Maundy Thursday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 13, 2017 (Maundy Thursday)

If I had to title my sermons, and I’m always so thankful this is not a practice in the Episcopal Church, this one would be called, “God loves us, warts and all. No, literally.” Because when it comes to Maundy Thursday, the focus is so often on our feet. And that’s not necessarily something we’re comfortable with. Yet God does indeed love us warts, callouses, blisters, corns, hang nails, and all.

That’s what Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper reminds us of in a verywashing-feet-web tangible way. Now, it would be easy enough to just leave the act of foot washing in the realm of the theoretical or the spiritual. After all, this story is really about love, not clean feet. But tonight we are actually going to wash one another’s feet. Why? Because Jesus is pretty clear when he says, “just as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

I realize this isn’t a natural act. Taking off your shoes in a public place other than the beach or a pool can make us supremely uncomfortable. It breaks all our cultural norms and notions of social decorum. And there’s a vulnerability inherent in submitting to such an intimate act with someone you may hardly even know.

But we’re not alone in this discomfort. The foot washing that took place on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion also violated societal norms and pushed against the disciples’ very notion of propriety. Though for slightly different reasons. It was customary for feet to be washed when entering someone’s home. Wearing sandals and living in a hot, sweaty, sandy climate made this a practical gesture of hospitality. So it wasn’t that the disciples were shy about the act of having their feet washed. Rather, their discomfort stemmed from who was washing their feet. This was something done by a servant, not a master. And in their teacher-student relationship with Jesus, one who had been further identified as their “lord,” they should have been the ones washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. And so the gesture was seen as wildly unconventional and even offensive.

There’s a reason Peter so strongly resists when Jesus bends to wash his feet. He’s shocked and perhaps even embarrassed for the one he’s identified as the “anointed one of God.” It’s beneath the dignity of so lofty a figure. Peter cries out, ‘You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus encourages him saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” And Peter consents.

This very much reminds me of the encounter with John the Baptist when Jesus shows up at the Jordan River and asks John to baptize him. John basically says, “What are you nuts? You’ve come here to be baptized by me, but you’re the one who should be baptizing me!” But Jesus encourages him saying that it is proper in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” And John consents.

And so from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we see him overturning conventional wisdom and flipping cultural norms. And in both cases he uses water — the most basic element on the planet, a symbol of purity and new life — to make his broader point.

Jesus often does things that push against our natural inclinations. Love tends to bring us into such places. And for us, that’s what the foot washing represents. Following Jesus is not always comfortable. And this evening we encounter that face-to-face.

In a few moments we will invite you to come forward and have your feet washed and then stay and wash the feet of the next person in line. Some of you will choose to stay safely in your pews, with your laces doubled-knotted. And I understand that. No one is compelled to participate. It personally took me years of attending Maundy Thursday services before I mustered the courage to take off my shoes and join in. I still remember walking down the cold, stone floor at my home parish in Baltimore feeling quite awkward and out of place. But finally doing so unlocked such trust and evoked a letting go of control that served me well throughout a moving Holy Week experience. And I do wish for you the same this evening and throughout the next few days. Even if, or especially if, it takes you way out of your comfort zone.

So, will you do as Jesus commanded and allow your feet to be washed? Will you embody Jesus’ call to love one another as he loved us and wash another’s feet? That’s the invitation of this night.

And while foot washing may be optional, remember that in the Christian faith, love is not optional. Jesus gives us a new commandment to love one another as he himself loved us. A commandment to love, not a suggestion to love. And there’s a difference. The very word “commandment” is so identified with the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments. How audacious, then, for Jesus to present a new commandment.

