Wondrous Love: Maundy Thursday

Sermon offered on Maundy Thursday, April 5, 2012
at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, NYC

1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Triduum: Act I

Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end . . .   And Jesus said:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

This night we come to the end of our Lenten journey, the time we intentionally set aside for reflection, for personal awareness of our lives, awareness of our relationships with each other and with God. For many of us Lent has been a time for looking inside ourselves – for reflecting on the internal landscape of our lives, our loves, our relationships.

As we move into the final three days before Easter, we’re stepping into a space of transition, a rite of passage, crossing over and out of the boundaries that marked the Lenten journey.  These three transitional days that we’re entering into are called the Sacred Triduum:  Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Holy Saturday.  And after sundown on Saturday the transition will lead us to new Easter light at the Easter Vigil.  Transitional spaces can often feel shadowy – they can seem dark – they can feel totally black.  Many spiritual writers, like St. John of the Cross, call these spaces the Dark Night of the Soul.  Psalm 23 calls these dark transitional spaces the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  And when we choose to follow Jesus, He leads us through darkness on the Way of the Cross.  Passing through dark transitions is the only way to our salvation – the only way to arrive at the Easter light.

To enter more fully into the holy transition of the Triduum, I’m finding it helpful to think of these three days as one continuous space, one on-going movement, one day unfolding into the next, like a play in three acts.  So tonight the curtain goes up on Act I.

In the gospel scene for tonight, Jesus has a meal with his disciples.  During the course of the evening, he washes his disciples’ feet in an act of deep intimacy and humility.

All the while the plot against him begins to unfold.  Under this cloud of darkness, the light of Jesus’ love continues to warm the room, the space around the table and the hearts of his disciples.  In this transitional space tonight, the light of Jesus’ love also burns within our hearts . . .

Jesus gives us two sacramental gifts in the scripture readings that we heard tonight: First, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we receive the gift of Holy Eucharist, “the holy food and drink of new and unending life in Jesus Christ.”  The Eucharistic table is the source of nourishment that sustains us through dark transitional spaces.  Tonight, as we share the meal of bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood – we remember that we are one with Christ in Baptism.   In this transitional space around the altar, God transforms us into the very Body and Blood that we share.

In the gospel reading from John, Jesus gives us another sacramental gift as he washes his disciples’ feet. – the outward and visible sign of his Love.   And as we follow Jesus’ command to love one another, we will share his love tonight when we wash each other’s feet.  Jesus’ model of perfect love reminds us that in order to follow Jesus in the Way of the Cross we must travel through the transitional space from selfishness to servant hood.  This means leaving self behind  . . . it means taking on Jesus’ humility.

In tonight’s gospel, Jesus teaches us that we must be willing to accept love in order to give love.  Peter shows us how difficult it can be on the receiving end of Christ’s love – Peter’s ego drives him to push back against having Jesus wash his feet.

But leaving self behind is at the very heart of the transitional journey that follows the Way of the Cross, the journey that leads to the foot of the cross . . . and on through the cross . . . to Easter Resurrection –to the light of union with Christ in his resurrection.


Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them –  to the very end . . .

The Greek phrase that is translated here as to the very end has multiple meanings.  In one sense it means that Jesus loved his own to the very end of life – to death and beyond.  It means that the length of Jesus’ love is never ending – eternal.  It means that in his love, Jesus will never leave us.  At the same time it means that the depth of Jesus’ love is bottomless.  Jesus’ love is ultimate and pure love.  And the breadth of Jesus’ love is infinite as well – unconditionally infinite and all inclusive

Brothers and Sisters:  may the light of Jesus’ wondrous love guide us through the darkness of the transition into new Easter life – and may we reflect this wondrous love by taking on Jesus’ command to love one another as He himself has loved us.


What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

. . . . . . .

(Continue reading – on to Triduum, Act II:  Redeeming Compassion, Good Friday, John 18 – 19)

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