Harrowing Of Hell
April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2012

Preacher: The Reverend Kate Wesch

Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-171 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-7, 31b-35

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 friends 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.

There is a lot of action in this story. The verbs leap off the page as Jesus embodies his farewell. In a few short paragraphs, Jesus gets up, takes off, ties, pours, washes, wipes, comes, says, answers, washes some more, puts on, and returns.

Jesus was a smart guy; probably the smartest to ever live and his simple actions offer a glimpse – an insight really, into the profundity of his thinking and understanding. Jesus knew what it all meant.

Most importantly, Jesus knew that God had given all things into his hands. Jesus knew that he came from God and he knew that he would return to God.

Jesus knew that he was in the position to make the most important decision ever to be made when he allowed himself to be given over to death, even death on a cross. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s for us to contemplate tomorrow, on Good Friday.

Tonight, we remember the humble acts of profound hospitality that unfolded around the dinner table as a group of friends shared the Passover meal.

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.

He isn’t reversing the roles to prove a point. By washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus is destroying hierarchy in any shape, form, or fashion and saying, “This is it.” This life means loving one another as I have loved you. Forget the boundaries and the pleasantries, and the cultural expectations of “appropriate” relationships.Take care of each other when I’m gone, because I won’t be here forever.

Doesn’t this sound a bit familiar? When Jesus was at his friend Lazarus’ house for dinner, Mary laid the foundation for this night when she anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped his feet with her tears. Mary did that because she got it! She knew that status and cultural norms are constantly changing, while Jesus’ great commandment is everlasting. Mary set the stage for this moment with her own foot washing and anointing. Jesus echoes her bold actions when he too does the unexpected and forbidden. The master and teacher lowers himself to the floor and washes the feet of his disciples. Unspeakable.

It’s all about community, isn’t it? It’s about having someone to call on in times of stress or crisis or joy. It’s about surrounding yourself with the community of the faithful to know we don’t travel this journey alone.

We have to take care of one another and love one another because the world can be a scary place. With nuclear disasters, earthquakes, financial meltdowns, sickness, death, and instability, we need something to hold on to in the midst of the chaos.

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.