But the foot washing, the institution of the eucharist, the entire Last Supper is all about lovingly doing this “in remembrance of me.” It is rooted in love. May this night be an entrance into the ever-unfolding drama of God’s love for you — warts and all.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

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Maundy Thursday 2015

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 5, 2012 (Maundy Thursday)

Tonight we begin a journey. Over the next three days, the Three Great Days, as they are often called, we’ll move from Lent to Easter, from darkness to light, from death to resurrection. We’ll walk with Jesus and his disciples through the last days of his life. We’ll travel to the Upper Room for the Last Supper and foot washing; we’ll enter the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray; we’ll meet the one who will betray Jesus; we’ll witness the indignity of Jesus’ trial; we’ll come face-to-face with the agony of the crucifixion as we move to the Foot of the Cross; we’ll gather with the women at the empty tomb to encounter the risen Christ.

And as we begin this journey, it’s important to recognize that we don’t just gather to remember long ago events. This isn’t a dramatic but ultimately benign bedtime story. We’re not passive onlookers standing by to watch the drama unfold before our eyes.

Nor are these three days a re-enactment of past events. We’re not play-acting or role-playing or merely pretending that we’re part of the action. The altar is not a stage; the congregation is not the audience. This isn’t stage left or stage right. We don’t dim the lights to call us back from intermission after the Peace.

Rather it is a journey into the very heart of the salvation story. A story that forms our identity as Christians. A story that is our story. So we’re not just hearing about dramatic events that took place a couple thousand years ago or observing them from a safe distance. As believers, we are deeply embedded in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are part of the story. Which is precisely why we are all here this evening and it’s why we will gather over the next several evenings.

It’s helpful to think about the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter as one liturgy in three movements. To miss any of them is like missing one act of a three-act play. But when you go “all in” and commit to the fullness of the story, you come out the other side both spiritually renewed and spiritually transformed. That, at least, I can guarantee.

Meister_des_Hausbuches_003You may know that the word “maundy,” from which derives the name “Maundy Thursday,” comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment. It’s where we get the English word “mandate.” And we call this day Maundy Thursday because Jesus gives us a new commandment: That we love one another as Jesus loves us. Or as he put it after washing the disciples feet, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That’s quite a charge and it’s significant that Jesus calls this a “commandment.” This was a word dripping with meaning for the disciples — the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Law of Moses. So the fact that Jesus points to the call to love one another as an imperative command highlights its importance. Maundy Thursday could just as easily be called “New Commandment Thursday.” Because, for Jesus, love is not optional. This isn’t Suggestion Thursday; it’s New Commandment Thursday and that commandment is abundantly clear: “love one another as I have loved you.”

Love is the central theme that we will carry along on our journey over the next three days. And I encourage you to hold on to this commandment in your heart. Refer to it often as you reflect on the events that unfold. Think about how Jesus loves us unconditionally despite what he endures; view the crucifixion itself as the ultimate act of love that it is. Look at the ways in which the participants in this story live up to the command to love, and the ways in which they fall short. And examine your own life under the same light.

The thing about the foot washing that is so powerful is that Jesus doesn’t just talk abstractly about love. He doesn’t write a position paper on the concept or merely pay it lip service. When Jesus stands up in the middle of the meal, strips off his outer robe, wraps a towel around his waist, takes that pitcher of water in his hand, and bends over to wash the feet of his disciples, his actions become the ultimate example of someone practicing what he preaches. He doesn’t just talk about loving one another, he embodies it — through the foot washing tonight and, soon enough, on the cross.

But there is resistance to this outpouring of love. Peter reacts strongly against what Jesus is doing for several reasons. First, such a ritual washing as a sign of hospitality would have taken place before the meal. Jesus standing up in the middle of the meal to wash the disciples’ feet was out of order. So right from the start there was something not quite right about this; something that stood out as not being “by the book.”

Of greater significance and what made this even more uncomfortable and distasteful for the disciples, was the fact that masters or teachers never washed the feet of those below them in the social order. They were the ones who had their feet washed by servants or students — not the other way around. So there was a complete role reversal going on that bucked all social norms and conventions. By radically overturning the way things were always done, Jesus’ actions highlight that this was indeed a very new and slightly uncomfortable commandment.

