Maundy Thursday April 18, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell


Exodus 12:1-14; Ps. 116:1-2,12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26;

John 13:1-17, 31b-35


Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Rev. Janet B. Campbell



On this holy night,

we begin a journey

that lasts three days.


The liturgy we have begun just now

will not end


we reach the dismissal

of Saturday night’s Easter Vigil.


We won’t be here together

all that time, of course,


we will

disperse and return,

disperse and return,


but what we have begun tonight

will continue in us

as these three holy days enfold us


at home,

at work, at school,

fasting and eating,

waking and sleeping . . .


. . . until all is accomplished . . .


. . . until tonight

we wash one another’s feet

and share Christ’s Body and Blood,

the bread broken

and the wine poured out . . .


Until all is accomplished . . .


. . . until tomorrow

we find our way to Good Friday’s cross . . .

empire’s instrument of torture and death,

means of Jesus’ self-offering

for the sake of the world,

sign of God’s ultimate power

out of death to bring new life . . .


Until all is accomplished . . .


. . . until Holy Saturday evening

we gather in eager expectation

around a new fire in the courtyard,

follow the great Paschal Candle into the church,

by its shared light tell ancient stories of our salvation,

proclaim the Lord’s resurrection,

celebrate with splashing waters

our baptismal renewal in him,

come to God’s table

for the Easter feast,

and finally, are sent out

for the Eastering of the world.



While much of that world

goes about its ordinary business

these three days,

Christians around the world

have stepped out of ordinary time

into sacred time


when the power of the events

of the last days of Jesus’ life

is present with and in us now


as we give ourselves over

to what God will do with us


in these Three Holy Days.



Two great gifts are generously

given us this night,

as Jesus first gave them

to his disciples

on the night before he died.


Knowledge of our place

and purpose in the world


all the courage and strength

we will ever need

to live accordingly.



A simple and practical gift: an example . . .


A multi-layered and mystical gift: a participation  . . .



“I have set you an example,”

Jesus said to his disciples

on his last night with them,

“that you also should do

what I have done to you . . .


If I, your Lord and Teacher,

have washed your feet,

you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”


In Jesus’ time,

sandals were the usual footwear

and feet were filthy with dust and dirt

and street-leavings of all kinds . . .


It was a messy and necessary job,

a servant’s job,

to wash the feet

of all entering the house.


No one wanted to recline at table

to dine

next to unwashed feet.



We’ve come here, shoes-on,

or, knowing of the foot-washing, sandals,

but this is the Pacific Northwest . . .

so most probably

sandals with socks . . .


Our feet don’t really need to be washed.


And, in anticipation of the foot-washing,

we may already have scrubbed them

within an inch of their lives . . .


I know someone who every year

even gets a pedicure . . .


God forbid anyone should see our feet

the way they really are,


or our lives . . . for that matter.


And here is the gift given.


Jesus, who knows his friends completely,

kneels at their feet,

takes their messy feet,

and their messy lives,

into his hands,


and washes away

the dirt and the hurt.


And bids us do the same.



In this strange action

that breaks untidily

into our usually orderly liturgy,


we follow Jesus’ example

of humility and servanthood . . .


We practice being servants

of one another . . .


Not to create a closed circle of service

within this place,


but so that we may remember that,

upon leaving here,

we are to be servants of all.


Not that we will go out into the world

with bucket, pitcher, bowl and towel . . .


but that we will go out

and with humility,


(which is the same size

as everybody else)


knowing our purpose

is to kneel at the feet of the world,

to take into our hands

the broken-ness,

the messiness,

the meanness, injustice, suffering,

and with God’s help

bring cleansing and healing.

The paradox,

as Jesus revealed to the reluctant Peter:

if we will not allow

ourselves to be served,

we will never know how

to serve.



The other gift so generously given us

this night:


the Mystical gift:


in the very life of Jesus,

and through him

in each others’ lives,

and the life of the world.


We commemorate tonight

that first night when,

breaking bread with his disciples,

sharing with them the cup of wine,

Jesus gave new meaning

to those actions:


“This is my body that is for you,”

he said over the loaf of bread,

“Do this in remembrance of me.”





“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,”

he said, offering them the common cup,

“Do this, as often as you drink it,

in remembrance of me.”


Not that we do this today

to reminisce about something

that happened once, long-ago

and is now nothing but

a communal memory . . .



that we do this today

(and as often as we do it)

to participate in the here and now

in the very death and the very life

of the one

who has given it,



in its meaning and power

ever present and active

in today’s communities

of his beloved disciples.


Bread to feed the hungry body:


Wine to gladden the heart:


Life emerging anew

from the natural cycles

of dying and rising . . .



Seed buried in the ground,

coaxed into growth by sun and rain,

green stalks of wheat,

ripening heads of grain,

to  be threshed out

on the threshing floor

and ground between stones

into flour,

moistened with honey

from the hive of generous bees,

then, in the heat of the oven,

baked into beautiful fragrant loaves . . .


whose beauty must be broken

to be shared.


Grapes fed into plump ripeness

by earth and rain and sun,

torn from the vine

to be crushed under foot

until they bleed their juice,

juice fermenting into ruby red liquid

of delightful taste and pleasure,


that must be poured out

to be consumed.




crushed on the cross,

body broken,

blood pouring out,

dying and falling to earth

that he might

rise to new life,

and that with him,

we might rise,

as we sing at Easter,

“like wheat that spring-eth green.”


The crucified and risen Jesus,

that Jesus:

present in the bread

we break,

present in the wine

we pour out,


giving the ripeness,

the fullness of himself

anew to his disciples

wherever and whenever

we gather for worship . . .


. . . that we might be participants

in his strength and courage,

in his humility and self-offering,

in his love and kindness,

in his very being . . .



that we might become

what we receive,

and be

strong and courageous disciples,

humble and self-offering servants,

loving and kind

in our very being . . .


This is the night,

dear friends,

of great thanksgiving

for these two great gifts . . .


which are really

two aspects of the one great gift,

the giving and receiving,

the receiving and giving,

of love.


the reciprocity of love

among God and God’s children.


Of these gifts, their beauty and their cost,

poet Malcolm Guite writes

“The heart is mourning but the spirit dances.”


Tonight, in this room,

“The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,

Here at the very centre of things,

Here at the meeting place of love and loss

We all foresee and see beyond the cross.”


 The Anointing at Bethany, Malcolm Guite,

in The Word in the Wilderness, p. 161,

Canterbury Press, Norwich, England

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