Sermon for Maundy Thursday – Year A

Preached on 21 April 2011

Exodus 12.1-14
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
John 13.1-17, 31b-35

“And in the garden, secretly”

Ever since he was baptized by John and began his ministry of proclamation, healing and teaching Jesus has lived his life in the service of others and in the public eye.

He has rarely had time for himself except for those early hours of the day when he has sought privacy for prayer. Even then people would look for him and sometimes his close followers would come and interrupt him and urge him to join the gathering crowds.

Throughout Holy Week we have seen Jesus put under severe pressure on all sides. People still come to him for healing so that power continues to flow from him. He is still teaching day after day in the temple and facing confrontations with religious leaders who want to destroy him.

Knowing that time is running out Jesus also gives warnings about coming disaster and judgment.

Jerusalem is hot, dirty, noisy and crowded. And within its walls and frantic busy-ness Jesus is living out his last days on earth as God’s chosen one, Messiah.

And now, this evening, the pace slows down as we see Jesus in that upper room with just twelve others. It’s cooler, away from sunlight and constant noise.

Jesus is deeply concerned about his followers and the whole people of Israel who seem to be in two sorts of captivity. In terms of their nation’s life they are held captive under Roman rule. In terms of their spiritual lives they seem to be held captive under an out-dated, demanding and suffocating religion that has little to do with love, service and the freedom of intimacy with God.

This evening we re-tell and re-enact the things that Jesus said and did during what we now call “the last supper”.

As they would have done, we re-tell the story of the first Passover when God “passed over” his people in slavery in Egypt leaving them unharmed by the plague that swept through the land.

We re-tell Paul’s account of what he was told about that last supper Jesus shared with his disciples. And later, as commanded by Jesus himself and as Christians all over the world have done ever since, we remember him as we share bread and wine which God makes holy through his Spirit.

We re-tell and will shortly act out the way our Servant King kneels to wash our feet, making us clean before him. And we hear the great new commandment Jesus gives us – that we love one another as he has loved us.

That is to be the hallmark of our discipleship – love.

And then we follow Jesus into a garden of darkness, Gethsemane, in the cool of the evening. We watch his lonely struggle against who knows what temptations.

This man, so strong, so courageous, so committed and so compassionate this evening needs others to be strong and brave, dedicated and caring for him.

In the garden, secretly, alone, away from public gaze Jesus prays to his Father to save him from having to go through what is about to happen.

Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us about this secret struggle although in slightly different ways. But all three say that Jesus asks his disciples to remain with him, to watch and pray.

I wonder if this is the first time he has shown them his vulnerability, asking for help and support in such great distress. If so, it must be frightening for them.

They sense, from what’s been happening and what Jesus has been saying, that something earth-shattering is about to happen and they need him to be their leader, to make everything all right again, to make them feel safe and secure.

Yet here he is, clearly deeply distressed, even afraid himself. His sweat is like blood so great is his agony of mind.

And they let him down. They fall asleep. They leave him to face the demons on his own.

Tonight we are obeying the command of Jesus to remember and encounter him in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine.

As well as we are able and often unsuccessfully we try to obey his command to love and serve one another

Tonight let’s also do what he asked (not commanded), what he asked his friends to do for him: to remain near him, to watch and pray with him and for him.

Because maybe we can identify with something of what Jesus is going through:
The fear of the unknown as well as the known;
the waiting with all senses alert for change or warnings;
the quiet stillness around a loved one’s bed as the end draws near;
the numbing sense of disbelief and unreality that comes with tragedy and shock.
the times of remembering when the memories seem as fresh as the day they were formed;
the feeling of powerlessness and helplessness when our world is falling apart;
the times when just the presence of someone alongside us is enough to ease a little the feeling of absolute aloneness.
Maybe somehow, caught up in the mysteries of space and time, our loving and being with Jesus in the garden of darkness, Gethsemane, does actually make a difference to him. Luke talks about an angel from heaven strengthening Jesus. Maybe somehow our prayers can do that too.

Tonight, between us, we can do something for God by staying, watching and praying with his Son.

The Lord is my shepherd.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Amen.