children. Some day we will be more completely like him. Justification has happened—we have been made his children through adoption—but sanctification is ongoing and will only be completed through glorification. But let’s talk about sanctification.

As I mentioned last week, 1 John has been used to conjure up some interesting views of postbaptismal (or post-conversion) sin. Here we see John suggesting that no one who abides in him (Jesus) sins. This isn’t to suggest that we are sinless, for that is not possible, but to suggest that we are no longer slaves to sin and therefore we aren’t in sin they way we used to be.

We have to believe that in Christ we are new creations and the old has gone (1 Cor. 5:17). We have to believe that God has started a good work in us and will complete that work, but work is not yet completed. This is a prime example of the “already but not yet.” I have already been cleansed of my sins through the blood of Christ and the waters of baptism but I have not yet been sanctified and glorified to the point of being sinless and like Christ. Through the power of the Spirit I am to strive daily to be more like Christ but that is always an imperfect attempt. Rome wasn’t built in a day; it was built daily.

Please, please, please do not use this passage to suggest sinlessness. Take John at this word and understand that we are God’s children (and therefore co-inheritors) and that there is something started in us that will be completed later. We are to strive toward righteousness because Christ is righteous.

Gospel – Luke 24:36b-48

Here is where things get fun. The RCL cuts out the first half of verse 36 and therefore severs the tie between this passage and our Collect with the story along the road to Emmaus (don’t get me started on the RCL, it’s like Churchill’s famous description of democracy). Just to recap: Jesus is walking along to the road to Emmaus and meets up with two disciples. They do not recognize him and he asks them why they seem so gloomy. They go on to relate the events that have just (three days earlier) transpired in Jerusalem and about the death of Jesus. Jesus opens up the Scriptures to them and tells them all about what was prophesied and then was fulfilled. Finally he breaks bread with them by “taking, blessing, breaking and giving” and they recognize him as the Risen Lord.

Therefore, in Luke 24:36a the disciples who traveled with Jesus (unknowingly) along that road and then saw him revealed in the breaking of bread have now reached Jerusalem and are sharing the news with the disciples gathered. Without this piece of the puzzle we completely miss what is taking place. The disciples are heralds of the Risen Lord and are sharing this news with the rest. And then Jesus appears.

We know from the second half of verse 36 that others (companions) are gathered with the 11. Jesus appears and speaks, “Peace be with you.” This is not some quaint greeting, but rather it is the shalom of God speaking shalom over his people. Jesus is God’s peace and he gives it freely to his followers.

This recounting is contrasted with John’s account of Jesus’ appearing to the disciples because in John’s Gospel there is no need to see the hands and side until Thomas comes into the scene because he doubts. But here the disciples need to be calmed from fear and need to be shown that Jesus isn’t a ghost but is the Risen One. And yet it still isn’t enough. They have joy but they still have doubts and so Jesus asks for food to fully demonstrate that his risen body is real, is tangible, and yet is transformed.

After eating the bread he begins to open up the Scriptures to his followers. This is exactly like what he has just done for the two on the road to Emmaus. Jesus relates how he is the fulfillment of Moses (law), the prophets and the Psalms. Indeed he is the Faithful Israelite who has keep God’s covenant and is the Suffering Son of Man. The disciples can finally understand this reality in the fullest sense because they have experience and encountered the Resurrected One. Fr. John Behr of St. Vladimir’s has written an important book on this topic, Thy Mystery of Christ: Life in Death. Fr. Behr reminds the reader that we can only fully know Jesus as he is revealed after the resurrection.

Liturgical Considerations

There is nothing particularly special about Easter 3 in a liturgical sense, but I do think that this grouping of lessons provides a teachable moment for your parishes and congregations. Actually, isn’t that the point of Eastertide? We have a 50 day feast to celebrate with great joy that Jesus is risen. Then we will celebrate the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost: i.e. the ministry of the Holy Spirit. During Eastertide we learn at the feet of Jesus while he appeared to over 500 people.

Most liturgies, regardless of form, can be divided (some more nicely than others) into a “Liturgy of the Word” and a “Liturgy of the Table.” Now, some churches make the mistake (yes, I’m preaching now) of trying to highlight one over the other. This is a mistake because a) they are intimately connected in Christ and b) because to highlight one is to make the other seemingly deficient.

I believe that a proper liturgy is one that is doubly climactic. The sermon and the Eucharist are both considered high points in the liturgy and one cannot be understood without the other. For the sermon is the explication of the lessons and is fleshed out and applied most fully with the Eucharist; to have a sermon without the Eucharist is to have a feast of the mind without feasting on the Body and Blood of the Lord (that which gives true spiritual nourishment. Likewise, the Eucharist needs to be “set-up” and “prepared” by the lessons and sermon because the Word of God is known through the revelation of God’s word. To have the Eucharist without lessons and a sermon is to rob the Eucharist of it’s interpretive meaning and matrix. So, highlight both parts of the liturgy as being equally meaningful and necessary. Jesus broke open the Scriptures for his followers after he gave himself up to be broken. Jesus broke bread with his disciples in the Upper Room and gave us a meal to celebrate often in his remembrance. Teach on this if you can and I think you’ll provide a nice teaching point for your parishes.

If you are not part of a church that celebrates Communion on a regular basis then perhaps you can consider moving in that direction and use this week’s lessons as the catalyst for that. 

Synthesis

Pray that the Spirit would work through you and open up the minds of your listeners to understand the Scriptures.

Pray that many would heed the call to repent of their sins and amend their lives.

And pray that Jesus would be known throughout all generations to the ends of the earth.

The Collect reminds us that Jesus has been revealed in the breaking of bread. Jesus also reveals himself by breaking open the Scriptures (and our minds) that we might understand. The intersection of the Collect and lessons this week can be found here: we can encounter the Risen Lord in the bread and wine because he has been revealed in the Scriptures. We cannot, nor should we, separate word from table.

I want your “so what” to become a “now what?” The disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus, they received his peace, they touched his hands and side, they watched him eat, and then they learned from him. Now what? Well, Peter and John go forth and begin healing in Jesus’ name and proclaiming Jesus to all whom they meet. That’s a good application point!

Finally, may we cling to the Risen Lord and learn at his feet for the 50 days of Eastertide before we move into Ordinary Time and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. How can we fast when the bridegroom is with us? May we feast on his words and the divine Word!

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?