time to put on your sandals! (maundy thursday, year c)

Tomorrow is something more than April Fools’ Day, it’s Maundy Thursday.  In the Church year, this is the day we celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus before his arrest and executionWe gather in churches to hear scripture read — the story of the first Passover, the story of the first Eucharist, the story of Jesus washing the feet of his dearest friends — and to act these stories out for ourselves.

Maundy Thursday, by Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Maundy Thursday, by Catholic Church (England and Wales)

On Maundy Thursday, you will see the clergy kneel down to wash the feet of parishioners, and then someone else will start washing and someone else, and soon enough you have a whole bunch of people washing and being washed, serving one another as Jesus commanded us to.  Then we will gather at the altar — at God’s feasting table — and we will break bread and drink wine, just as Jesus did that night with his friends, and we will share in the great Feast that goes back to Jesus, back to Moses, and forward in time until the end of everything.

And once we’ve all feasted, all of the ornaments and decorations will be removed.  The altar will be laid bare, the beautifully sewn linens and embroidered cushions will be removed.  The candles will be snuffed.  Any reserved communion elements will be consumed, and even the presence light will be extinguished.  We will be sent forth from this place, into the world, to spread the word.  There is a God.  God loves you, perfectly and infinitely.  We all screw up, but it’s okay.  We have a place to go.  We have a home, where we’re always welcome.  If you want, I can show it to you.

In the reading from Exodus, as God gives instructions on how the Israelites can remain safe from the plague of death, God tells the people how to eat the sacrificed lamb:

Passover, by Lawrence OP
Passover, by Lawrence OP

This is how you shall eat it:
your loins girded,
your sandals on your feet,
and your staff in your hand;
and you shall eat it hurriedly.

This works for us when we take part in the Eucharist as well.  The thing is, the Church is one of the very few institutions in the world that does not exist for its members.  No, the Church exists for everyone outside its walls.  The mission given to us by Jesus is to tell everyone the Good NewsThere is a God, who loves you perfectly and infinitely.  We all screw up, but it’s okay, because we have a place to go.  We have a home, where everyone is always welcome; when we get there, we will be greeted with open arms.

We stop by the church on Sundays as if it were a waypoint on the journey, a place to stop for a little rest and a bite to eat before we get back on the road again.  While we’re there, we get to hear the stories of our tradition, and we get to play-act the most important ones, and we get to Feast at God’s table, on the bread and wine of Jesus’ body and blood.

This is how you shall eat it:
your loins girded,
your sandals on your feet,
and your staff in your hand;
and you shall eat it hurriedly.

And once we’ve had our meal, we are sent out, with the blessing of our priest.  Did you know that the word Mass comes from the dismissal at the very end of worship?  Calling Sunday worship Mass is a way to recognize that everything we do on a Sunday morning is our preparation to do Christ’s work, the real work we’ve been assigned, outside the safe doors of a church building.

Last Supper 1425 Trinity Cath Sergiev Posad, by Jim Forest
Last Supper 1425 Trinity Cath Sergiev Posad, by Jim Forest

When we read the stories of Jesus at his Last Supper with his friends, we can hear the undercurrent.  Jesus knows that this meal is traveling food, and that very soon, he’ll have to hit the road again.  But this time, he won’t have his friends around him; no, Jesus will be blazing a trail for us all to follow, but he has to do this first part alone.  So after the feast, Jesus stands up, girds his loins, puts on his sandals, takes up his staff, and moves on to the next part of his journey.

I hope you will be able to join a congregation in worship for Maundy Thursday.  Regardless, the next time you’re at church, as you join your fellow Christians at God’s Table, remember these commands that God gave to the Israelites.

This is how you shall eat it:
your loins girded,
your sandals on your feet,
and your staff in your hand;
and you shall eat it hurriedly.

And when you are blessed and dismissed, don’t forget about the Good News.

There is a God,
who loves you perfectly and infinitely.

We all screw up, but it’s okay,
because we have a place to go.

We have a home,
where everyone is always welcome.

When we get there,
we will be greeted with open arms.

Remember to share that Good News, as you continue on your journey.  It’s what we’re here for.  It’s what we go to church for.  It’s what Jesus wants for us all.

Last Supper, by The Truth About...
Last Supper, by The Truth About...
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