|Published by Josh Hosler on Thu, Apr 9, 2020 8:07 PM|
When my family prepares dinner, usually one of us is cooking, another is acting as sous chef, and the third is setting the table, getting drinks, and so on. When everything is ready, we all sit down and, most often, we sing that song I just taught you. Tonight it’s a pleasure to welcome all of you into our home.
Welcome to dinner. Tonight we are each other’s servers. We can’t be in the same room to share Holy Communion. We can’t wash one another’s feet. That will have to wait for another Maundy Thursday. But what we do, we do together as best we can, and I think that gets at the heart of what Jesus intended.
There was also an intense togetherness in the many homes of the Hebrews that night in Egypt, each in their own place, yet each doing the same thing: slaughtering a lamb at twilight, painting their doorposts with the blood, waiting for the news that Pharaoh had finally relented, that the “all-clear” was given … that the people could now head for the sea. The instructions for that meal, preserved for so many generations, are remarkably specific. And the piece that jumps out at me every year is this: “You shall eat it hurriedly.” We’re building to the climax of the story, so these matters are important and urgent. And the climax centers on a slaughtered lamb, on blood spilled to make a meal, shared together, separately, in our own homes.
There is a hostile world outside threatening to get in: Pharaoh. Goliath. Nebuchadnezzar. Caiaphas. Pontius Pilate. The Cross. The Coliseum. The Crusaders. The Plague. The Nazis. Terrorists. White nationalists. COVID-19. How do we react to hostile powers? What is the best way forward? What would God have us do? After all, it’s us versus them … right?
From its inception on the other side of the Red Sea, Judaism came to flower among a people who slowly realized that this simplistic, us-versus-them kind of life just doesn’t work. It isn’t what God wants for us. And so we must reject it.
This rejection isn’t simple. It doesn’t lead to clarity of action in the very next moment. I mean, look at us all, staying safely in our homes tonight. This looks an awful lot like “us against the world”—if we lock ourselves away, we will be safe from this virus until a vaccine can be developed and distributed.
Well, we know the science, and we know that we must lock ourselves away for now. But in so doing, we are also rising above. We are using electronic means to make a worthy loophole, because those of us here tonight are privileged to have the technology to do so. Tonight, we worship as the Church, not only for ourselves, but also on behalf of those who cannot join us.
And though we recognize that the danger outside is real and could kill us, we refuse to see the world as ultimately hostile. We need one another, for God has made of one blood all the peoples of the earth. Indeed, that’s easier to see today than ever before in human history. We are genetically the same.
It is us against the world. But only if we understand that “us” means all of us. And only if we also define carefully what “the world” means.
John’s community of first-century Christians has fascinated scholars since the dawn of modern biblical criticism. From reading Jesus’ words in John’s gospel; and from reading the first, second, and third letters of John; and from reading the Revelation to John—we see clearly this “us against the world” dynamic. We can deduce that John’s community had suffered a painful schism, with a bunch of Christians disagreeing and leaving the church. We also see the pain of Christians having been formally excluded from their Jewish communities. They felt besieged by a hostile world, and their answer was to dig in their heels and be an alternative community, a group set apart to wait for the return of Christ together.
For John’s hearers, “the world” was a strange land where people did not know or trust one another. “The world” was ready to break into their homes and pillage them, to prevent them from worshiping … to take away their lives.
In John 17, we hear the conclusion of four chapters that comprise Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. John would have us understand that it’s not merely Jesus of Nazareth speaking, but the Cosmic Christ, the One who has been a part of God’s very being from the beginning. And Christ says to God the Father in prayer, “The world does not know you.”
Must we define “the world” in this way? God’s world—the world given to us for our enjoyment? That’s not what John means.
No, for us, “the world” means hoarding toilet paper or even selling it at a markup. “The world” means the willful ignorance of refusing to self-quarantine, going around casually among others even when we don’t have to. “The world” means medical facilities being forced to compete for federal assistance. “The world” means having to break quarantine to vote. “The world” means a sudden spike in gun sales. “The world” means superstitiously believing that God will not let us get sick.
In contrast to “the world,” we are invited to embrace a much larger vision. We set our hearts on eternal life. Christ tells us that eternal life is to know God. That’s it: to know God. And we Christians have come to understand that we know God by knowing Christ Jesus—a human among us as any other human, a human who suffered as we do.
We know Christ when we love one another. Strangely enough, these days, love means staying at home. But love also means checking in on one another. Love means reaching beyond our immediate circle to build relationships with our neighbors. Love means figuring out what money we need and continuing to give money away. Love means catching ourselves when we slip into hopelessness and returning, ever so gently, again and again, to our eternal perspective. This kind of love is the same thing as knowing Christ, and that’s good news! The Way of Love is open to absolutely everyone.
But tonight, we are the Church: a people with a mission. We are those who tell the world, “Hey! Are you looking for love? Come and see Jesus!” Tonight, we are also John’s community, hunkered down in fear and wondering how to love one another and protect one another from a hostile world.
And tonight, we are Peter, James, John, and Judas. We are the ones Christ loves, regardless of our circumstances. We are the ones Christ will die for, even though we deny or betray him. Nothing will stop Christ’s longing for us: longing for us to experience abundant joy in this life, longing for us to be protected from evil temptations that are hostile to love.
The invitation to us tonight is to be disciples—followers of Christ’s Way of Love. Christ feeds us with his very self, washes our feet, and sends us out into the world, where the hard decisions are to be made. We are sent out to be strangers in a strange land, countering the strangeness of fear and displacement with the odd familiarity of a love that transcends life and death.
Our work isn’t complete until, with God’s help, we achieve the goal Christ lays out for us: “That they all may be one.” This is the mission of the Church. Though we know that we will never accomplish it fully—and that without God’s help we will not even be able to begin—we know our marching orders. We are going to the front lines.
It’s us lovers against the world of fear. And our only weapon is to give ourselves away. Tonight, we are all following Christ to the Cross. Amen.