Maundy Thursday, Mark 14 April 6th 2023

Maundy Thursday, Mark 14 April 6th 2023

Peter, James, John as they sat down in that Garden, a place you can visit in outside the walls of Jerusalem…

They had prepared the Passover – Passover: three words maybe associated with it – Liberation, Death, Blood. Liberation from slavery – from something they perhaps never thought they would be free, God set them free from slavery… he, nothing in them did it, he did.

Death – the first born sons across Egypt.

Blood – a lamb killed, and blood on the door frames.

Yet in that Passover meal, Jesus takes bread and wine. His  blood and blood.

And on this night, as Peter, James and John wrestled to understand, Jesus had given them a parable to explain what they would see in the coming hours…

Death – a son dies – for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.

Blood – his blood – Jesus who was called ‘Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’

Liberation – from slavery, not of a nation, but of sin. They could not do it. God did it.

But as they sat tired in that garden, tired from a day of preparations, from an emotion rollercoaster of a day, from a hectic week, maybe their minds drifted to water, and feet and Jesus kneeling before them…

Blood, death, liberation – we are served. Jesus who kneels and washes feet. His service of us – we receive liberation, through blood and death and the one who kneels.

The Gospel focuses on Peter’s reaction – maybe in that Garden he remembered that reaction, not for the first time he had told Jesus off, resisted him; yet not for the first time he had changed and submitted. Jesus when he called him ‘Master we have worked all night, and haven’t caught anything, but because you say so, I will let down the nets’. Because you say so – and so Peter changed to have his feet washed. Yet one other was washed – Judas – he only leaves the room later. Jesus washed his feet. The one he knew who would betray him. How dare Jesus do that, surely no lord, surely he is too far gone…anyone but him Lord.

But we are that man – can we honestly say that we would deserve to have our feet washed by Jesus? Isn’t there a whole bunch of stuff in our life? If we had our mobile phones recording everything we thought, said, did, didn’t do, and then gave it to God, would we say we deserve it…

Yet Jesus washes his feet. Serve. The undeserving receive grace from Jesus. They are served.

Jesus calls us to serve one another – that is part of loving one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Love, service in action, serving other believers – even the undeserving – love in action…

But that service is costly and for that we focus mostly on that garden again.  Jesus own vulnerability and strength is shared here. There are parts of Jesus ministry not revealed this side of heaven but others God has wanted us to know and see. That includes Gethesemane.

Abba Father

Mark  deliberately uses the original Aramaic. In Jesus day, Abba was a family word – a word, which children, including tiny children, would use to address their fathers. It was a word of courtesy and respect and an expression of warm intimacy and trust. 

In the Netflix series Fauda, based in Israel about a special forces team. I was struck, in that series, how at different points we hear children and adults call out Abba – meaning Father, or Daddy / Dad.

These ideas are reflected in the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  The intimacy, the respect, the closeness, the majesty.

In all of Jesus recorded prayers in the gospels, he used the title ‘father’. The only place where he does not begin his prayer with Father, was on the cross : ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’

Andrew Murray – a Christian writer said: ‘’the power of prayer depends entirely upon our apprehension of who it is with whom we speak.’’ When we are struggling, it is important we anchor ourselves in the truth that we are deeply loved by the Creator God. 

Alain Emerson is a N. Irish Church Leader. Sadly, in 2007, Alain’s wife Lyndsay died of a brain tumour, after less than two years of marriage. She was only 23. Alain has written about his reflections and his journey of grief. In one section, he shared about a conversation with his old theology professor.

Alain said: ‘’I thought God would bless me if I honoured him? Why would it be any better for anyone, even God, for Lindsay to be dead? What do I do with the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping?

Because in my experience is that this just doesn’t hold true.

I sowed good ‘kingdom’ seeds and look what I reaped – sheer devastation.’’  Emerson, p.121.

His professor then said something, that Alain never forgot :

‘’Alain, we often come to learn in life that sometimes our journey towards God is a stripping away of illusions about God.’’ (Emerson, p.121)

In the pain of unanswered prayer and its effects, and in suffering in general,  it is possible that we feel we are stumbling towards God, and in that journey, we may realize that our assumptions about God, we may find them exposed and challenged. 

