Based on Exodus 12:1-14, 1Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you knew that you had only one more day to live? Many folks in the United States choose to neither admit, discuss nor plan for their death. They don’t do the persistently loving act of having wills or insurance to cover the costs of a funeral and burial or to care for those left behind. I have been with countless family groups and patients who didn’t want the other group to be told that their loved one was going to die. The magical thinking here is that if we do not say the word “death” then it won’t happen. This kind of thinking makes some sense when we are in those high stress moments – but is obviously not helpful and is always completely unsuccessful. Both the dying and their loved ones know at a deep level that the end is coming more quickly than they would like.
For our purposes tonight, however, let’s return to my opening question…how would you spend your last 24 hours of life here on Earth? There are so many choices that confront those of us who live in the United States – especially those who are privileged. Would you gather friends and family, have your favorite meals, pour champagne and use the fine china and silver, binge-watch your favorite Netflix shows and movies, and/or tell everyone you know that you love and cherish them and why? The options are truly only limited by our imaginations and physiologic state at that moment. On this special night, however, it might be useful for we Christians to focus on what Jesus did on His final night of life on Earth.
Our scriptures for this service highlight the special nature of the Passover meal which Jesus transformed through persistent love on this night 2000 years ago into our sacred Holy Communion meal. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus is clear about what is going to happen, right down to the fact that the person who will betray Him that last night is reclined at table with Him sharing his last meal. Before we go farther, let us go to God in prayer thanking God for persistent love…
The text from Exodus tells us again, in excruciating detail, how the first Passover meal took place. We have as part of our altar tonight a Seder plate which has pictures of all the required elements which are highlighted in our reading. This was going to be the last night of enslavement for the Hebrews. They were to be dressed, packed and ready to roll on down the road – pillaging the Egyptians as they went. This last night in Egypt set the stage for everything that the chosen people would encounter with God. God, through one last majestic plague, would show God’s great and persistent love for these people who had thought that they were lost and forgotten.
The Apostle Paul is reprimanding the believers in Corinth for their divisive habits when celebrating Holy Communion. Instead of the meal of commemoration that it is meant to be, the Corinthians had turned it into just another feast event with too much alcohol and an inequitable treatment of those of lower classes. In our reading, Paul reminds them that this meal is a sacred event that should remind them of the loving sacrifice of Jesus on their behalf. They are to use this meal to proclaim Jesus’ death (and thus resurrection) until in the fullness of time Jesus comes again.
John’s Gospel describes the last night that Jesus was alive. The text tells us that Jesus knew that He was going to God. He had called and loved these twelve – even the one who would ultimately betray Him, right up to the end. Out of this great and persistent love, Jesus spent His last night with His friends celebrating Passover – the mighty act of God’s love and teaching them some final lessons. Jesus taught them about servanthood and gave them a way to remember Him that would form the foundation of what would grow into Christianity.
Jesus spent His last night on Earth (in His non-resurrected form) with His close friends, eating, fellowshipping, teaching and persistently loving. Jesus showed the unconditional love of God when He washed ALL the disciples’ feet – including Judas Iscariot. The love of God made manifest in Jesus was fully on display as it worked to transform the hearts of everyone at the table. Jesus knew what was in store for Him and He chose to live out the last day of His life in this way, with these people, teaching them important lessons.
In the next few hours, Jesus would go from being surrounded by friend in this pleasant room and meal to being mocked, derided, beaten and demeaned, shuttled back and forth between Jewish leaders while being falsely accused of heresy and blasphemy, railroaded in a sham trial, dumped off on the Roman prelate to decide His fate with a crowd shouting for His crucifixion. By three o’clock the next day, Jesus would be dead of asphyxiation and trauma on the hill called Golgotha outside of the city of Jerusalem. With all this in store for Him, the Gospel text tells us succinctly, “…Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end….”
We witness again tonight the truth of our human understanding of how God works as captured in scripture. We note once again that the persistent love of God is always at work – often in ways that we can’t appreciate or understand. The gospel, the good news of Jesus the Christ, is not directed only to those in privileged positions or who accept the love of God early in life. It is often directed towards those who are marginalized and isolated, resisting God’s persistent love with everything they have, all-the-while acknowledging deep down inside themselves that God’s unconditional love is exactly what they are desperately seeking.
The biblical record of God in relationship with God’s people nudges us to turn our heads in new directions, to see the faces of our neighbors and wonder how they are doing in this COVID-stricken world, to hear the voices which so often are muted in our presence, to discern how people might be denying the love of God that they need in their lives. We are reminded again to pray for folks who seem resistant to prayer, stubbornly misinformed or opinionated, even those who consider themselves enemies of the gospel because they are being misled by a false prophet and not Jesus.
We never know when our last day on Earth will come. While we have a lot of options on how we spend our days, if we lived our lives like this was our last day, I wonder if we would act more like Jesus? In His last day on Earth, we see Jesus praying and forgiving those who misunderstand and hurt Him, so we should do the same to those who misunderstand and hurt us. Jesus persistently loved everyone, even those who betrayed Him, so we should love those who betray us as well. Jesus showed people how to be in service to each other, even the ones who didn’t understand this teaching, so we should be in service to all as well. Jesus is persistently loving all of us, through all the terrible and uninformed things we do every day of our lives, so we should persistently love those who treat us the same. Jesus’ behavior on His last day shows us that God’s persistent love will not let any of us go, even to the end. This is good news indeed! Amen and amen.