Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Thursday April 1 2021.
• First Reading: Exodus 12: 1–4 (Institution of the Passover)
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11: 23–26 (This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. This is the cup of the new covenant in My blood – do this in remembrance of Me – you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes)
• Gospel: John 13: 1–7, 31–35 (Jesus’ washing of His disciples’ feet. A new command I give you: love one another, as I have loved you. By this they will know you are My disciples.)
Perhaps the most memorable times we have with family and friends is when having a meal. It is normally the climax of our times together, it is the time to show off our hospitality and for guests to show off their conversation, their jokes and stories and their general repartee.
This is probably how we best remember our families, friends, and colleagues. It is the meal that is the thing along with the atmosphere and the surroundings.
Yet our lessons show us something else. There is something ‘intentional’ – an agenda and the prospect of something yet to come. In this sense the meal is important, but instead of being a memory it is a pointer to something else, more, greater.
In the book of Exodus, the first Passover under Moses’ instructions is arranged in haste. It is basic, and more than that, those gathering together are to be ready for a journey. The Passover meal will be their last in that place and land. The morrow would begin a journey to a new place and a new era.
It would be a community meal yet each family would hold it in their home. They would eat what they could and burn the rest. It would cement their sense of new beginnings as families and as a community.
And above all they were going to advertise their observance of and faith in Moses’ instructions. They would smear their doorposts and lintels with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. There would be no hiding their intentions.
The choice of the sacrifice was also important: unblemished and perfect in all respects. As a ceremony instructed by God, there would be no short cuts and no economies. It would all be done properly and in the sight of God, who had already demonstrated His authority in the 9 plagues of Egypt.
Now look at the gospel story.
This Passover meal was no idle repetition, even if it was arranged according to the received custom and practice.
It is not as if the disciples were assembling with Jesus for a reunion for they had been together for 3 years or so. They already knew one another very well and there would be no new stories to tell or reminiscences to share.
And yet it carried with it even more of a sense of something yet to come. The disciples still did not understand that Jesus Himself was to be the Passover sacrifice for eternity, which would never have to be repeated. They certainly did not expect the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus even when He had warned them of it.
As to the coming resurrection, this was as far removed from their imaginations or understanding as was Jesus action in stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee. None of them had expected Jesus to do that either.
But it was Jesus who was looking forward to what was to come. His heart already breaking at the prospect of His crucifixion, and yet here He was instilling into their Passover observance a significance that would carry it down the millennia and around the world.
Jesus was also looking forward to a new kind of beginning with a new urgency. It may be the climax of His ministry on earth but it was already pointing to what was to come.
And so He instructed them that whenever they repeated the Passover it was to point back to Him and forward to His coming again. The journey was definitely in prospect.
As they celebrated it in the future, they would do it whenever they met together, week by week and every time it would draw the disciples together that little but more. If the original Passover had been for the family, from now on they would be family to one another, but in a new way.
And so the sincerity and the determination with which they came together would point to their spiritual unity in Jesus Himself.
By belonging to Jesus they also belonged to one another. By committing themselves to one another as Jesus had committed Himself to them they were to be a beacon of light in a dark place.
Above all, as they come together to celebrate this new kind of Passover, they would relive what Jesus had done on the cross and they would renew their faith in and commitment to Him.
As we come together we also are remembering and reliving that Passover meal in Jerusalem. We also are entering that upper room and gathering around Jesus. We also are entering the very time and place of the perfect sacrifice for all of eternity, never to be repeated but always to be relived in every generation of faith.
One final point. Moses had instituted the Passover at the instruction of God, who was going to do a new thing for His beloved people.
In making this Last Supper so special, Jesus was also pointing to what God had ordained and to what He would do personally. Its focus is always on what God has done for us – and how we also are to be renewed and reconsecrated in faith in it as His disciples.
It is all about what in Jesus, God has done, and not what we are doing. It is about His actions in history and His plans for the future, which He draws us into.
For us the task is to gather, relive, receive and recommit, for the coming time, which extends from the coming days to eternity itself. And that is an eternity of loving the Lord – and one another, sealed in the blood of Jesus.