Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-24
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me."  

In the middle of evil

This Holy Week, we have witnessed the effect that evil has on our world as people with only evil intent, coldly and callously, destroyed and maimed their fellow human beings through these latest terror attacks in Europe.  It’s this same evil and callous, uncaring coldness that we see surrounding Jesus on this night so long ago.

As evil closes in around Jesus, the amazing thing is Jesus is not panicky or stressed or anxious.  Already the treachery and horror leading up to Good Friday have begun.  Jesus’ enemies are angry, mistaken and misinformed and have been trying to find a way to get rid of him as a trouble maker. 

After the raising of Lazarus from the dead and then Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus’ enemies were hungry for violence against Jesus.  They had death in their eyes.

They were delighted when one of Jesus’ inner circle agreed to sell information about Jesus’ whereabouts – but how hurt Jesus must have been as he looked at his disciples sitting at the table with him for their last meal knowing that one of them was a betrayer.   He had chosen these men to be his disciples and to learn from him how to serve and to teach about the kingdom of God and yet evil had taken over the heart of one of them and he was about to hand him over to his enemies.

As the meal progressed, there is a disturbing discussion among the disciples about who is the greatest and more important among them.  Hadn’t they been listening and observing Jesus at work these past 3 years – the greatest are those who are true servants of others?

Maybe Peter thinks he has some claim to being the greatest because he boldly claims that he is prepared to stand by Jesus even if it means going to prison or even dying with him.  But Jesus knows that even Peter is not immune to evil this night. 

Then the group leave the Upper Room and go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus invites his disciples to pray with him for a while.  He knows the day ahead will be harsh, cruel, barbaric, inhumane; he knows his disciples will be confused and terrified. 

To Jesus’ dismay, the disciples don’t pray – they fall asleep.  In his time of greatest need, Jesus felt abandoned by all humanity.  Even though he tried to wake them to pray, Jesus was alone in his moment of agony.  Not even his best mates were able to give him support and encouragement.

The betrayer soon came.  Jesus is arrested.  The disciples run and hide scared out of their wits.  Jesus faces evil men at a mock trial throughout the night. 

I’ve spent some time recalling these well-known events for a reason.  It’s clear that evil was having a field day.  Satan was doing his worst.  Jesus’ enemies and even his disciples had fallen into the hands of the evil one and all played their part in bringing about Jesus’ cruel death on the cross. 

As all this was unfolding I’m sure the disciples didn’t have any idea that they were Satan’s accomplices, yes partners with evil along with the rest of humanity, sending Jesus to the cross.  We are no different.  Mostly we don’t have any idea when wickedness takes control of us – until it’s too late.  We become accomplices with evil and are guilty of driving in the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.  

Jesus knew that when the disciples would later reflect on the events that led to his death, they would realise that they, the people who had been chosen by Jesus to be his closest disciples, had been collaborators with evil and had given in to Satan. 
The very people who Jesus had warned about Satan’s tricks and the power of evil;
the people who were part of his inner circle and had seen firsthand God’s plan of love unfolding;
they were the people who either actively or passively delivered him into the hands of his enemies and to so much cruelty and finally death on a cross.
They fell under the power of evil hook, line and sinker.

If you had been one of the twelve and had seen Jesus tortured, nailed to a cross and die, and had stood back and let it happen, how would you feel?  If you had been one of those who took his bloodied and battered body from the cross and carried it to the tomb, knowing that he had told you that this would happen, but did nothing to protest that this gentle young man had done nothing to deserve this and you let it happen, what thoughts would be going through your head? 

It’s no wonder they hid – they hid not just from fear, but shame, remorse, disgrace, regret, confusion – I say confusion meaning, “How did we let this happen?”

In the middle of all this evil and betrayal and denial and doing nothing, and letting evil people and Satan have their own way, there is an important gift that Jesus left his disciples.  It’s squeezed in between the evil scheming of the religious leaders and the deal made by Judas and Jesus’ arrest and the barbarism of the rest of that night and the next day. 

For a short time, in the middle of all this evil, there was a moment of calm and peace – all discussion and talk of betrayal or who was the more important stopped, and Jesus quietly spoke to his disciples.  He spoke words that could be reflected on and remembered when this whole ordeal would be over.  Jesus took some bread, broke it and gave it to them and said softly, “Take and eat it.  This is my body. Do this in memory of me.”  Then he took and cup of wine and said, “Drink this, all of you.  This is my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”

And for a moment, just a brief moment, they ate and drank, probably not quite sure what to make of Jesus’ words, but knowing that his words were words of love and comfort and forgiveness.

But this moment of reflection soon ends as evil breaks in again.  They are made aware that the betrayer is sitting at the table among them and the serenity of the moment is thrown into confusion as the disciples loudly question one another how this is possible and who this traitor might be.

In the bigger picture of the whole of the passion story, this quiet moment of Jesus eating and drinking at this last meal with his disciples reminding them that this is his body and blood given for their forgiveness of sins, is a few minutes and passes quickly, as evil seems to engulf that special time on all sides.  Nevertheless, it is a very important moment. 

But evil does not have the last say.  Jesus has won the victory over evil with his own body and blood given and poured out on the cross for us all.  As terrible as the disciples would have felt about their part in the death of Jesus by failing to live up to their conviction and commitment as disciples, they could remember that moment when he passed them bread and wine and said, “This is my body and blood given on the cross for your forgiveness”. 
All has been wiped clean. 
Their failure will not be held against them.
They had let down their Lord so badly, but his body and blood is a reminder that his love for them is so powerful that he gladly gave up everything for them.

It’s no different for us, Jesus’ disciples of the 21st century. 
We are surrounded by evil.
Our lives are filled with everything that is corrupt and we can’t help but be influenced by evil, and our thoughts, words and deeds reflect the evil that infiltrates into our lives.

We might have the same good intentions as Peter did and declare our loyalty and commitment to Jesus promising to make our lives reflect the love of Jesus in everything we do.  But regardless of our good intentions, evil still manages to side-track us and we go down paths that we know are not the paths God wants us to go.

Holy Communion has its setting in our world of conflicts, stains, shame and betrayal. Holy Communion is not found in antiseptic clean conditions.
Holy Communion is for those who live in an evil world and need God’s grace.
Holy Communion is for sinners who realise their need for forgiveness for the many times evil has taken control and they have betrayed their Lord.  Holy Communion is for those disciples who know they have messed up really badly –
they have considered greatness more important than serving;
they have thought little about the needs of others;
they have failed to love as Jesus has loved them;
they have considered that their ways, their opinions and their standing more important than anything else.

It’s just when the evil in our lives and its impact hits us that Jesus invites us to come and receive his body and blood in Holy Communion.  Here we are connected to the cross and reminded again that in the middle of evil, Jesus still loves us and still holds out his arms to embrace us as his children. 

We receive his body and blood assuring us that our relationship with him has not changed even though we have let evil take control of us over and over again.
We come to this meal trusting, that through it we have forgiveness and salvation.
We come to this meal and sinners are made saints.

When we are in a mess, like the disciples were, surrounded by evil;
feeling there is no way out, and Jesus cannot possibly love us any longer;
finding that we are in such a mess with our relationships,
with ourselves,
with God
and the future looks so bleak;
thinking that no-one can love anyone who is so messed up,
Jesus comes into every weak moment and every painful event and every sordid corner of our lives, holding out bread and wine, reminding us of his powerful love that led to his sacrifice for us, saying, “I love you so much.  This is my body ... This is my blood.  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sin”.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
24th March 2016
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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