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Thu, Mar 29, 2018

The Forgiven Community

Duration:29 mins 41 secs

1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

31 When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I shared with you several years ago an imaginary trip that a church committee took to discover the read difference between heaven and hell. As we gather this evening on Maundy Thursday to conclude our Lenten series on the topic “Forgiveness: A Fountain of New Life,” I want to revisit that trip.

For, as you may recall, the committee went first to hell. What they saw in hell surprised them very much because it was a very rich place where every enjoyable object was available in plenty. “Why should anyone suffer here?” they wondered.

As it was dinner time, all residents of hell were in the dining hall and the committee went to investigate whether there was a food problem. Again what met their eyes surprised them beyond words. The dining tables were full with a variety of delicacies in abundance. Yet, all the hell-dwellers who were gathered looked famished, hungry and angry. They were quarrelling and shouting at one another, blaming one another in abusive language.

The members of the investigating committee closely scrutinized the people who were thus quarrelling and fighting. They found that the persons in hell had no elbow joints in their arms. And with no elbow joints they were unable to bend their arms and feed themselves though plenty of food was available. So all of them starved.

Understanding the suffering of those in hell as starving in the midst of abundance, the committee wished to see how things were in heaven. They arrived in heaven and were shocked to see that it looked exactly like hell... a very rich place where every enjoyable object was available in plenty.

It happened to be dinner time in heaven as well and as they approached the dining hall they could hear the loud cries of satisfaction and joy emanating. The committee members hastened to witness such an exuberance of joy. Again, they could not believe their eyes because the dining tables were full with delicacies just as in hell. Yet, the people looked happy, well-fed and content and they were still eating.

Remembering that the residents in hell had no elbow joints, the committee members watched carefully and saw that here too the arms of the residents of heaven were straight as boards. But as the committee watched, one resident picked up some food and placed it in the mouth of the person sitting across the table from her. The committee stood amazed as the diners all collected food from the table and fed each other. When each one fed the others, all of them got plenty to eat. All were happy and it became heaven.

The committee ran back to hell, and this is the part I want to be sure we hear today, yes they ran back to hell to share the solution to the poor famished souls there. They whispered in the ear of one starving man, “You do not have to go hungry. Feed your neighbor and he will surely return the favor and feed you.”

“You expect me to serve the detestable man sitting across the table?” said the man angrily. “I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!”

My friends, with the feast of grace and love that the Fountain of New Life sets before us through forgiveness, would we rather starve than give the one who has wronged us the pleasure of eating?

For it is at the table, even the Lord’s Table, where we see most clearly how sin, grudges, and alienation divide us. Think of scenes in a movie or on television of a family in the midst of a disagreement or an argument. As they sit together with food before them, they stare at their plates. The only sound you hear is the scraping of forks. No one looks up, no one engages, there is no community there. When someone finally does speak and the disagreement raises its ugly head, what happens next? Someone or two or three leave the table. They can no longer abide to eat together.

Yes, to be alienated at the table, to have a wall or a gulf of sin separating us, one from another, is all the more painful because we know the joy that table fellowship can be. It is not an accident that Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, that he gives them a new commandment – that they ought to love one another, just as he has loved them – while they are at the table. For in the same way that the food feeds our bodies, it is forgiveness and love that feeds our spirits and our faith.

But as we have discovered this Lenten season, forgiveness is hard work. Eating with one another can be uncomfortable. Lutheran Pastor Diane Roth tells the story of one Maundy Thursday when she welcomed a few fifth graders to receive communion. It was a special day for these students and they brought their families with them. The parents of one child were recently divorced, and each brought a new partner. So before the service began there were a few introductions and the expected awkwardness.

Well, after the sermon and the prayers, the children and their families were the first to come forward for communion. As Pastor Roth extended the bread to the open hands of a child someone snapped a picture. It caught her off guard, it seemed most inappropriate for such a solemn occasion. She thought about stopping and saying something but she continued to serve those who came forward.

Later that evening she saw the picture in question on Facebook. That was not surprising, but she writes,

In the photo was one of the fifth graders, kneeling between his estranged parents. Both are smiling at their son. Despite their differences, they had come together that night for the sake of their beloved child.

The photographer was engaged to one of the parents. I don’t know why she snapped the picture. … But … somehow she saw the table of reconciliation, the promise of the one who feeds us at the table. She caught a glimpse of the new commandment, the commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us.

We are reminded again and again how difficult this is. Every time Jesus breaks the bread, every time we break a promise, every time we break a heart, we are reminded of the impossibility of this commandment. But every time we break the bread, we are also reminded of the one who brings us together for the sake of his beloved child. …

I can still see the picture in my mind: the child in the middle, his hand outstretched. His parents are smiling; they have laid aside their weapons. They will take the bread and the cup. And in the midst of that ancient story, in the chaos of life right now, someone took a picture. Someone photographed “love one another, as I have loved you” so we would all know what it looks like, and how hard it is.

My friends, My friends, with the feast of grace and love that the Fountain of New Life sets before us through forgiveness, would we rather starve than give the one who has wronged us the pleasure of eating? Or is there a chance that someone might snap a picture of us, weapons laid aside, a new community of love and forgiveness being born? Can we dare come to that table? You are invited for the way has been prepared by our crucified and yet risen Lord.

Thanks be to God. Amen and Amen.

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