This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached tonight, Maundy Thursday. The gospel text was John 13:1-17, 31-35. I didn’t really preach on that text, however; I preached more on the theme of the evening, in particular the connection with Passover.
There are some moments that are defining.
Moments when everything changes. When we change. When we see, or become, more fully who we are.
A defining moment for a caterpillar is the moment it becomes a butterfly.
A defining moment for a tadpole is the moment it becomes a frog.
We all have defining moments, perhaps our wedding day. Perhaps the day someone close to us died. Perhaps the day our child was born. Perhaps something else.
As a people, we have defining moments as well. The people of France may have just had a defining moment on Monday, when one of the most majestic and beloved buildings in all Europe was enveloped by fire. As Americans, we have had defining moments. Anyone who was alive on September 11, 2001 or November 22, 1963 or December 7, 1941 can remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news.
Our defining moment as the church, as the people of God, as the hands of Jesus Christ in the world today, is … well, I’ll get to that. First, I want to identify the defining moment of the Jewish people, the moment they truly became who they were. It was the moment of Passover. The final plague in the story of the great battle between Moses and Pharaoh. The night the destroyer flew through Egypt, taking the lives of all the first born of the Egyptians, and passing over the homes of Israelites. The homes that were marked with the blood of the Passover lamb. The lamb they cooked and ate in their last night in servitude to Pharaoh. The night before they were set free, the night before the Exodus, their forty-year journey to the Promised Land, the journey along which they were claimed by God forever. As important as other stories are, such as the creation and the story of Abraham, it is the story of the Exodus, the story of Passover that truly made the Israelites, and the Jews who followed them, who they were.
The people of Israel celebrated this moment, and still do, every year. Passover, a special meal of lamb and bread and wine. Passover, a story shared from elders to children to help them understand why this night is different from all others. Passover, the defining moment when God changed them into a people who would serve not Pharaoh but the Lord. A people who would proclaim the message of the one true God. The God of mercy and compassion, the God of love and hope.
Tonight we remember a particular meal, the last meal Jesus ate before his crucifixion. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us this was a Passover meal. John disagrees, but we’ll get to that tomorrow. In most ways, it was a Passover like any other. Last summer, many of us saw a demonstration of this meal when we hosted guests from Chosen People Ministries for the “Messiah in the Passover” program. We saw how Jesus followed the traditions of his people. How he led the prayers, and the courses of food, but transformed them. How he told his disciples, “This bread, the bread of the afikomen, the bread that represents the Passover sacrifice, is my body.” How he told his disciples, “This cup of wine, the third cup we drink in the meal, the cup which represents redemption, is my blood.” My body is the sacrifice, my blood the redemption.
What Jesus did was not alien or foreign. He didn’t create a new tradition, a new meal. He transformed what was already there. This meal they shared was not just a memory of a past long ago. The apostles were not just remembering a defining moment in the lives of their ancestors. They were living a defining moment as they ate and drank. This was the defining moment of the apostles. The defining moment of the church. It is still the defining moment of all who trust in Christ, of all who eat his body and drink his blood to this day.
Jesus changed Passover, but really he didn’t. Jesus fulfilled Passover. Passover was God’s promise that Israel would be a light to all nations. Jesus fulfilled that, shining that light in a new way. Jesus fulfilled the Passover in the lives of the apostles, who didn’t even understand it at the time. And Jesus fulfills the Passover in our lives as well. Just like he transformed the meal, made it new, Jesus takes the church today, takes the church exactly as it is, and makes it new. Jesus takes you, exactly as you are, and makes you new. Where once was only death, now there is life. Where once was only despair, now there is hope. Where once was only fear, now there is faith. Jesus took the defining moment of Israel, and defined it anew. The same moment now defines the church. The same moment that saved Israel has now saved the world. The same moment that saved Moses and Aaron and Miriam now saved Peter and James and Mary. The same moment now saves you and you and me.
This is our defining moment. The moment Jesus fulfilled the Passover. The moment Jesus fulfills God’s love for you. The moment that was defined at the last supper. And is defined again tonight. And is defined again and again every time we share this meal. Every time we do this, we proclaim that we are new. We proclaim that the world is new. We proclaim that Christ brings life through his death. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. It is all in the Passover, always old and always new. Always the moment that defines who we are. Always. Always. Always Christ.
Featured image: “The Last Supper” by Carlo Crivelli, photo by mark6mauno on flickr