Maundy Thursday (2010)

Late into the summer afternoon we laughed and talked. The children played tag on the grass and their shadows grew longer as the grownups lingered over one more cup of punch, maybe another cookie. It was the kind of afternoon we didn’t want to end. Time together had become rare over the years and we had looked forward to this get-together of family and friends for a long time. The children were lined up and pictures were taken. Good friends smiled at each other over picnic tables and observed the traces of time gone by on one another’s faces.

The boys and I had a long drive ahead of us and so finally it was time to leave. Michelle, my best friend since the first day of kindergarten, who now lives in Boston, walked us to our car. Her four boys ran circles around my two boys and they roughhoused like old friends even though they had all only met that week. For at least that moment it was how we had always thought it would be – her children and my children all good friends just like we had always been.

Michelle and I stood by the car. We talked about how good it had been to see each other again. How we would make sure that it wouldn’t be so long until the next time we got together. We marveled at each other’s children and how we couldn’t believe that here we were – old married ladies with families and homes.

Owen and Jesse hugged their new little friends goodbye and I buckled them into the car seats. Michelle and I hugged and then stood facing each other, motionless, until finally she smiled and said, “I’ll see you later.”   In that moment I thought about the first time I saw her, all pigtails and freckles, playing with blocks in the corner of a classroom, I remembered long walks on gravel roads, long talks about boys and then us driving around town in her dad’s big orange truck.  A thousand memories in a split second as I saw the late afternoon breeze brush through her hair.  I simply smiled back at her and said, “I’ll see you later.”

As I finally got into my car and headed west, the boys dozed off, and thought about the day and my dear friend and how we never said “goodbye.”

I don’t know about you – but I don’t like goodbyes. I’ll do most anything to avoid them. I still cry nearly every time I leave my mother’s house for the long drive back to Colorado. I don’t even like leaving my boys behind at preschool for the day – unless they’ve been particularly whiny – then, I don’t mind so much.

And of course, these days, the word “goodbye” has been on my mind a lot.  Partly because soon our family is going to be making some big changes as we move from here to Texas.   But also because I’ve been thinking a lot about the events we remember on this Maundy Thursday.   

Maundy Thursday always rings of such sadness to me. It’s almost more sad to me than Good Friday – partly because I can’t fully comprehend the horror of the crucifixion, but also because I know how hard it can be to say “goodbye”.  As I think about the last supper, the last meal that Jesus ate with his disciples, I can only imagine the sadness around that table.  I think about them wondering exactly what he meant as he kept saying “remember me”.  “Remember me by eating this bread and drinking this wine.”   I imagine constricted throats trying to choke down pieces of bread, sips of wine.  “What does he mean? He’s leaving us?  What does he mean?  One of us will betray him?”  What had it all meant if it only had to end this way? Did the shared walks and talks and the moments the disciples and Jesus had spent together, and all he had taught them mean anything if it all was just ending?

It isn’t difficult to wonder that ourselves when we teeter on the brink of goodbyes. When the illness has run its course, when a journey together has culminated and paths separate, when we find ourselves at that moment when the roads diverge and we face an ending. How do we make sense of all that has been shared? Do the long walks and the talks and the laughter and the tears and all the wonderful and difficult moments shared really mean anything if they just have to end in a goodbye? Where do we find our hope and our peace when we face endings?

I think Jesus answers this for us in words that he also spoke on this night we are remembering.  Gathered there with his disciples he said, 33“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Why this talk about love right now?  I think it was more than just a new commandment or some good advice for their future work together and as they went about their lives.    I think it was more than just a way for people to recognize Christ’s ideals still in alive in the disciples.

 

Listen to the words of Saint Paul: Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 1but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three abide: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

That is a scripture often read at weddings, but I like to read it at funerals, too. I love it because in verse it says that faith, hope, and love abide. That word “abide” is a beautiful word that we don’t hear too often anymore but it means, to go on, to remain, to last, to stay. Love remains.

