Harrowing Of Hell
March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday 2013

Preacher: The Rev Kate Wesch

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

On this one night of the year, we remember in our words and actions, a most dramatic and pivotal moment in scripture.  The night Jesus gathered at table with his disciples for a final meal and once again re-ordered the structures of power through simple, profound acts.

Jesus had already had a final meal with his beloved friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at their home in Bethany.  Now, he is saying goodbye to his disciples – the ones who have been with him every step of the way.  But, his goodbye isn’t trite or melodramatic; rather, it is deliberate and sacramental and comes from a place of deep and abiding love.

Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, a rabbi and teacher, a friend, is saying good bye through these simple (but revolutionary) acts of breaking bread and washing feet.

At Evening Prayer this past Monday, James Cowan preached about relationship.  The gospel text appointed for that day precedes this one by only a chapter and tells the story of Jesus’ final meal with his friends.  James pointed out the importance of this meal being shared with Jesus’ friends, not his family, not his disciples, but his friends.

In his homily, James said, “I wonder if Jesus learned something from Mary that evening. Only a few nights later, during another supper, Jesus will wash the feet of all his disciples.  Afterwards, he will say, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’

James continues, “To know these things is to know who you serve. To be blessed is to be a blessing, to set an example. Mary knew who she served and blessed Jesus by her example. Jesus knew who he served and blessed us, his disciples, by his example. We, here tonight, know who we serve; that’s why we are here walking this holy walk of Easter together.”  (paraphrased)

On this night, Jesus got up from the table.  He took off his robe.  He tied a towel around his waist. He poured water in a basin.  And he began to wash the disciples’ feet and wiped them with a towel.  He came to Simon Peter and they had a conversation about washing and bathing and betrayal.  Then, Jesus continued washing feet until they were all clean.  He put on his robe and returned to the table.

These actions are more than cleanliness, but something different than humility.

There is meaning in the foot washing that we want to make more complex than it actually is and yet its beauty is in its simplicity.  Jesus is leveling the playing field, taking power, authority, cultural norms and expectations and throwing them out the window.

With a towel around his waist, a basin and a pitcher of water in his hand, Jesus teaches us the meaning of grace and unconditional love.  On the floor with water and a towel, Jesus demonstrates radical grace and unconditional love.

Later this evening, we will hear the so-familiar words in the Eucharistic prayer, “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread.”

This night, on this night, he took bread, “and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me.”

In that upper room, Jesus spent his last precious moments, preparing us for what was to come.  Jesus knows he will die and so he leaves us with a communal sacrament to bind us for all time – the breaking of bread/his body, the Blood of the New Covenant, and the occasion to remember and proclaim his holy mysteries.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

This night is about so many things – overturning the structures of power, contradicting societal norms, breaking bread and sharing the cup, and finally…staying awake with Christ.

Before we leave this holy place, we prepare for tomorrow’s sadness – for Christ’s death and introspection of our heart’s deepest sorrows and longings.

Our worship space is stripped bare – an echo of our soul’s nakedness before God.  And there we sit, raw and vulnerable until the Lord’s resurrection. Stay awake this night and pray.  Stay awake in remembrance and participation.  Stay awake as you are – exposed and laid bare before God’s glory.

As we transition from words to actions, I would like to end with a poem by Jan Richardson that I have found to be deeply moving.  Close your eyes and listen:

Blessing for Holy Thursday

As if you could
stop this blessing
from washing
over you.

As if you could
turn it back,
could return it
from your body
to the bowl,
from the bowl
to the pitcher,
from the pitcher
to the hand
that set this blessing
on its way.

As if you could
change the course
by which this blessing

As if you could
control how it
pours over you,

yet startling
in the way
it matches the need
you did not know
you had.

As if you could
become undrenched.

As if you could
resist gathering it up
in your two hands
and letting your body
follow the arc
this blessing makes.