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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on Mandy Thursday, March 24, 2005

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Maundy Thursday

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Ethan Cole

Maundy Thursday
March 24, 2005

Tonight we enter into the heart of the story of our salvation: the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the next three days we will have feet washed with the disciples, eat the Last Supper with our Lord in that Upper Room, glimpse his agony in Gethsemane, and watch with him there until he is arrested; we will see him judged and crucified, we will see him placed in a tomb-and finally we will see that tomb empty, and proclaim that he has been raised. In these three days we see the powers of darkness extinguish the light of the world, and we see the light return in triumph, vindicated by his Father. It is a powerful story. It is the story that constitutes our lives as Christians. It is our story.

I think one of the reasons why the Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ" was so popular is because it has helped people imagine and connect with this our story. The film showed the drama of the passion in such a way that people were able to connect with a familiar-perhaps overly familiar story-in a visceral way. Watching the movie, people felt connected to Christ and what he underwent. Mel Gibson as an artist is interpreting that story, and telling it in a certain way, inviting the viewers into a certain take on the story. You may or may not share his interpretation, and the controversy over the film is indicative of many not agreeing with the way he told our story. But he has told it, and the surging popularity of the film is I think more of a testament to the subject material than to the filmmaker. This story is mighty, and people are hungry to connect with it.

In our liturgy, I think by the grace of God we are able to do much more than Mel Gibson did. We must use our minds eye, in a way viewers of that film do not, but in liturgy we are there present in the historical moment, re-creating and re-membering the passion of our Lord. Instead of just gazing on it on film. The drama of the liturgy of these three days is intense if we will let it be. But, It requires a childlike faithful imagination. Imagine, remember. As Kevin Hackett put it to us last Saturday, "The walls of St. Paul's Cathedral have fallen. These are the walls of Jerusalem."

Tonight we join our Lord and our fellow disciples in that Upper Room. Jesus has long desired to eat this Passover with us, and tonight he will. But first there is something else he must do. He is going to show us the way we disciples ought to treat one another. In an act of humble intimacy Jesus washes their feet, washing them so that they, and we, would have a full share in his ministry. A little later he will be betrayed. Tonight we will wash feet, and only a moment ago St. Paul asked us to examine our consciences lest we eat and drink judgment against ourselves. We are living our story.

St. Paul tells us, that on the same night when he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and wine and said, "This is my body. This is my blood." St. Paul says "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." Mel Gibson proclaimed the Lord's death in his way, with the movie, and tonight we will proclaim the Lord's death in our way, in the way our Savior taught us, and in the way St. Paul exhorts us. We will proclaim the Lord's death by going to that Upper Room afresh. We will not see Christ as he was seen that night by the twelve, and we will not see Christ portrayed by an actor, made "realistic" with Hollywood magic. We will see Christ in the manner that he has given us to see him, in these tokens of bread and wine that he has declared, "This is my body. This is my blood."

I know the history of years of raging theological debate about what is this bread and wine, about transubstantiation, and bare memorials, and everything in between. And I, on other days care about these debates. But this is no movie, no play acting. Here is no place for academic debate. Tonight, we are in the Upper Room, you and I. These are the walls of Jerusalem. My Lord Jesus has said, "This is my body, given for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Tonight, if I am brave enough, I will believe him, this Jesus who has led us all over Galilee, and I will eat his body and drink his blood. I do not know what he means by this. This is a hard saying, eating flesh and drinking blood, but to whom shall we go? He has the words of eternal life.

After we have eaten and drunk this bread and wine, we will put some in the Richmond Chapel, which if we can dare to believe it is in fact the Garden of Gethsemane where we will try to watch with the Lord while he struggles in prayer with his coming trial. And then we will wait-wait for the judgment seat of Pilate, Golgotha and grave. We will wait for the resurrection, because this is a story that we know well-we know how it ends.

Tonight, and for the next two days, we place ourselves in the heart of this story. If we tell the story in this place in such a way that we live it, in such a way that we are really there with Jesus, then the story will tell us who we are: a people who were once no people, but who have been established as God's people through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on night before he was betrayed, took bread and gave it to us and said, "This is my body, given for you." Amen.

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York