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Wash feet... break bread... pour wine... remember

Sermon by Rev. Joel Crouse

Maundy Thursday

March 28, 2024

John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

587 years before the birth of Christ, the Babylonian army converged upon Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the city. One eye witness to this dreadful event set down his feelings and reflections in a poem. In what we now call the Old Testament book of Lamentations, he not only expresses the pain of defeat and destruction, but also the hurt of the indifference of the people who passed by the smoldering ruins of that once great holy city. He laments the apathy of those who travel by without the slightest effort to offer a hand to help.

Jump ahead some 600 years. The scene is again Jerusalem, just outside the city wall. A man in his early 30s is cruelly nailed to a cross. With every swing of the hammer, the nails puncture his hands and feet. His body is wracked with pain. A crown of thorns cuts into his skull. The full weight of his body yanks at his wounds. Instead of water to quench his thirst, they trick him with vinegar. Instead of comfort, they cry in derision. Instead of walking by in holy awe, they strut by doing nothing.

Now jump ahead 30 more years. The scene is again Jerusalem and Emperor Nero has declared that every Christ-follower will die. Some are used as toys for the emperor’s amusement and torn apart by wild animals. Others are burned alive and used as human torches to light the streets and remind the people what happens to Christians under Roman rule. Some passed by at a distance, no doubt to avoid the sight and smell of the burning human flesh. Others forced themselves to tolerate the sight so that they were not suspected as followers.

One last jump to the present day. The scene is the roof of the Christian holy site known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From it you can see the sacred Wailing Wall of the Jewish people and the Dome of the Rock so precious to the people of Islam. All three sites are inside the old city walls of Jerusalem. In the not-so-far distance you can see the smoke rising from the war in Gaza, the desolation of homes and gardens, the devastation of families, the brokenness of place never at peace with its mutual existence. Over 1,400 Israelis murdered. More than 30,000 Palestinians wiped out. Almost 100 journalists, and 150 aid workers killed. The world stands by while things are getting worse, not better.

The cries of indifference and apathy are heard not only in Jerusalem. We hear the cries, too. From the people of countless other nations where unrest grows into chaos. From the people living on our streets, crowding our prisons, weeping at grave sides in our cemeteries. The sights and sounds of human suffering surround us at every corner in our life. And the victims cry out and we stand by.

Our very gathering this night is deeply embedded in history. It is the night of the Passover meal remembering God’s mighty act of the deliverance of God’s people from being enslaved by the Egyptians. The history of the Jewish people means something to us. It is part of our story. But of much more importance to us is the second scene from Jerusalem. We gather to wash feet, break bread, and pour out wine in remembrance of the One who served, suffered, and died upon the cross. It is something for us because we know when and where we too have been bystanders. On this night we are forced to stop in this upper room. We cannot simply pass by the cross because we know what it really means. While others will be opening up the cottage, going to hockey games and doing Spring cleaning this weekend, we might want to stand in judgement. That is not what Jesus asks us to do. Jesus asks only that we look at our own lives. May God give us the grace to look upon the sacred Head now wounded and rejoice in calling Christ ours. Christ is not just some nice guy. Christ is among us as one who serves.

And if the thorn-crowned Christ is among us as one who serves, then the modern-day scene from Jerusalem and all the scenes of human pain and suffering have to mean something to us. We will never stop all the suffering in the world. But we can tell people living in the middle of it, that there is hope. That God is raising Jesus from the dead, and this is not a one-time event. God continues to do this each and every day through those people who have the courage to believe it. That is what Jesus tried to teach those first followers on this very night long ago, with the act of washing their feet and sharing a meal. We are invited to meet suffering and pain with the hand of comfort and help and hope.

The cries of indifference and apathy do mean something to us. The destruction of Jerusalem, the crucifixion of Jesus outside the city wall, the persecution of Christians, and the pain and suffering in the world around us remind us to love one another as Christ has loved us.


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