 

Jesus was telling his disciples that by continuing to love one another and to love others, he would always be with them.  The presence of love in our world means Christ’s own presence, Christ’s own resurrecting presence, Christ’s own eternal presence remains. And do you know what this means for us in our relationships here on earth? It means that everything matters because even if we have put just a thimble-full of love into a relationship, that relationship will have an eternal dimension, because Love goes on forever.

And that is how we can put time and energy into our relationships here and now and know that while moments of separation may come, whether short or long, those do not last. Not even the ultimate separation of death. That is how a few months ago I could stand over my father’s grave and pour the sand over his coffin and speak the words, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” with no tears in my eyes. While life as we knew it was ending, I knew then as I know now that the most important things remained. Certainly, many things do die when the last breath is drawn – things like broken bodies and sadness and strained relationships, things like misunderstandings or bitterness or hopelessness – all those things do die, but what lasts is Love.  There are no real goodbyes for people who believe in a resurrected Lord.  We can always simply say, “I’ll see you later.”

Easter morning is yet far away. There is a sad and bitter journey we need to yet take with our Lord.  Jesus leaves the meal with his disciples to go to the garden of Gethsemane to pray in anguish, knowing that there is a cup that only he can drink.  He sees his only friends have fallen asleep rather than staying awake with him in this bitter hour. 

But one thing we can trust as darkness falls on our Lord. One thing we can trust even as the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard and the elders come for him.  One thing we can trust as the crowd shouts for his death and he carries his own means of execution to Golgotha is that the whole way, through his sweat and his tears and his blood and his cries, if you listen carefully you will hear him whispering to us the whole way – not goodbye, never goodbye  – no, he is whispering  – “I will see you later.”

Let us pray…

Dear Lord, on this Holy night we pray that you be with us.  Be with us in our prayers and sighs.  Be with us as our Lenten journey comes ever closer to the cross.  Be with us in our relationships with one another – help us to build each one of those relationships on a foundation of love.  Be with us especially when it becomes difficult to love.  Be with us as you have promised you always will be in our sharing of bread and wine.  How we do we remember you, Lord Jesus.  How we love you.  How we praise you.  How we thank you and adore you.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Maundy Thursday

In many ways, this is the darkest night of the church year.  One could argue that Good Friday is darker and more solemn as it closes with Christ in the tomb, all hope lost – and yet, I would argue that it is this evening, Maundy Thursday, when the darkness presses in most deeply – it is nearly suffocating when we pause to consider it long enough.

It is this quiet evening we remember Jesus, vulnerable and sharing a final meal with his disciples.  Here he is, experiencing final words and moments with those who were the closest to him.  Here he is, knowing that the end was coming, and that these events that would lead to his death were set in motion by someone from his inner circle.  While on Good Friday we can imagine the crowd of strangers noisily shouting, “Crucify him,” – somehow the shouts of an angry mob are easier to understand than the betrayal of a friend, a loved one.  I sometimes think that while the beating and torture he endured on Friday was horrible, the cruelest blow was that of the kiss of his friend, Judas.

Have you ever betrayed someone you love?  Whether on purpose or by accident – have you caused harm to another?

If you have, you know that there are the stories we don’t like to tell.  These are memories that haunt and the stories that we try to shove deep inside and put on a smile and pretend they don’t exist. Try to drown them with drink or soften their edges with pills- yet, they remain.  Their truth cannot be dimmed.  The stories of our deepest failings feel like they need to be shut up tight and never spoken out loud – and yet, I have found in my own life that there is a certain healing that is possible only with admission and confession. 

I’ve spoken many times to you over the years about my mom. Many of you met her during the brief time she lived here before she died.  You know she went through a time of major depression and that was why she came from Minnesota to live with us.  Her depression had gotten so overpowering that she would no longer make the effort to eat or take her medicine or do anything without someone to make sure she did so. 

When mom came to live with us, I was so glad to try to do whatever I could for her.  The ways that she had lovingly cared for us as kids and then took care of my dad when he got older, I wanted to extend that same kind of care to her when she needed it.  We moved her into a room in our house, we loved having her with us even though she really wasn’t anything like herself anymore.  Her anxiety and depression were so deep that days with us were spent mostly sitting by the kitchen table, not speaking.  I would make her breakfast and go to work and then come home and make her lunch and then go back to work and then make her supper and three days a week I took her to a support group for seniors who were going through severe depression.  At the same time, the boys were in preschool and my final project for my doctorate was reaching its’ deadline. 

