Call to Worship
We have heard the saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’, and today we see this in reality as Jesus puts in place two ways to demonstrate his ongoing love for us: our call to service ad the Eucharist in which he feeds us with his very body and blood and is present with us. Let us come before him in worship and payer today open to hearing that call to love one another.
First Reading Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14
God commands Israel to celebrate the Passover supper, in remembrance of his saving power and to identify them as his people.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Paul records how Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in remembrance of his saving death.
Gospel John 13:1-17. 31b-35
At the Last Supper, Jesus also commanded his followers to serve one another lovingly, as he had loved them, to identify themselves as his disciples.
HOMILY “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
If the adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ is true, then never more is this the case than in tonight’s celebration in which Jesus shows just how much he loves us. I think that Maundy Thursday at St Mary’s is one of the most beautiful events of the liturgical year: the fusion of themes, servant ministry, love and sacrifice all bound together with a foretaste of the mystery to come that is the Cross. Our senses come alive with the sights of a meal, the actions of cleansing and the taste of new wine. Here Jesus doesn’t just teach but he demonstrates, for on Maundy Thursday actions speak louder than words. Our Lord teaches about love and then in loving action washes his disciples’ feet. He offers bread and wine but speaks of his body and blood, broken and shared.
The timing is full of significance with the Passover, when the forebears of Jesus, the Israelites were saved by God from death, and saved immediately after from slavery. The Passover marked their passage into life and freedom: the lambs being killed and the blood around the door frame to protect the first-born males; the unleavened bread to make sure it was ready to eat on their Exodus; standing up with walking sticks ready in their hands. Their senses heightened as they were chased by Pharaoh and his army. The remembrance of this happens every year at this time as the Jews remember and repeat it, over and over, to bring themselves close again to the truth that God liberates us from death to life and from slavery to freedom.
Jesus takes this commemoration for one nation and makes it about all people on this the last night of his freedom before his arrest, brutal trial and crucifixion. He breaks the bread and says those words which bring our hearts alive every time we gather in his name: “This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus links his own death to come with the meal in which he will be eternally present with those who follow him, just as he had already promised. He demonstrates in action that he is the Lamb of God, the sacrifice to come upon the cross.
Every time we gather for the Eucharist, Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, Mass or whatever we choose to call it, we open our senses to the very presence of Jesus who transcends all time in order that he may be with us and that we may partake of his sacrifice upon the cross for us. This action of Jesus in our hearts and lives is a sacrament, the outward visible action being the ordinary objects of bread and wine which signify an invisible spiritual reality that Jesus is present, just as he promised he would be. This is much more than words or simply remembering. This is a participation and holy.
After the supper, there was another action that radically changed our relationship with God. Again today our senses will be heightened as we re-enact the moment Jesus demonstrates loving service by wrapping a towel around his waist, taking a bowl of water (and perhaps some soap!) and washing the feet of his disciples. This action speaks much louder than words and shocked them to the core – Peter reacts with characteristic drama, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9). It was, well, embarrassing. It was topsy-turvy as Peter pointed out. It was unprecedented but it was love in action: Jesus showing God’s love for them in a way nobody could have anticipated and which gives us today a picture of servant leadership that no words can convey – unconfutable, yes, but vivid and dynamic, indeed revolutionary. And you know, the act of service flows in both directions for us here tonight: Whether washing or being washed, we need an attitude of humility and graciousness.
Many of us are happy, even keen to help and assist others. It can be fulfilling to support someone else in their time of need. But being supported, being on the receiving end, can be harder. Being content to receive takes a special grace and at some point in all our journeys we too will need the care of others. Service and sacrifice come together on Maundy Thursday and they point to the future and the work of disciples post the resurrection of Jesus. Service and sacrifice are our call today, love in action. And the context in the Gospel for these two extravagant teachings is John’s desire to convey a truth, that Jesus is fully aware that he is from God the Father, the new Adam, the Incarnation, and is now about to finish his work on earth with the ultimate act of servanthood, his own sacrifice upon the cross. Everything leads to the Cross and from the Cross everything changes. For this to make sense to his disciples, and to us today, he must leave them an example to follow and bring their senses alive with his presence among them, to be repeated every time bread is broken and wine shared to remember him.
Therefore we, his disciples today, are called to follow this example! We are called to live with senses alive, looking for the signs of his very presence among us as we are fed by him through his sacraments. Then, as agents of service, we are sent into the whole world to proclaim the Lord of life whose death upon the cross is only the beginning of a new relationship that is open to all people. Then, filled with confidence that we are called to serve and to love, others will be drawn into his very presence to worship here. It is happening already as more and more people are drawn to participate in the Eucharist here and to pray here and serve here. You see the adage is absolutely true: actions really do speak louder than words!