In a few moments we, too, will wash one another’s feet in a tangible sign of the mandatum to love one another. And whether you choose to participate or simply observe, the message is the same: we serve one another as Christ himself serves us; we love one another as Christ himself loves us. The foot washing is Jesus’ gift to his disciples, just as the giving of his life will be a gift to the entire world.

So while the foot washing at this service is optional, the commandment to love one another is not. “Love one another as I have loved you.” May this new commandment, remain with you this night and throughout our journey to the cross and beyond.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Maundy Thursday 2010

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 1, 2010 (Maundy Thursday)

The whole notion can make us cringe. Having our feet washed or washing someone else’s feet is not a natural act. It involves a level of intimacy that takes us out of our comfort zones. It’s embarrassing, it’s awkward, it’s humbling, it makes us feel vulnerable. No self-respecting person talks about feet in public. Expensive running shoes perhaps. Designer pumps maybe. Pedicures I guess. But not feet. Unless we’re at the beach or the podiatrist we tend to cover them up. 

But of course Maundy Thursday isn’t just about feet. The reason we’re even discussing feet during this most holy time of the Christian year is because Jesus’ actions in the Upper Room demand that we do. He doesn’t wash the disciples’ feet simply because they need cleaning. It is an act that highlights his abundant love for them. The foot washing drew the disciples into a greater level of intimacy with their Lord. And in the process it flips the whole order of the universe upside down. Masters do not humble themselves before their servants; kings do not bow down before their subjects.

And Peter’s initial reaction is the human response to such a dramatic upheaval of expectations. “You will never wash my feet!” he proclaims. Peter is horrified by the very idea that Jesus would stoop down to wash his feet.

As the central moments of the Christian year begin this evening it’s important to remember that we are not just observers here. You and are drawn into each step of this journey. Tonight we too sit in the Upper Room. Not because we’re play-acting but because Jesus himself invites our participation. His story is our story; his pain is our pain; his triumph is our triumph.

On this night, in the final hours among his disciples, Jesus issues them and us a new commandment. He says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” So this foot washing isn’t just something that Jesus did for the disciples, it is something that we must do for one another. The physical washing of one another’s feet is a symbol of our love for one another as fellow children of God. Just as we are asked to bear one another’s burdens, we are asked to wash one another’s feet. And when we do so, our level of intimacy and connection with each other rises dramatically. Through it we are able to embody the call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Not superficially but in a way that acknowledges the brokenness of the human condition. 

Let’s face it, no one has perfect feet. There are calluses and ingrown toenails; one toe is too long or there might be a blister. Feet show the physical wear and tear of our lives. In their own way, our feet tell the story of where we’ve been; they have been our constant companions throughout our lives – through joy and sorrow, elation and grief. The good news is that Jesus loves us, quite literally, warts and all. And he bids us to do the same for one another.

Now I know that not everyone here tonight will come up to have their feet washed. And that’s okay. I remember the first time I went up to have my feet washed during a Maundy Thursday service. It was nearly twenty years ago but I’d been avoiding it for years. I wanted to have my feet washed, at least in theory. I wanted to experience what the disciples felt that night in the Upper Room – that sense of intimacy and reverence. I wanted to be drawn closer to Jesus through the experience. But my own comfort level kept me from it. Each year I’d get closer but then shy away at the last moment. And believe me, I had all sorts of good excuses. It somehow seemed un-church like; I couldn’t imagine taking my shoes off in church; what if I had a hole in my sock? What if my feet smelled? What if they were sweaty or too cold? Maybe the foot washing wasn’t meant to be taken literally; maybe it was meant only for the more demonstrative Christians. Couldn’t I experience this spiritually rather than physically? It’s so public. Maybe it’s just not meant for the shy or the introverted or the self-conscious. I don’t remember doing this when I was a kid. What about all the people who don’t even come to church on Maundy Thursday? At least I’m here. Some of you may be having similar thoughts.

But then one year I ran out of excuses. So slowly, against my better judgment, I removed my shoes. Then my socks. Then I found myself walking toward the foot washing station. I don’t remember much about the whole experience except that the floor was cold. As I walked down the main aisle the stone slabs cooled my feet in an eerie sort of way. I felt closer to that church and to Christ than I ever had. And I later realized that our deepest points of relationship with Jesus take us out of our comfort zones. We recognize that there is something greater than ourselves at work in the world.

Having your feet washed is not comfortable. But then, the cross is not comfortable. The Christian life of discipleship is not comfortable. If we respond to Christ’s call with authenticity, we are often transported to places we would rather not go: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. But we’re not drawn to these places arbitrarily or ruthlessly but deliberately and out of love. 

I’m not insisting that we all must have our feet washed to fully experience the love of Christ. Some of you may well choose to experience this for the first time tonight. Others will have their feet washed as they have for many years. Some will consider it and either shy away or decide that this is not the year. Others will never see this act as a helpful way to be drawn toward Jesus. But what ultimately matters is that we always remain open for the love of Christ to draw us outside of our zones of comfort. It is in these moments that Jesus so often touches us in new ways. The disciples in that Upper Room experienced just this. They learned that sacrificial love breaks down the barriers of comfort. And they would soon learn that sacrificial love in its most profound form is even more uncomfortable: for it is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2010

Maundy Thursday 2009

A Sermon from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor, New York
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 9, 2009 (Maundy Thursday)

“Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Total immersion. That’s the goal of discipleship. To leap right into unabashed and unfettered relationship with Jesus Christ. But so often we approach faith the way I approach a swimming pool. Especially early in the season when the water hasn’t yet warmed up. I’ll dip in a toe, cringe, and go sit back down on my chaise lounge. After awhile I’ll return to the water’s edge, put in another toe, perhaps even an entire foot, realize it hasn’t gotten any warmer in the past ten minutes, and head back to my spot under the umbrella. 

Contrast this with the way most children approach a pool. I’m lucky if I can finish slathering on the sunscreen before my boys tear off and jump gleefully into the water. They’re always complaining about how long it takes me to get into the water. And my arguments about the greater surface area of the adult body fall on deaf ears.

Many of us spend a good portion of our lives approaching God hesitantly, tentatively, fearfully. Precisely the same way I get into an unheated swimming pool. And in so doing we miss much of the potential joy of relationship with God.

But not Peter. He brings a childlike enthusiasm to his faith and it’s on full display in that Upper Room as the disciples gather for what would become known as the Last Supper. He’s always bringing his over-exuberance to bear on his relationship with Jesus. You get the sense he’d jump right into a swimming pool without even testing the water. Whether it’s offering to build three booths as Jesus is transfigured up on the mountain or trying to walk to Jesus on the water, Peter is all too eager to please. He makes mistakes, he makes a fool of himself, but he jumps right in. And it is upon the rock of Peter that Jesus will build his church. 

And we can learn something from this because Jesus wants us to be, not perfect, but perfectly committed. And that demands the total immersion of discipleship. Our own conservative nature can limit a potentially dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. We dip in a toe when Jesus wants us to jump boldly in. We go in up to our ankles when Jesus wants us to let loose with a cannon ball. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 

But first Peter and the rest of the disciples have to understand that their relationship with Jesus is changing. That’s what this meal is about, after all. Their Lord will physically leave them the next day when he is hung on a cross to die. He will no longer be physically but spiritually present. Unbeknownst to them, they will know him in a new way, an unconceivable way as their resurrected Savior. But all in good time. Jesus is preparing them by strengthening the community of believers – and it all comes down to the “New Commandment” – the mandatum – ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ And once Peter glimpses the new dynamic he seeks total immersion. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 

It’s no wonder that Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet also evokes strong baptismal imagery. If we think about our own baptism as the total immersion of being marked as Christ’s own forever, as the total immersion into the Christian faith, as the total immersion into the ministry of the baptized, we are brought right into the heart of the Last Supper. Right into that Upper Room. For no matter in what manner we were baptized, we can’t live our lives as if we’ve been sprinkled with a few drops from a silver baptismal shell. We must live our lives with the abandon of total immersion. This is what Jesus means when he urges us to enter the kingdom as a child: “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Think of kids leaping into a pool in the middle of August and you have a sense of what Jesus wants us all to do spiritually. To participate fully, to be immersed totally. It’s not about “sink or swim” or “leap before you look.” It’s a matter of jumping in with the full assurance that Jesus is swimming right alongside you, guiding you, helping you navigate the currents of life.

In a few moments we will wash one another’s feet in a tangible sign of the mandatum. And whether you choose to participate or simply observe, the message is the same: we serve one another as Christ himself serves us; we love one another as Christ himself loves us. The foot washing is Jesus’ gift to his disciples just as the giving of his life will be a gift to the entire world. Unless we allow Jesus to serve us and we reciprocate by following him fully, we will never move beyond more than a shallow relationship with him. 

Relationship with God is a balance between serving Christ and allowing yourself to be served by him. Hopefully it’s a creative tension. But many of us are a lot better at serving others than allowing others to serve us. We don’t like being dependent upon others; we don’t like feeling needy; we’d much rather metaphorically wash someone else’s feet than have our own washed. So perhaps a spiritual goal for you should be to allow Christ’s hospitality into your heart and soul and marrow. Try saying to him, right along with Peter, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

At the town pool, my excuses eventually run out. Maybe it’s my own pride; maybe it’s the boys’ constant nagging to get in the water and play. But eventually I just jump in and immerse myself in the watery depths and, after a few moments, the cold water shock to the system subsides. I realize it’s not so bad after all and I wonder what took me so long. It’s the same way with total immersion in the spiritual life. And that’s what Holy Week really is for those with the courage and commitment to experience the fullness of the journey. Total immersion leads to total transformation. Come on in; the water’s fine.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2009

Maundy Thursday 2001

Maundy Thursday
March 28, 2002
Old St. Paul’s, Baltimore
The Rev. Timothy E. Schenck

Do you get embarrassed when people sing “Happy Birthday” to you? For me, this is one of the most awkward moments in a given year. I know it’s coming. All of a sudden several people disappear into the kitchen, there’s a slight hush in the air, and then out they come parading the birthday cake towards me. And then the singing starts. The familiar tune seems to take an eternity and there’s nothing you can do except sit there with a goofy smile on your face because, of course, you can’t sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. Don’t get me wrong. I really do appreciate the effort involved and I love the gathering of family and friends. And I don’t mind the presents. It’s just that enduring the required serenade while all those people stare at me makes me a bit uncomfortable. And yet, when I’m celebrating someone else’s birthday, I’ll be the first one to belt out “Happy Birthday,” usually even adding some harmony to the ending. I enjoy making a fuss over someone else much more than I enjoy being fussed over myself.

Somehow it can be harder to let others celebrate our own lives than to celebrate the lives of others. And in the context of Maundy Thursday, it’s often harder to let others serve us, than to serve others. It can be hard to fully accept someone else’s love for us. We ask ourselves, “what’s the catch?” If someone’s going to such great lengths to please me, what am I possibly going to do in return. It can be easier to wash another’s feet than to allow our feet to be washed by another. As strange as it may sound, we often put up a bitter resistance to letting Christ serve us. Like Peter, we want to say to Jesus, “Lord, you will never wash my feet.” We may be embarrassed by the attention or feel that it’s beneath the master himself to wash our feet. But there’s another reason too: our own pride. The real obstacle to letting Christ serve us is that it demands that we put our lives in his hands. It forces us to loosen our grip on the control that we so desperately cling to and allow Christ to be Christ. And that’s a vulnerable position to be in. When we allow Christ to be Christ we’re letting him have access to our hearts, our thoughts, and our souls. It is a recognition that Christ will take our burdens and our sins and bear them up on his cross. To let Christ be Christ is to find a freedom that is otherwise impossible to know. 

Allowing Christ to fully serve us does leave us exposed. Just as taking off our shoes in a public place leaves us feeling exposed and vulnerable and self-conscious. In a moment, several members of the congregation will represent all of us as they have their feet washed. And we will recall the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus at the Last Supper. But even though we’re not all going to take off our shoes and socks and walk barefoot on the cold tiles, that’s the posture we need to assume when letting Christ be Christ. It’s not comfortable. Not because it’s cold but because it leaves us vulnerable. Imagine taking off your shoes and walking barefoot down Charles Street or through the food court in Towson Town Center or into your office on a Monday morning. Probably not something we’d care to experience. But to walk with Christ, we must take them off. Because to walk barefoot is to put our trust in Christ. It allows Christ to be Christ and it allows him to fully serve us. Like the stripping of the altars that takes place at the end of this service, we must be fully exposed to Christ. And in our nakedness we will be received by Jesus. 

This Jesus, the one who came not to be served but to serve, bids us to let him serve us. Let him serve you. Let him wash your feet. Open yourself to Jesus and let the full transforming power of God wash over your feet. And not just over your feet but over your very soul.

© Tim Schenck 2001

Maundy Thursday

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on April 17, 2003. 
Based on John 13:1-15 (Maundy Thursday, Year B).

No one likes dirty feet. And whether the Maundy Thursday foot washing is always an integral part of your Holy Week experience or whether the mere thought sends shivers down your spine, we can all agree that no one particularly likes dirty feet. And even more to the point, no one likes someone else’s dirty feet.

The disciples who gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room for what would be their last supper together didn’t like dirty feet either. Even in a culture where it wasn’t as unusual to have another wash your feet, this certainly wasn’t high on anyone’s priority list that night. And Jesus’ silent movement towards the disciples with towel, basin and water pitcher in hand must have drawn some strange glances. What was going on here? The only people washing feet were the lowest of the lowest classes. Not the one they knew to be the anointed one of God, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. But there he was, approaching them as the lowest of servants. 

As much as we might not like dirty feet, or even relatively clean feet for that matter, it’s often easier to think about washing someone else’s feet than having our own feet washed. Being served by another can be uncomfortable. I remember the first time I went up to have my feet washed during a Maundy Thursday service. It was probably ten years ago or so but I’d been avoiding it for years. I wanted to have my feet washed, at least in theory. I wanted to experience what the disciples felt that night in the Upper Room. I wanted to be drawn closer to Jesus through the experience. But my own comfort level kept me from it. Each year I’d get closer but shied away at the last moment. I had all sorts of good excuses built up. It just seemed un-church like somehow. I couldn’t imagine taking my shoes off in church; it didn’t exactly fit in with the notion of wearing your Sunday best to church – even if it was a Thursday. What if I had a hole in my sock? What if my feet smelled? What if they were sweaty or too cold? Maybe this command to love one another as Christ loved us, with its visible expression through foot washing, wasn’t really a literal commandment. Maybe it was only meant for the more demonstrative Christians. Couldn’t I experience this spiritually rather than physically? It’s so public. Maybe it’s just not meant for the shy or the introverted or the self-conscious. I don’t remember doing this when I was a kid. What about all the people who don’t even come to church on Maundy Thursday? At least I’m here.

But then one year I ran out of excuses. So slowly, against my better judgment, I removed my shoes. Then my socks. Then I found myself walking toward the foot washing station. I don’t remember much about the whole experience except that the floor was cold. As I walked down the main aisle the stone slabs cooled my feet in an eerie sort of way. I felt closer to that church and to Christ than I ever had. And I later realized that our deepest points of relationship with Jesus take us out of our comfort zones. We recognize that there is something greater than ourselves at work in the world.

Having your feet washed is not comfortable. But then, the cross is not comfortable. The Christian life of discipleship is not comfortable. If we respond to Christ’s call with authenticity, we’re often transported to places we’d rather not go: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. But we’re not drawn to these places arbitrarily or ruthlessly but deliberately and out of love. Christ washes the disciples’ feet not to keep them guessing about his motives but to show them that accepting love can be uncomfortable.

