Re-membering – A Sermon On John 13:1-17, 31-35 For Maundy Thursday

The Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci.
The Last Supper by Leonardo DaVinci.
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

What comes to mind when you think about Maundy Thursday? 

Most of us probably think about the foot washing and the last supper. That’s certainly part of what happens on this night, and that’s the focus of tonight’s gospel (John 13:1-17, 31-35). But this night is also the night of the betrayal. 

After washing the disciples’ feet (including the feet of Judas) Jesus “returned to the table” and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will be betray me” (John 13:21). “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it into the dish” (John 13:26). 

We know what happens next. Jesus gave the piece of bread to Judas and “immediately [Judas] went out. And it was night.” (John 13:26, 30) Later that night Jesus and his disciples go to a garden on the other side of the Kidron valley. Judas also goes there and brings soldiers, police, chief priests, and Pharisees. They come with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus is arrested, bound, and taken away. (John 18:1-4, 12) And the betrayal is complete.

If you’ve been able to attend the Holy Week services the last several days or read the sermons online then you know that I have been following the thread of betrayal that is woven throughout this week. That’s why I wanted us to recall that Maundy Thursday is not only the night of the last supper and foot washing, but also the night of betrayal. 

I don’t think there is a more stark or heartbreaking image of betrayal tonight than in the stripping of the altar. It is the last thing we will do tonight. We will strip the altar. 

Every betrayal, whether of ourselves or another, is a stripping of the altar of our life. Something is lost, pulled apart, and dismembered. Betrayals dismember trust, relationship, love, innocence, self-esteem, plans and hopes for the future, integrity and wholeness. When we betray we dismember our own life or someone’s else’s, and usually both. 

How have you experienced your self-betrayals and your betrayals of another? In what ways has the altar of your life been stripped? What is dismembered in your life tonight? 

I want us to name what is dismembered in us because tonight is also the night of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus says to us (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Jesus is not saying to us, “Don’t forget me when I’m gone. Think about me now and then.” There’s more to remembrance than that.

Remembering is the antidote to dismembering. 

I’m not talking about remembering as simply recalling a past event or the way things used to be. I am talking about re-membering, “membering again.” It’s taking the members, the parts and pieces of our lives, and putting them back together again. That’s what this night is about. We come this night to re-member what has been dismembered. 

Everything Jesus says and does tonight is about re-membering.

  • “This is my body that is for you.” — “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    In what ways are you embodying the presence of Jesus? How are you embodying his likeness? What would it look like for you to embody the image of Jesus? I’m asking about tangible, fleshy life. It is re-membering ourselves to faith, hope, love, beauty, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, hospitality – all the things we see in the life and body of Jesus – not simply as good ideas or beliefs, but as actions that connect us to something larger than and beyond ourselves.

  • “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” — “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    What cups are you drinking from these days? Which ones are filling you up and giving you life? And which ones are leaving you empty and thirsty? What keeps you from drinking deeply from the cup of life? Tonight is the invitation to drink from the cup of remembrance, to re-member within ourselves what gives life, what holds meaning for us, and what really matters. What is that for you?
  • “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” — “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    What in you needs to come clean tonight? And what is your fear about that? This is about honesty and vulnerability with ourselves. It means naming our wounds and guilts, and then reimagining our lives as larger than what has happened to us or what we’ve done. We re-member ourselves; our value, dignity, and beauty. 
  • “You also ought to wash one another’s feet.” — “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    From whom and in what ways have you become disconnected? With whom do you need to re-member? Even though we wash feet on this night, this night is not really about feet. It’s about intimacy and opening ourselves to receive and hold the life of another. It’s recognizing the beauty, dignity, and value of another, and holding their needs, hopes, and lives as important and valid as our own.
  • “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” — “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    This is the pinnacle and fulfillment of all our re-membering. The love Jesus is speaking about is not a feeling. It is steadfast loyalty and commitment to another and his or her well-being. Love is a verb, an action, and it has the power to change our lives and the world.

    Love looks like tears for and outreach to Ukraine; a parent’s sleepless night with a sick child; sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one; supporting, encouraging, and calling forth the best in another; commitment to one who has fallen and lost her or his way; caring for those in need; celebrating the joys and successes of another; sitting with and holding the grief of another, working for justice; forgiving hurts and healing relationships; living in gratitude. 

    You cannot love without re-membering. Love is the way of re-membering.

This entire week has been about re-membering, and it is not over. Do not let your re-membering end tonight with communion, the foot washing, or the stripping the altar. Re-membering is not an event. It is a way of living. It is a way of relating to others. It is a way of becoming more fully ourselves. 

Leave here tonight re-membering. Let it be your daily practice.

Re-member. Re-member. Re-member.

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