1. Exodus 12, 1-8 and 11-14
- These are instructions for celebrating Passover, and Jewish families follow it faithfully. Many of those present tonight have taken part in a Seder. My
motivation for reading is more than historical and cultural, though.
- I am reading from an ancient liturgical document, the Torah. Our own Eucharist
descends directly from the Passover, and that is reason enough for me to attack the passage with enthusiasm.
- Whenever I have read it in the past, I remember especially the saving act of God that inspires Passover even today. God passed judgment on Egypt and its firstborn.
The Hebrew children – and we as well – are spared. So it is
a celebration of freedom.
- Many of these symbols are carried on into the saving action of Jesus: especially the lamb whose bones are not broken. I want to pay special attention to the lamb and the haste with which we eat.
- Climax: There is judgment passed on Egypt.
God has acted decisively for Israel and for us.
- Message for our assembly: The God of Israel is the God of all nations and our
God. God is behind this celebration, and God continues to save us today.
- I will challenge myself to breathe life into these instructions, and invite my
assembly to learn more about the Seder and the families who keep the observance in our city.
Perhaps they will learn the reasons why Christian authorities deliberately separated the date of observance of Easter
from that of Passover, and pray for an end to such separation and estrangement.
2. 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26
- Now it is time for the Christians to remember another saving act of God. Jesus gave the supreme example of delivering his life for us. And
he reminds us: Do this in memory of me.
- In the rest of chapter 11, Paul rebukes those who want to have their meals all to themselves, refusing
to share their abundance with the poor in their midst. So for Paul the important
phrase comes from the example of Jesus: my body given for you, my blood poured out
- Climax: Not the words of institution but the memory of what they signify: the death of the Lord until he comes. Sometimes we use these same
words during the Eucharistic prayer, though mainly we use a shorter version (Christ has died…).
- The message for our assembly: We are in fact doing this whether we are aware of it or not, in union
with the church throughout all times. This is what the church means when its
members eat and drink together. This is in large measure what makes us church. We should remind each other of this in the way we celebrate it.
- I will challenge myself: on this night which is so different from all nights, to bring out in my words Jesus’
act of giving his life for us that we should repeat in our lives.
Gospel. John 13, 1-15
- And now for the central action of the entire Supper of the Lord, as the evangelist John had it. Jesus becomes the servant of his disciples and washes their feet.
- Jesus crossed the line of the permissible in their eyes. His kind of master was too much of a shock. Only John narrates
this episode fully; Luke merely hints at it. Who knows how it really played out? Maybe there was no servant present to do the washing, maybe the disciples themselves
refused to do the honors (since they wanted to be the greatest). Maybe in such
a setting Jesus got up from the table and took off his outer garment and tied a towel
around his waist.
- What can I do to set this reading up adequately? There is an apparent
disconnect in the first verses, when Jesus knew that he was going to God and then
he started acting like a slave. My listeners may miss the point if I just read
one word after another: yes the divine Son, and then there he is on his knees, what next?
But both divinity and servitude are reconciled in Christ, as we profess in the church.
This is how God reveals himself to us, and we must not miss it! Both attributes
are integral to the love God has showed us in Jesus, and I will tie them together by pausing between them but not altering
the pitch of my voice.
- The rest of the narrative flows naturally. Of course the
disciples were shocked speechless by what he did and Peter protested against it. The
Jesus in my voice answers Peter just as categorically, like the teacher giving his final lesson (or final sign) and realizing
that they still do not catch on: you will have no part with me.
- At the end he asks them: Do you understand what I have done to you? How could they! They are utterly numb. I will speak each phrase deliberately
- Central point: I need to set up the act of service. Once Jesus has taken
on the dress of the slave and moves toward his disciples, the rest takes care of itself.
- Message for our assembly: We should hear the moral of the story just as the disciples did: You should wash each other’s feet. We will soon celebrate a
washing ritual and, even though not all of us take part in it visibly, we should be ready to serve each other, the least and
the greatest, in practical ways.
- I will challenge myself: to maintain the air of shock that surrounds the disciples, and to remind the church that we
need such strong reminders of our calling today.
- By the way, as a personal aside, because of this lesson of Jesus the servant I object most forcefully to using The
Passion of the Christ as a teaching tool in the church. There is no mention,
indeed no place in this privately conceived and executed film for the shock of the servant message, or for the idea that Jesus
has given anything to us at all in his passion and death. We are called to be
a servant church, not to gawk at him from a safe distance but to follow in his footsteps.