This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this evening, Maundy Thursday. The gospel text was John 13:1-17, 31b-35. I also refer to Numbers 20:1-13.
On Sunday, we heard the Passion of Our Lord according to Luke. And I invited you to write down questions that the story brought up in you. A few of you did so, and I am going to try to address these questions in my sermons over the next few days. The question we’re going to wrestle with tonight is this:
Moses was forbidden to enter the promised land due to lack of faith in God’s word. He was weak and frustrated in the moment, but nonetheless loved God and was forgiven. We all have our weak moments and sometimes falter. Our love for God does not change and it is my hope that God forgives me to enter eternal life in heaven.Question asked by a member of the congregation.
It’s not really phrased as a question, but there is a question in there. A good one, an important one. Whoever wrote this question knows the story of Moses, the greatest prophet in the history of Israel. This person knows the story of what Moses did in the Zin desert. That story goes something like this:
It was during the long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses, along with his brother Aaron and their sister Miriam, led the people through the wilderness day after day, week after week, year after year. Throughout the journey, two things kept happening. The people complained, and God provided. When the people complained that they had no water, God made water flow from a rock. When the people complained they had no food, God made manna fall from the sky.
And yet the people seemed never to be satisfied. One day Miriam died, and they buried her at Kadesh in the Zin desert. And just as the funeral service ended, the people rose up against Moses and Aaron and said, “If only we too had died! Why did you bring us out here in this desert? In Egypt we had grain and figs and vines and pomegranates! There’s nothing like that out here! There’s not even any water!”
Moses and Aaron prayed to God for guidance, and God told Moses to strike a certain rock once with his staff, and God would again provide water for the people from that rock.
But Moses was angry. He had grown weary of the people’s complaints, and when he and Aaron gathered the people before the rock, Moses shouted out: “Listen, you rebels! Should Aaron and I produce water from the rock for you?” And he struck the rock twice in his anger, and water gushed forth. The people drank, and were, for the time being, satisfied.
But then God said to Moses, “Because you didn’t trust me to show my holiness before the Israelites, you yourself will not enter the land that I am giving them.”
And indeed it came to pass. Just before the Israelites finally reached the promised land some time later, Moses himself died and was buried outside the promised land, just before they entered.
Moses, the greatest leader of the Israelites who ever lived, the one through whom God brought all of Israel out of slavery into a land flowing with milk and honey, Moses himself was held accountable for a momentary lapse of faith. A moment of anger. A moment of weakness.
And if there were consequences for Moses’ moment of weakness, I think the person who wrote our question for tonight is justified in wondering about the consequences for our weakness. For we all, no matter how strong our faith is, have moments like this, moments of weakness, moments of anger. And I daresay we all have moments like this regularly.
But that’s not our appointed story for tonight, for Maundy Thursday. No, our appointed story is from John’s gospel. It’s the story of how Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, said to his followers, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
And oh, how we have failed this commandment. Oh, how we have at times failed even to tolerate one another, even to treat one another with civility. But to love one another? Oh, and to love as Jesus loves?
Ah, if our salvation is dependent on our obedience to this command, then we are lost. Jesus may wash us clean, as he washed the disciples in the story, but it doesn’t take long for us to get dirty again. We deny him just as much as Peter did, we betray just as much as Judas. We, like every disciple before us, stand before God, and we fail. Nobody could ever be strong enough, faithful enough. Nobody could fulfill this commandment. Nobody except Jesus himself.
And yet…and yet…
Paul tells us in our second reading tonight, just as Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us in their gospels, that something else happened that night he was betrayed. On that night:
Jesus took a loaf of bread.
He gave thanks.
He broke it.
He gave it to them.
He said, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
He took a cup.
He gave thanks.
He gave it to them.
He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Jesus promised that when we do this, he is truly there in the bread and in the wine. Jesus promised that he has sealed the new covenant with his blood, the new covenant between God and humanity. The new covenant that is forgiveness for every time we fail. The new covenant that is faith for every time we struggle. The new covenant that is healing for our sin-sickness, hope for our despair, salvation in our lostness.
And so, in our moments of weakness, our moments of despair, our moments when we’ve just had enough, we can trust in this sacrament. Not because it’s some kind of magic. Not because I or any other pastor have some secret formula to activate the power in it. Not because the only way God heals us or forgives us is through communion.
No, but we can trust in the sacrament because of the promise Jesus made. Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” We can trust that this gift is, as Jesus said, “for you.” It’s not just for the apostles. Not just for Moses. Not just for especially good people, or for people who have their life figured out. Not just for the people with more faith than us. Not just for them.
But for you. For you. In those moments when we doubt… In those moments when we worry that we’re not good enough. In those moments when we despair that we’re not good enough… In those moments when we know that we’re not good enough…
In those moments, we can trust that the grace of God is nonetheless for you. And it is enough. This tiny piece of bread. This tiny sip of wine. They are enough. And in them, we taste that God’s grace is enough. That Jesus’ body and blood is enough. That what Jesus accomplished for us that holy night is enough.
It is enough. I can’t prove that. But I trust it. Will you?