Maundy Thursday Sermon
April 9, 2020
Tonight we observe Maundy Thursday. Maundy from the Latin, mandatum, where we get our word, commandment. On this night, Jesus gives his last and greatest commandment to his disciples. “Love one another,” he says. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I have been thinking a lot about this commandment in the context of the global pandemic that we are living in.
I read in the Washington Post yesterday, an article about the encouraging news that in New York City, hospitalizations due to Covid 19 appear to be plateauing. Governor Cuomo warned Americans, however, not to let up on social distancing, saying that it was largely responsible for the improved outlook. “This is not an act of God we’re looking at,” Cuomo said. “It’s an act of what society actually does.” (Washington Post 4/8/20)
But I just have to say that while I respect Governor Cuomo and his efforts to protect the people of New York, I disagree that the slowing of new cases of coronavirus isn’t an act of God. I think he is correct that it’s an act of what society is doing. But it’s both. Because what individuals in society are doing right now, whether they consider themselves religious or not, is being true to this greatest of all commandments: that we love one another.
Staying home. Keeping our distance. Those are incredible acts of love because they save lives. And love is always an act of God.
Despite some pastors’ insistence that true Christians do not mind dying and therefore should not fear gathering at Church, staying away from our churches and other gathering places isn’t about fear. It’s about love.
It’s about answering that question that always draws us closer to the will of God: “What does love require?” Right now, love requires quarantine.
Jesus taught his disciples to ask that question, “What does love require?” And he taught them to follow his commandment to love one another by showing them his own great love. The most poignant example of this teaching is in the story where he kneels before his disciples and washes their feet. The teacher becomes the servant.
There’s a beautiful song that reflects this story of Jesus and one we often sing on this night, called “The Servant Song.”
Listen to the words and ponder them in light of this particular time in our lives.
Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant too
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are travellers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through
On this night, after the Last Supper, the disciples followed Jesus through the darkness to the Garden to pray. Only they kept falling asleep. Until the guards appeared to arrest Jesus and take him away. Then they scattered into that darkness, only Simon Peter following at a distance.
That was a dark night, and even the dawn of the next morning didn’t bring any reprieve. The next day, Jesus was led to his death. The disciples felt powerless. They felt despair.
Powerless and despair—those are feelings that are bubbling up for a lot of us right now. In our local school district, we just got the call today that kids won’t be going back before the fall. While I knew deep down that call was coming, it gave a definitiveness to the long-lasting effects of this that really hit me.
And while we know the biggest tragedy of this pandemic are the deaths of beloved people, it is not wrong for us to all feel a deep sadness at those experiences and milestones that we are losing. Proms, graduations, sports seasons. Weddings, birthday parties, funerals. Choirs on Easter, church Easter Egg Hunts, and big family gatherings for Easter Dinner.
These are losses that we will feel deeply.
So in the darkness that we will all experience as we walk through these days together, but apart, we will have to constantly ask, what does love require of us? And thinking about the words from the Servant Song, how might we hold out the Christ light for each other, in the nighttime of our fear? How might we hold each other’s hands, in spirit at least, and speak the peace we all long to hear?
Easter will come. It always does. But we should be attentive to the darkness as well. And be gentle with ourselves and each other as we move through these days. And continue to follow Jesus by loving one another, just as Jesus loves us. Amen.