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Maundy Thursday - April 20, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and John 13: 1-15
"I have received from the Lord that which I also delivered unto you that the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat: this is my Body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me." After the same manner He took the cup when He had supped, saying, "This cup is the New Testament in my blood. This, do ye, as often as ye drink it in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye show the Lord's death until He comes." 

My friends, it is a difficult thing to preach a sermon on Maundy Thursday. The reason is not that the festival is so empty of meaning, but just the opposite. This night is so fraught with meaning, with symbol. It is difficult for us to pick and choose something on which to fix our minds. There are so many signs and symbols, in the Scripture readings and in the liturgy. If you would remember the Gospel reading that I read to you a few moments ago about the washing of the disciples' feet, we can understand it on a variety of levels. 

First of all, it is a marvelous symbol of the simplicity and the humility by which Jesus our Lord would show His disciples how they were to act toward one another. "I have given you a sign," He said. "Do this as I have done to you." But there is something else here as well. That is, Jesus was doing something in symbol that He would do in reality the next day. To wash someone's feet was a slave's work, a servant's work. The next day, on Good Friday, He would be that servant, that suffering servant, that was spoken of so eloquently in the prophecies of Isaiah. He was the servant acting out in sign and symbol what He would do on the cross the next day as He dies a slave's death on that cross. He performed a servant's work on that night before in anticipation of His suffering and dying on the cross. 

That is why He was so harsh with Peter when Peter said, "You're not going to wash my feet". Jesus' response seemed so harsh and so abrupt, "If I don't wash your feet, you will have no part of me." "Well then, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well. Just give me a bath, because I want a part of you!" Jesus was saying, "If you do not embrace the idea that I am to suffer and die on a cross, you can have no part of me. It is essential that I do so; that you become immersed in my suffering and dying in order to be a part of me." That was the symbol of the foot washing, of the "Maundy" of this day. 

It is a night when we commemorate the greatest gift that God could give us apart from Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and that gift is the Holy Eucharist. That food for our bodies and our souls, which we receive so frequently, is given to us in order that we might partake in His passion, death and resurrection. When we eat a meal together there is a bond. Now there is a bond established between our God and ourselves. "One bread," says St. Paul, "Makes us one body in Christ." The Eucharist that we receive so frequently is not a private little activity between me and Jesus. It is the meal of the Church. It is the outward visible sign of the bond that exists between Christ and His Church, between God and His people. That is the Eucharist we share, as we share His body and blood. 

It is a night in which we commemorate the institution of the sacrament of Orders. It is a special night for priests around the world. It was this night that the sacrament was instituted by our Lord as He gave to His disciples the command, "Do this in memory of Me." Those disciples were made priests. It is because of what Jesus did at the Last Supper that I can stand before the altar of God in your name, on behalf of this community and celebrate the mystery of our redemption for you, together with you. What a marvelous night it is for all priests. 

As I said, the evening is so filled with sign and symbol. It is so difficult for us to embrace it all. That is why we should take the rest of the evening to meditate on it, to reflect on it before the Lord in the Sacrament at the Altar of Repose: to try to fathom in greater depth the mystery of God's love that we celebrate this night. 

The body and blood of the Lord, the Eucharist that we celebrate so often, is a gift of God. But it also necessary for our salvation that we become immersed in that sacrifice, that we offer ourselves through, with, and in Christ to our heavenly Father. As the Church we do that in the singular prayer that we call the Eucharist. This night as you hear the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, listen carefully to them. They are beautiful. These ancient words that we repeat, that we hear so frequently, sum up so well what we are about, what we are doing as a community of believers. As one people in Christ, we go to our Father to offer all that we have and all that we are; just as Christ offered all that He had and all that He is to His Father on the cross.

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Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.