I took her to doctor’s appointments and checked her blood sugar twice a day.  She had diabetes and liver troubles and a heart condition that required that she get the thickness of her blood checked monthly so she wouldn’t get clots.  These were all things that she had tended to doing diligently before this but now that she couldn’t, I was determined to tend to all of it for her. 

And after a while, it felt like we were finding our way.  It was a strange new normal that we had as a family, but as I said, I was so glad to have her with me and that my boys could get to know her – even though her newfound anxiety and nerves made it hard for her to tolerate the loudness and chaos of a house with little boys.  It seemed like the support group was helping mom and now and then I saw glimpses of the mom I grew up with.  I was getting my work done and getting my dissertation done and getting the boys and mom where they needed to be.  It was a blur of days and I wasn’t sleeping much, but it felt like everything was going to be okay.

But then one afternoon I noticed mom was shaky and she went to lie down in her room.  I went in to check her blood sugar and I saw she had thrown up and was disoriented and couldn’t speak.  We called the ambulance and she went to the ER in Waco.  In the emergency room, the doctor was asking me many questions – about her medications, about when was the last time she had her blood checked.  You see, mom had just had a stroke because a clot had developed in her heart.  A perfectly round clot the size of a walnut.  And the clot was there because her blood had gotten too thick.  And her blood had gotten too thick because her medication dosage was apparently not right anymore.  And her medication dosage was not right because, as I ticked back through the days and weeks in my mind, I realized it had been well over six weeks since we had gotten it checked, instead of one month as it was supposed to be.

Because of that clot, mom had to have surgery to get it removed, a surgery from which she never recovered, and died a few months later.

I often used to joke about my forgetfulness, how I have to write everything down in order to remember both small and big things.  I figured if being forgetful was my worst flaw, then it wasn’t so bad. But in all my juggling of life and family and work and school, I had forgotten an astronomically important thing – to make sure she got her blood checked – and the consequences were catastrophic.  I’ll bear the grief and guilt and sadness about this until the day I die – because even though I would never, ever willingly have betrayed or harmed my mom, I did.  She had needed me to watch out for her, and I blew it.  Utterly and fully blew it.  There are no words to express the remorse I feel about this.

It’s a confession, that’s what it is.  God and I have talked about it an awful lot over the years.  As I proclaim the forgiveness of sins each week, I try to remind myself that forgiveness extends to me, too, and hopefully one of these days I will believe it. 

I share this story with you not just out of my need to speak it out loud, but to hold up the truth that we so deeply need what this night is about.  We come together as a big group of imperfect people, people who have histories and secrets, failures and longings, regrets and sins.  We may do a great job of hiding all these things so that no one would guess how broken we are inside, but we know.  And God knows.  And in this meal we share tonight we remember that even so, we are loved.  We are treasured.  It was because of our brokenness that Jesus sacrificed all for us.  He knew exactly what he was doing. And even though nothing can erase our brokenness, or fix all our mistakes, that God is able to always, somehow, still use us for good.

It seems too good to be true.  Judas couldn’t imagine it.  He was so overwhelmed by what he had done that the scripture says first he went and tried to give back the thirty pieces of silver he had gotten for betraying Jesus and then immediately went and hanged himself.  He couldn’t bear the thought of what he had done.

It’s human beings who feel such a greedy need to hoard guilt and shame – it’s not God.  Judas couldn’t forgive himself, but Jesus could. He did. On this Holy Thursday we remember how Jesus the Christ knelt and washed the feet of his disciples, even Judas.  He begged them to love one another, even as his heart grieved knowing how they would fail.  He loved them through his tears, even Judas.  His forgiveness so great that the cross would not extinguish it.  His forgiveness so great that it was for everyone for all time, even Judas.  Even you.  Even me. 

May God grant us grace to believe in this truth, in this Jesus, now and always.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.