Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Welcome to these Three Days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We call them the Triduum or the Great Three Days, or even Holy Week, if you include the first half of the week. And even though we call them the Three Days, we celebrate them at night, as the world goes dark, when normally we would be finishing supper or doing the dishes, shedding the day that has gone and shouldering the day to come. If we choose to mark the time with feasts and fasts, these days are the most important, even if their economic impact cannot save the economy, as the Christmas holidays do. No, we celebrate tonight the salvation of something much more important than the economy. We celebrate the salvation of human beings, and this entire creation, salvation in all its wonder, from death, and for the glory of God. So welcome to this week, to these nights, to this glory of God. These are the days in which we turn our gaze, as we whirl in the orbit of our lives, to the still point of the cross and the empty tomb.
Jesus talks a lot about glory tonight. He says it just after he washes his disciples’ feet, as if he were their servant. Actually, he says it immediately after Judas leaves the room to go and betray him. “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him,” Jesus says. Strange glory to call betrayal and the washing of your followers’ feet as glory, and yet that is what Jesus says. It is strange to believe that God is glorified in this man who becomes a servant to his followers. Followers are supposed to serve. And yet Jesus, continually and always, does not pull rank on anyone, but rather stoops and, to use an old word in its old sense, condescends: he comes to down to be with us. And as he washes his disciples’ feet and serves them a meal. If God’s glory is to serve—well, Jesus says, who are you to lord it over someone else? And yet it seems to be the glory of God to be present with the people, and not only to be present to serve, to feed, to love.
I don’t know about the past two millennia, but I think we are again entering a time when the strange glory we hear and proclaim in this church will seem stranger and stranger to the outside. I hope, at any rate, that it will continue to seem strange. It was a strange company in its beginning. Before any of the Gospels were written, the Apostle Paul was trying to explain to the earliest Christians what it meant to come together. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, for example, Paul is exasperated that during the Lord’s Supper, some are full while others are drunk. Some were rich, you see, some were poor. And when they came together for the Lord’s Supper they didn’t really know what they were doing. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we partake of the one bread,” he says. Jesus is present with us at the breaking of the bread we share at this table. And tonight, we remember that his presence was for us: “For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Why does he say that? Why the Lord’s death? Because in the cross of shame, the glory of God was revealed. In John, Jesus changed water to wine, fed hungry crowds, gave sight to a blind man, raised a dead man from the dead—but it was his death that showed him for who he was. He was the one who came into the world and died for it. At this table tonight we remember his death, and that by his death he trampled down death, and that even now he lives. And that he is here with us we remember his death and wash one another’s feet.
In this world of death, we often cannot see what is before us: the strange glory of God. But in this meal and in our mutual service, our eyes slowly adjust to the light. We are given new sight and new things to see. That is what we do when we enter these three days. We look again at the mystery of the God who died, and who yet lives, and with new eyes, we begin to see him at work in us. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack