Maundy Thursday (March 24, 2016)

The people of Israel are dead. I mean, yeah, obviously they are doing stuff—working as slaves in Egypt—but they aren’t really alive. Pharaoh does not know Joseph. The Egyptians do not see human beings when they see Israelites; they see slaves, property. No one has an authentic human relationship with Israel. So yeah, Israel is dead. Not only does Israel lack authentic relationship with the world; they lack authentic relationship with God. What does God tell Moses from the burning bush? “I have seen the suffering and heard the cries of my people, and I have come down to rescue them.” For whatever reason, God’s been … “up” somewhere. For whatever reason, the people of Israel in Egypt do not have a relationship with God. They do not see God as a person worthy of their attention, or experience God seeing them as worthy of attention.

God offers Israel authentic relationship. There will be no more hearing cries from a distance or seeing suffering from God’s mountaintop perch. There will be no more toiling helplessly with no knowledge of God or hope of rescue. Israel and God will see each other face to face. Humans will see humans face to face. No longer will there be some who are owners and others who are property. No longer will the world not see some and some never see the world. All will see each other face to face, sons and daughters of Noah, children of Adam and Eve, brothers and sisters in God’s family. God offers Israel authentic relationship. God offers Israel life.

Passover is the meal that marks the start of the relationship. God instructs the people that this is not just that night’s menu; they shall celebrate it “throughout their generations as a perpetual ordinance.” Passover ritually enacts leaving behind a world in which we do not see each other face to face, and in which we do not see God face to face. Dress for leaving. Eat and drink like you are leaving. Clean up like you are leaving. You are leaving behind not treating your fellow humans as though they are fellow humans. You are leaving behind being treated like property. You are leaving behind the time when God was not staring you in the face. You are leaving behind death, and walking into life.

The Passover marked the foundation of God’s people Israel; these Great Three Days mark the God’s renewal of the world. Jesus—God himself—will die to the dead world and rise to the living world. Jesus will leave death behind and take up life. And as Jesus takes up life, he takes us along with him. For Three Days we watch and read, we follow Jesus as he dies and rises, and we die and rise with him, not reenacting some historical drama but enacting here and now God’s making life out of death, God’s offering of authentic relationship where there is none, God’s creating humanity.

We all see the lack of humanity around us. We see it in this presidential campaign. We see it in each party’s so-called debates in which the candidates simply yell at each other and interrupt each other (and the so-called moderators let it go because it gets good ratings and makes good stories). We see it in rallies in which a particular candidate urges his supporters to attack other people at the rally and offers to pay their legal fees if they get in trouble for attacking (as though their victims aren’t human), then withdraws his financial support for the attacker, as though that guy he egged on isn’t human either. We see it in political conversation on the left that largely takes the form of participants spamming each other with saucy or infuriating one liners and memes about their preferred candidate or how much the other candidate is horrible. People of God, we’re dead. We are dead. Oh, we’re alive. We’re going to jobs and making appointments and stuff, but we’re not really living. We’re not humans, and other people aren’t humans to us.

We’re not the first people to act this way, only the most recent. Saint Paul dealt with our sort at his church in Corinth. We read tonight from a portion of a letter he writes to them. His words of course describe the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He mentions this because he has learned from a church member that the Lord’s Supper at Corinth is, well, not the Lord’s Supper. It appears to be BYO, and some members are…bringing a lot of their own and not sharing with those who have nothing. These other members are dead. Oh, they come to worship and hear the scriptures and sing the songs, but they are not human. And, for that matter, neither are the drunk, sated worshippers human—they don’t interact with their brothers and sisters in Christ in any meaningful way. Paul tells them: if you’re not relating authentically to your brothers and sisters in Christ, then you aren’t relating authentically to Christ, either.

Christ offers face-to-face relationship. Heck, he demands it, getting up in the middle of dinner, putting on his bath-time clothes, and washing the feet of his disciples. When Peter tries to maintain a sense of order, Jesus flat out tells him: You either engage me face-to-face as a human being, or you don’t have a relationship with me. Plenty of Jesus’ contemporaries regard Jesus as nothing: Recall that creepy scene from Luke’s Passion when the mob brings Jesus before Herod, who wants Jesus to perform magic tricks for him. Peter, on the other hand, is afraid to let Jesus treat him as an equal because Peter affords Jesus such profound respect. Neither approach is authentic. In foot-washing, Jesus says, “I’m not too good for you, and I am not nobody. I am who I am.” That’s the name of God, too, by the way. Right? When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, and tells him to go to Egypt and offer the Israelites relationship with God, Moses says, “Um, folks are going to ask who sent me.” God identifies Godself as “I am who I am.” Philosophers and theologians and faithful people have debated for millennia what that means, and it means a lot, and tonight as God washes Peter’s feet it means, Please engage God as a human being, because God engages us as human beings.

God engages us as human beings every time we gather for this Supper as Paul describes it. Jesus sees each of us, neither as too good for him nor as unworthy of him, but rather as we who are who we are. And the One who is who He is says to us, “This is my body. Take and eat. This is my promise to treat you as a human being. Take and drink.” We were dead, and now are alive because Christ treats us as human beings. Christ treats you as a human being: Christ sees you as a person with concerns, problems, joys and frustrations. Your finances, class, color, religious background—these are not obstacles; Christ sees them as a part of who you are, things to be understood, parts of your life as a human being. Christ treats us as human beings. At holy communion, the person in line before you or behind you receives the same promise and the same treatment, the same body and blood of Christ, and the same commandment to love one another.

For God calls us to join in making life where there is death. We’re going to get a lot of death in the next couple of days, I’m not going to lie to you. These Three Days pull no punches when it comes to dying, but they end with a lot of rising. They end, Saturday night, with Jesus alive and roaming the garden. So when we hear, tomorrow, how Caiaphas the High Priest advised his people that it was better to have one person die for the people, God is saying to us: where do you see someone being scapegoated? Help those who scapegoat to see the humanity. When we hear the mob scream “Crucify him! Crucify him!” God is saying to us: where do you hear someone calling for blood? Have you actually listened to why they are so angry? When we hear the Leaders and Pilate raising the stakes as they argue over Jesus’ life, God is saying to us: Where do we see human lives being used in shouting matches and political games? Help those who posture and one-up each other to see the human beings they are hurting. And know that when you do this, it is as when on Saturday night you hear Mary Magdalene, at first unable to face the gardener but upon looking and listening realizing it is Jesus. When you do this, you make witnesses of the resurrection.