I’m not insisting that we all must have our feet washed to fully experience the love of Christ. Some of you may well choose to experience this for the first time tonight. Others will have their feet washed as they have for many years. Some will consider it and either shy away or decide that this is not the year. Others will never see this act as a helpful way to be drawn toward Christ. But what ultimately matters is that we always remain open for the love of Christ to draw us outside of our zones of comfort. It is in these moments that Jesus so often touches us in new ways. The disciples in that Upper Room experienced just this. They learned that sacrificial love breaks down the barriers of comfort. And they would soon learn that sacrificial love in its most profound form is even more uncomfortable: for it is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2003

Maundy Thursday 2004

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on April 8, 2004. 
Based on Luke 22:14-30 (Maundy Thursday, Year C).

Take, bless, break, give. It’s a simple four-fold action. Jesus didn’t invent it — they are elements common to any meal. But when Jesus performs this action in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, it takes on a life of its own. In fact, it becomes for us the very source of all life. Take, bless, break, give. “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, out Lord Jesus Christ took bread and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it he and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘take, eat: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’” Take, bless, break, give. This evening we celebrate Christ’s institution of the Holy Eucharist. The offering of himself through his body and blood. And these four simple actions become interwoven into the very fabric of our salvation. 

This evening I’d like to guide you on a journey, a meditation through the action of the Eucharist. And to do so I invite you to close your eyes for several moments to reflect upon the life-giving movement of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. Place yourself in that Upper Room with Jesus and the disciples. That Upper Room that is the starting point of the death and resurrection cycle we begin tonight. Become aware of Christ’s presence. Take a deep breath. And be still. 

Take. It is a beginning. Nothing can follow unless the action begins. To take is to begin the action. Jesus takes the bread into his hands. The crust is rough around the edges. Take. Let the Lord take hold of you. Let Jesus take hold of your life. As he picks up that piece of bread, so let him hold you in his loving hands. You are that bread. A bit rough around the edges, imperfect in shape. Feel his tender touch. Abide in his love. Let him protect you from all danger and fear and anxiety. Allow Jesus to actively take hold of you. Let the warmth of his divinity surround you. Be still, stop your restless wandering, allow Jesus to hold you in that peace which passes all understanding. Allow Jesus to bear your burdens. Let him take you just as he takes the bread.  

Bless. Accept the blessing of Christ. Imagine the hand of Jesus resting upon you. On your head or on your shoulder. Offering to you the power of his love. To be blessed is to be honored. God honors you. This doesn’t make you perfect but it does make you blessed by God. You are marked for grace. Allow Jesus to look heavenward and present you to his Father. You have an advocate in Jesus Christ. Allow him to bless you and keep you. Let him anoint your soul with the blessing of his presence. And know that you are blessed.

Break. Allow Jesus to break open your heart. Let him break down the barriers that keep you from him. Let him break the bonds of sin and death. Let him break open your hardness of heart and fill you with his love. His power is made perfect in your brokenness. Don’t shield God from your brokenness. Allow God to embrace all of you; your weakness, your brokenness. It must be revealed and confessed to be made whole.  Let Jesus heal the jagged edges of your broken parts. In your brokenness, let Jesus be the great healer.

Give. Let Jesus give himself fully unto you. He so desires you. To love you, to redeem you. To allow Jesus to give himself to you is to learn to accept Jesus. Allow Jesus to give himself to you and receive him into your heart. Accept this gift of life. Stop chasing Jesus and let Jesus seek after you. Let Jesus give himself to you and then give yourself back to Jesus in return. Despite your distractedness, he’s patiently waiting for you to accept his self-offering, his giving of himself to you. Give his love back to him and then give it to others.

Take, bless, break, give. This is what Jesus offers us each time we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We are transformed by this simple four-fold action. It encompasses all that we are and all that we aspire to become. It draws us into Christ’s presence here on earth and it propels us toward the kingdom of God in heaven. Take, bless, break, give. It is concrete mystery. It is enigmatic truth. It is what our Lord Jesus commands us to do.

 © The Rev. Tim Schenck 2004