Maundy Thursday – April 13, 2017 – St Mark’s Episcopal Church
In the Name of God: Our Creator, Our Redeemer, and Our Comforter. Amen.
Hear the words of the Psalmist:
How shall I repay the Lord * for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation * and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord * in the presence of all his people.
The Psalmist says that he loves God because of the relationship he has with God, for God “has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.”
In response to God’s gifts to him, the Psalmist says he will do specific things – he will lift up the cup. He will call upon God’s Name. He will keep his commitments to God. We will get to the specifics of these actions in a moment, but first let’s notice that what he says is that he will do things. He will do things. He will engage in specific actions, in the context of his relationship to God, and his relationship to all God’s people.
These are all simple actions, with the simplest of things. They are things we do, too, things that we do with a cup, and with the simplest of words, and with commitments we make and actions we perform. It seems to me that in the Church we often get caught up in the details of our faith, in the verbal content of our faith, in questions of Creeds, and of theologies, in questions of what we believe, in what we mean when we talk about our faith.
We get hung up in setting up tests for ourselves about right belief, about faith in the right things, about passing tests, or as Alice is supposed to be able to do in Wonderland, the challenge to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
The Psalmist, on the other hand, talks about his faith in terms, not of words that explain, but of deeds, of actions, and when he uses words, he uses words that describe, or support or enable actions. He will lift the cup, he will call upon the name of God, and he will fulfill his vows to the Lord.
I want us to think together tonight about this relationship between words and actions, as we begin our participation in the services of Holy Week. Today, of course, we are in the service for Maundy Thursday, and tomorrow we will be engaged in the service for Good Friday, and on Saturday we will participate in the Great Vigil of Easter. In these services we will be reminded through our readings from the Bible of the Good Things that God has done and is doing for us.
We will proclaim that, in the events we hear about in the Lessons, God is involved in our lives, and in our world, and in our history, that in His acts in our world, and our lives, and in our history, God is working to reconcile us to God, to overcome everything that separates us from God, to transfigure our lives, to set us free from bondage to our limitations, free from our fears about life and death, able to dream dreams and love our neighbors, and care for God’s people.
And we will do things. Tonight, we gather to wash each other’s feet, tomorrow we take up our cross, Saturday we light the new fire, and proclaim Jesus’ resurrection. And we do all these things in the context of the Eucharist, in which we lift up the cup of our Salvation.
These three services are at the heart of our faith, and of our practice, as the People of God. These are things that we do. In these services, we, too, like the Psalmist, lift up the cup of salvation, we call upon the name of the Lord, and we renew our vows to the Lord.
We are a pragmatic community, in the Episcopal Church. In our faith tradition, the things that we do together are first. We do things on specific occasions when we gather in God’s name as the people of God, when we respond to Jesus’ request that when we gather, we break the bread and bless the cup, and share them with each other. We use words, too, but we use them to tell stories more than declare doctrines, and to direct our actions, so that we know what specific actions to do, and to enrich our understanding of what we do.
This emphasis on doing permeates the lessons for Maundy Thursday. In the Old Testament lesson, we hear about God’s instructions about what the people of Israel are to do the night before God leads them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom, and to their Promised Land.
These are very specific instructions, about what to eat, and how to cook it, and what to wear when eating this Passover meal. But what God gives Moses and the people of Israel is not only instructions about eating this meal now, in haste, as they prepare to leave Egypt, and slavery behind, before they depart for their Exodus from slavery into freedom.
These instructions are about what specific things to do now, but also how to continue this practice, to use this ritual meal as a way of remembering God’s mighty acts on their behalf in the future, year by year, year after year, century after century, from then until now – and so our Jewish colleagues are celebrating their Passover seders this week, roasting the lamb, and eating it with their “loins girded, sandals on their feet, and their staff in their hand; and they will eat it hurriedly.”
We too will use this language on Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, when we proclaim that night – and the things that God does with us that night – are, for us, our Passover, the Passover of the Lord.
And so, the People of Israel, in the words of the Psalmist, have at the heart of their story, at the heart of their faith, at the heart of their practice of gathering in God’s name, something they do — a ritual meal in which they tell the story of God’s mighty acts, and they do specific things – they lift up the cup. They call upon God’s Name. They renew their promise to keep their commitments to God.