Sermon Archives

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Maundy Thursday 2016
The Reverend Dr. Sam Portaro, Jr., Guest Preacher
Maundy Thursday

There's no eucharist in John’s gospel, no account of the type we know from the other evangelists. For John’s gospel the bread and wine are secondary to another image, the image of Jesus kneeling at the feet of the disciples, washing their feet.

Those who've wondered why have suggested that it may be because this gospel was written some fifty to sixty years into the church’s life. By that time even the Eucharist had been corrupted, various cliques and classes had developed within the church community, and competition was rapidly overtaking collegiality. It's both ironic and telling that the only obvious bread in John’s narrative is the sop offered Judas before he leaves to set the betrayal in motion. And far from the kind of warm unity one might romantically associate with a meal among friends, the bickering represented around the table in the upper room reflects the temper—and the tempers—of human realities and relationships.

Washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus adopts the posture of a servant. But he does more than that. He gives us an insight into what it means to be Lord of hosts. In the setting of this supper with the disciples, Jesus shows us what it means to be the consummate host.

Attending to the most basic task of hospitality, Jesus becomes the epitome of the hospitable host. He's also modeling a fundamental principle of leadership—that one should never ask anyone to do anything one is unwilling to do oneself. For that reason, on this occasion every year we set aside the various divisions of rank, office, and convention for this act of simple work, to wash and be washed.

The image is as important today as it was in that original setting. We all need to be reminded that this is what our ministries—and our lives—are about. The image of the host is the antidote to our own abuses of the Eucharist and the baptismal life it celebrates: our tendency to see this table as ours and not God’s; our tendency to confine this meal and its nurture to our narrow circle; our tendency to eat and run. The image of the host is the antidote to the inequalities we foster among us: the distinctions of lay and ordained, male and female, old and young, and the myriad distinctions we impose to set ourselves apart, to distinguish between those who are washers and those who are the washed.

The image of the host is the antidote to the competition that drives every aspect of our lives, even to the most intimate personal self-assessment, that damningly nagging tendency we have always to compare ourselves and our situation to the status of the other, a practice that invariably ends either in smugness or pity, neither of which extreme is life-giving.

The host is the icon of ministry. For there’s nothing more to ministry than welcoming the other and the care that invitation entails. Therefore, sisters and brothers, we worship and proclaim Jesus, Lord of hosts as we serve one another with basin and towel.