A world that wants Easter but needs to see Maundy Thursday

crossWhy have so many people given up on Christ, the Church, Christianity?

Whatever their reason, I don’t believe it’s because they don’t want the promise of Easter.

The celebration of Easter is that we find life where we expected only death. Even those closest to Jesus expected to find nothing but a corpse when they went to the tomb that first Easter morning.

The promise of Easter is that we continue to find life where we expected only death.

Our world craves the promise of Easter. I believe God has created us with that craving. This is why we cry and mourn at funerals. We love life and hate death. This is why broken relationships rock our lives the way they do. We crave reconciliation. This is why so many are plagued with guilt. We crave forgiveness.

In a world that craves the promise of Easter, why have so many given up on the Christ, and the Church, that offer that promise?

Could it be because they need to see Maundy Thursday and too rarely see it?

At the Last Supper, on what we now call Maundy Thursday, we read that Jesus knew the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God. He had all things under his power. There is no higher place than the place given to Christ. And so what will he do in all his power? The “so” is startling: “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” And then he proceeded to wash his disciples’ feet.

The One who at the beginning took dust from the ground and formed a man is now the one who gets up from the meal, kneels on the ground, and cleans the dust off the feet of the ones he created!

And then, shortly after Jesus gets up from washing his disciples’ feet, he says this: “A new command I give you: Love one another.” This isn’t much of a new command. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” has been around quite a while. But the next part makes it new: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

That’s the mandate that Maundy Thursday is named for.

To believe that Easter’s promise is true, a world that craves that promise needs to see the Church live the mandate of Maundy Thursday.

Is the problem that the world needs more “evidence that demands a verdict,” proving Christ’s death and resurrection? Or is it that they need to understand Christ? To understand Jesus in all his divinity and all his humanity? To understand a God who humbles himself so low that he becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross?

Are his disciples today making that humility evident by loving, even as Christ loved us? Are his disciples found kneeling, a towel wrapped around their waists, or found jockeying for power and fighting for what they’re “due”?

This is why it seems so right to us that Pope Francis left the comfortable confines of a Roman Catholic cathedral to wash the feet of a young incarcerated Muslim woman. Why it seems so right to us that Pope Francis refuses to live in the palatial residences offered him and prefers public transit to a limo. How will this Pope handle the riches of Rome?

To our world: if your impression of us, the purported disciples of Christ, is that we spend more time arguing over who will be greatest than seeking to serve the least of these — I’m sorry. I know we often haven’t represented our Savior well. Where you have seen us seeking greatness and riches, you have seen a Church that has not understood – or has not chosen to actually follow – its Savior.

But let me be clear about this, too… Christ’s disciples have been falling short since the beginning. At the Last Supper – almost immediately after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and predicts his betrayal and death – what do they do? They begin to fight over who is the greatest! We come from a long line of disciples who have misunderstood or ignored Christ’s call to be found among those who serve. But that ignorance and misbehavior has never negated the promise of Easter. If you are refusing the promise of Easter because you aren’t seeing the Church take Jesus’ new command seriously, can I plead with you to reconsider? Christ’s promises are true, whether or not you see them lived out in those who claim him. Don’t miss the perfect goodness of Christ because of his Church’s flaws and failings.

And I should be clear about this, too… We, the Church, are flawed and often fail. But we are also, many of us, seeking Christ. We’re seeking to live according to his humility, his self-giving love, his grace and truth. I hope you’ve seen at least a bit of that. Where we fall short, bear with us in our attempts to get it right, as we trust Christ bears with us.

If you have been hurt by the Church, I apologize. I’ve been hurt before, too. Admittedly, some of the times I have been hurt were because of my own pride. At its best, the Church is full of grace and truth, just as her Savior is. And there are times that truth, even presented with grace, has a bite. At her best, the Church must continue to be full of truth, and we cannot apologize for that, but where you have heard truth with no grace – or purported truth that was no truth at all – I apologize. Where you have heard a presentation of “truth” that was seeking power or status, rather than hoping for reconciliation – I apologize.

And so I plead with you again – if the promises of Easter are true, if they even may be true, don’t miss them because you haven’t seen the Church living out Christ’s new command.

To the Church: may we follow the command of our Savior. How can we be found on our knees rather than exalted? Serving our world rather than expecting to be served by it? Found among the least of these in our world rather than the greatest? How can Pope Francis’s example encourage all of us toward greater simplicity and generosity?

May our leaders be known for commonly rejecting privilege and power, wealth and prosperity, not for climbing ladders toward more power and more money. May we, as congregations, ask more questions about how we can serve the world than questions about whether we are being served properly.

May we be an Easter people – celebrating life where before there was only death – and celebrating that life best by joining our Savior on his knees and at the cross.

5 thoughts on “A world that wants Easter but needs to see Maundy Thursday

  1. Many thanks, Pastor Teddy. That is intended as a compliment and acknowledgement of your ministry through the web. You describe exactly why I am so taken with Pope Francis. Thank you for your passion to communicate the love of Christ.

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