Alain said: ‘I was becoming aware of an uncomfortable truth – I had subconsciously held God hostage with my prayers.  I had predetermined how God should honour me in my life and assumed a posture of ‘entitlement’ – the reason it felt that God had not come through, was because, quite simply, he hadn’t met my agenda. It felt like a part of my ego, a part that I didn’t even realize was there, had been exposed.’’ (Emerson, p.121-22).

He goes on to say – he realized that he needed ‘’to surrender my preconceived ideas of how I expected God to act towards me.  I needed to trust and believe in him outside of the agenda I wanted him to fulfill.’’ (Emerson, p.122).

In this most stress filled time, Jesus anchors himself in who he knows God to be.

And in those prayers, from that place of security, he says: Abba Father, everything is possible for you, take this cup from me. Yet not what I will but what you will.

Abba Father, everything is possible for you.

Abba Father – God is immensely loving. And infinitely powerful. Everything is possible for you. In Jesus ministry we have seen amazing things to that moments – perhaps you have a favourite story – seas calmed, fish provided from nowhere, a widow with son who died, a word, he is raised, demons cast out, blind Bartimaus healed, Mary Magdalene – a life in ruins and yet made whole.

Surely this is the point, for the plan to be revealed – another way. Everything is possible.

Everything is possible yet how can God of love and justice achieve the great liberation.

In one way, on this night, not everything is possible – there is only one way. There is no other way.

And yet everything is possible. Paul says in Romans 5: You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us, in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

No hope we had, says Paul. Very rarely, maybe…

Yet while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

And everything is possible.

Who would have imagined God among us. The God who is judge will be judged on the cross – God who hangs, suffers. There is a renowed book – the crucified God. We worship a God of the scars. We worship, who, as a devotional said this week, his great act is his surrender.

Take this cup from me.

Jesus knew his mission: as he said ‘ the Son of Man did not come to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many.’’ Matthew 20:28.

But he asked God to take the cup away. It is a prayer contrary to God’s revealed purposes. It is a prayer we know, God said no to.  Jesus is totally honest to his Father. This is an unanswered prayer.

Jesus is honest. I don’t know where you are at tonight, but in the night of nights, of liberation, blood, death, service, which we worship, adore, yet we hear honesty. The honesty reminds us that this was NOT easy. This honesty speaks to us tonight.

‘’‘Simple Prayer is the most courageous of all. Simple prayer is praying as you can and not as you can’t, or as CS Lewis says “to lay before Him [God] what is in US and not what ought to be in us.’’ Emerson p.55.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor, said: ‘I still have questions for God, and I still have problems with God. But it is within faith, not outside of faith and surely not opposed to faith.’’  Quoted in Emerson, p.64.

‘’ It is because I believed in God that I was angry at God, and still am. But my faith is tested, wounded, but it’s here. So whatever I say, it’s always from inside faith, even when I speak the way occasionally I do about the problems I had, questions I had.

Jesus was overwhelmed. He wrestled with God. He cried out to God and asked for another way, and he allowed his friends to see how he felt and the Holy Spirit guided the gospel writers to include it for us to know.

Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’’

Surrender. To the will of the Father.

Surrender. So you can be served.

Surrender. So through blood and death, liberation can come. And through the coming hours it is surrender – the betrayer and the guards, surrender when accused, with silence, surrender, the creator, when he beaten, spat upon,  surrender ‘he saved others, but he can’t save himself’.

This night. We will take Communion, we will then strip this area – a visual reminder of Jesus having it all stripped away, and then at the end, a time of silence you are invited to keep, to simply stay, be, to watch with Jesus.

To bring all that stuff, memories, before Jesus…

Shall we pray.

God our Father,
your Son Jesus Christ was obedient to the end
and drank the cup prepared for him:

we thank you for liberation through blood, the death of a son, through being served, though we did not deserve it.

We thank you for this costly service,

we thank you that while everything is possible for you, this was the only way to meet your love and justice

and yet everything was possible for you – you were willing as God among us to be judged and to take the judgement we deserved.

We thank you for your honesty, that this was not easy, and you for your surrender.

Again this night, we choose to worship, adore and kneel and remember in awe… Amen.