Maundy Thursday

Beloved of God, I join you this day, Maundy Thursday, with no elaborate service and no physical presence but still… all the same… with you.

This night that is different from all other nights is more different for us than I have ever known. But it is not unknown to the Great Cloud of Witnesses, who always surround us, and it is not unknown to Jesus, who promised to be with us always… always… to the end.

This is the night in which Jesus was betrayed. We hear that every week. Or at least, we did before a virus told us we could not let our hands touch, could not come close enough to see the unique brush marks of color in the iris of another’s eye as we passed peace between us, hear laughter and liturgy fill our little sanctuary.

And yet, this night still comes.

This night in which Jesus is betrayed comes without our help, without our taking our places in the pews. Jesus is still washing the feet of those who serve him while we remain at home, loving our neighbors from afar by washing our own hands over and over again.

The night in which Jesus makes a banquet of life out of so little and we fret over getting to the grocery store so we can eat with only those under our roof or eat alone. Again.

The night in which Jesus knows what will happen and how it will end and we continue to wander in this wilderness of curve flattening projections and climbing numbers of loss and grief with no knowledge or sight of the end.

The night in which Jesus is being betrayed into the hands of the Enemy while we know not what we are to do.

This night in which Jesus gave a new commandment, of loving a self-sacrificing love for one another, as we practice this love, even for strangers we will never know, by making masks or giving money or donating food or writing notes of encouragement or giving freely of whatever art or talent we may possess, but most of all not giving in to the need to gather and choosing aloneness this night and this week.

The remarkable life-changing… world-changing thing about our God is that it is when we are furthest away, God comes the closest to us. God does not hover above an altar in a building waiting for us to make our way there. The very hallmark of God, the lynchpin of the entire story of Jesus’ life, is that God comes down from the altar, from a high throne, from a heavenly realm, and crosses an unknowable number of obstacles to get to us.

The night in which he is betrayed is the night in which Jesus, knowing he did not have to kneel to anything in all creation, kneels down because that is where we are. That is where the lost, lonely, broken and afraid are. Jesus comes into our living rooms and kitchen tables and through our computer screens because that, for the moment, is where we must be. And because the truth is, Jesus is always in those places anyway.

Tonight, we move into the holiest part of the year and it may feel like we can do so little to make it truly special. And yet. There is that beautiful phrase that just keeps coming up with God. And yet, this holy week was never ours in the first place.

This is the night Jesus kneels down to us, right where we are, tells us that it is love he really wants us to know and give, and then he goes to do what we can never do.

Losing

Please join us for Ash Wednesday Worship with Holy Communion and the Imposition of Ashes at 6:30pm. Come early for soup supper at 5:30.

Here we begin our Lenten journey, the 40 days of preparation for Easter. It is the beginning of our journey to the cross. Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the coming of the wise men to see the new born king. Lent comes early this year and we are barely beyond the start of the new calendar before it is upon us.

ash

Ash Wednesday

Lent really is an odd season. I’ve heard some people compare it to off season training for an athletic sport. Like baseball players who go away to spring training to work on the fundamentals of the game, we take time during our Lenten spring training to work on the fundamentals of our faith; the skills of what it means to be a Christian. Many take Lent to be a somber, serious time intended for self-reflection, repentance and returning to God humbly to ask for forgiveness. Some fast during Lent and some add a practice like additional daily prayer or bible study. Some might perceive Lent as that time when we determine which addictions we may still have some sort of control over. And some Christian denominations find it too problematic and skip Lent altogether, opting to begin the celebration of the resurrection as early as possible, well before Easter Sunday actually arrives.

A friend of mine seriously questions the practice of giving up something for Lent and said, “I don’t get what fasting is going to do for you. God gave us good things! God does not want us to suffer and we can’t earn God’s love by doing anything like that, so what’s the point? Makes no sense to me!” Well, he has a point. No amount of sacrifice could ever earn us God’s love that is already freely given to us. So, what IS the point of Lent?

In many ways, Lent is about losing. I know that is not a popular idea; losing. We avoid it desperately. But Lent won’t let us forget it. The big symbol of the beginning of Lent is a cross made of ashes, an unmistakable image of loss. But it isn’t that we are supposed to make a sacrifice or perform an act to appease God during Lent. We cannot out-sacrifice God. Lent teaches us that regardless of what we lose, give up, or give away, God has given us all that we need. No matter how much of a loser we are, in God all our needs are fulfilled.

It seems like we panic when we think we can’t have something. It can sometimes even make us think that God wants to punish us when something is taken away. Our culture is very good at teaching us how to win, acquire, obtain, maintain, and horde, but not so good at teaching us how to lose graciously, how to give up, release, surrender, or grieve.

There has been much made over Cam Newton this week, the Carolina Panther’s quarterback, and his behavior at an interview just following the SuperBowl. So many people judging him as a poor sport for abruptly leaving a post game interview, calling him a pouting adolescent. Others pointing out the loud conversation going on behind him, which included the boasting words of a Broncos player, mitigated his behavior. Regardless of the hows and whys, Cam Newton had lost. A really big, really public loss, perhaps the most public of losses possible these days, and did not know what to do or how to escape this loss.

He has no doubt spent his career focusing on winning. Professional athletes do not get paid to lose, they get paid to win. That is really all there is. But he and his fellow celebrity athletes are not alone. We in this constant consumption, moderation-is-for-idiots, “winning”, desperately searching for a perfect hero to worship, shame driven American culture are just like this. Even if we have a stoic and less emotional response, most of us do not know how to stand in the presence of loss and still know it is well with our souls. Even though it is.

For most of us at best, the practice of being a good loser is nostalgic, a remnant of a bygone era and while we expect our heroes to know how to lose gracefully, the truth of it is that none of us know how to do it.* We don’t know how to do it because it is a practice and when we are faced with losing, the suffocating shame of losing, we too will do nearly everything to avoid it.

We blame others. We get angry; angry with them, angry with those people who did this to us, angry with God. We resist it. We fill the holes in our soul with anything we can to staunch the emotional bleeding, usually with things that make us feel like winners anyway, illusions that make us feel like we were wronged or new ways to win at any cost.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

………. the remainder of this sermon can be found here

OR join us for worship at 6:30pm Wednesday, February 10th.