4/5/2012 Maundy Thursday sermon: What will complete your earthly life?

Location: St. Andrew’s Burke, VA
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Maundy Thursday

What will complete your earthly life?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that you had only 24 hours left to live? I checked the Web to see what people have to say about this, and discovered that there are 737 million posts on this subject. I sampled A FEW. What I discovered was that about half of these posts were made by people who would use their last 24 hours to “misbehave” (to describe their impulses mildly). The other half were posts by people who would use their remaining time to make their relationships right with others and with God. All of them, it seems, wanted to spend their last hours doing whatever they felt would complete their lives.

Tonight I wonder: What tasks would you need to do, if you knew that you had only 24 hours left to complete YOUR earthly life?

I had the privilege, some years ago, to regularly visit a woman who had already lived to be over 100 years old. This was a holy person, one who had lived a lifetime of love and service. And on each and every visit, this woman would ask me, at some point, why she was still here. And each and every time she would affirm her belief that she was still alive because there was some uncompleted task that God wanted her to do. And then she would wonder aloud why it was taking God so long to reveal that task to her. As it turns out, this woman had a broken family relationship to mend, a broken relationship that had been hiding in plain sight for several decades.

What tasks would you need to do, if you knew that you had only 24 hours left to complete YOUR earthly life? Jesus knew what he had left to do when he gathered with his friends in Jerusalem for what he knew would be his last meal. He knew that he had less than a day left. Mark’s gospel tells us that on their last journey to Jerusalem together Jesus had told his disciples not once, not twice, but three times, all that would happen to him in Jerusalem.[1]

Once his followers began to understand what Jesus was telling them, they were amazed and afraid, amazed that Jesus was fearlessly going to Jerusalem anyway, and afraid for their own safety.[2] And now, at sundown with less than a day remaining and with his friends gathered around him, Jesus did what HE had left to do: he shared himself in a way that would last forever. Our epistle reading tonight, which is taken from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, reports what is the earliest witness to the events of this last meal. We also heard about this event in our gospel lesson, but here is what Paul had to say about Jesus’ last meal with his disciples:

… the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Last Supper – Chartres Cathedral – stained glass window

We partake of Jesus’ body and blood often, as he invited us to do. What amazes me about Jesus’ actions that night is that he knew that every single one of those who were sharing that Passover meal with him would desert him the next day and leave him to die alone. But that wasn’t the worst of it. If Jesus’ disciples were organized like our parishes today, if his disciples were his “vestry,” so to speak, those whom he counted on the most did more than abandon him. Peter, his senior warden, would deny that he ever knew Jesus, and Judas Iscariot, his treasurer, sold him out for thirty pieces of silver. Abandoned, denied, betrayed. Jesus knew all of this about those with whom he shared his last meal, yet he still said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” GIVEN FOR YOU. In this way he didn’t just SAY grace for the meal, he offered himself AS GRACE to those who were about to disown him.

So this is how Jesus spent part of HIS last 24 hours of his earthly life. He told his friends that he loved them, he washed their feet, and he threw a goodbye party that they would use after he was gone to forgive themselves for their failure toward him. In Jesus, here was a man who knew how to claim life, and to finish his life to the very end in right-relationship with the whole world. Here is a man who lived life to the very end.

Of course, we know that Jesus was much more than a man, and that the events which would transpire within the next 24 hours were not the “very end.” Jesus’ work was not yet complete, EVEN when he died on the cross to offer forgiveness for you, and for me.

Tonight, as we come to Christ’s altar, we remember and re-enact his goodbye party, his last meal with his friends, the meal that lasts forever. And as we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, we know that he gives us the same grace and the same love that he offered to them. Jesus looks around the table tonight and he sees our sins. He sees:

  • our pride and our lack of self worth,
  • our egos and our false humility,
  • our lust for power and our greed,
  • our rage and our apathy,
  • our silence and our cacophony of noise,
  • our desire to hide from God and our desire to be God.

…………………… AND YET

  • Jesus forgives our defects of character and our sins,
  • our acts of CO-mission and our acts of O-mission ……………………
  • He offers us love and forgiveness
    in the very same way that he offered salvation to his friends.

I invite you to walk with Jesus during the last day of his life here on earth. You are here tonight, which is a very good start. …………………… Will you be with him tonight, in the garden of dark soul-searching despair? In THAT hour Jesus prayed for someone ELSE to be the sacrifice—for someone else to drink from the cup he was about to drink. His friends and followers were asleep. And when they DID wake up, they fled, most of them. Will you be with Christ Jesus tomorrow, at the cross—wherever you might find yourself then—when the whole world groans at his departure from the very world which he had created?

Because we know how the story turns out, we know that Jesus’ coming death on the cross was NOT the end. He had work yet to do before he physically left us, work to redeem us from sin ……

and to win victory over death itself. But because we know how the story turns out, we are tempted to gloss over these three days, to skip the dark parts of the Jesus story and go right to the Easter celebration. However, I invite you to reflect on the work that remained to be done by Jesus between his death and resurrection. And I invite you to let that reflection draw you into meditation about what you would need to do to complete your earthly life—your purpose in this life—for your life to be complete.

Tonight, though, we need to finish our goodbye meal with Jesus. We will share his body, given for you. We will share his blood, shed for you, all because he loves you. Take Him in remembrance of all that Jesus did—and does—and will do for us. Amen.


[1] Mark 8:31, 9:32-32, and 10:31-34

[2] Mark 10:32

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