Monday, 2 April 2012

Service For Maundy Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dead palm leaves scatter the sides of the path outside the church – people must pass them to enter.
Seats are arranged in a circle. Seven candles are on the table in the centre.
A bowl and a jug of water are on the table.
A chalice of wine and plate with flat bread are on the table.

Welcome to this service of worship. Our format this morning is a series of readings and reflections. As we go through today’s service, I will ask you all to take turns at doing the Bible readings. And we begin with our first reading.

Reading:  John 1:1-5

The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out. But today, we remember that the darkness tried to put out the light of the world. Jesus’ last night of his earthly life was one when light struggled with darkness; hope and joy struggled with despair and loss.

This morning, we follow the events that make up tonight’s story – the last night before Jesus’ crucifixion – as told by someone who refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” As we retell the story once more, we realise that we are also the disciples Jesus loves – that this night of darkness and shadows is one which Jesus faced for us – the darkness which struggled with the light, was the darkness of the world, and also the darkness of our own lives.

Extinguish first candle.

Responsive prayer:
Loving God, we give thanks for the Light of the world come among us:
We give thanks for the Light of the world come into our lives.
When we meet times of darkness, of despair and hopelessness:
We give thanks for the light of the world come into our lives
When we meet times of darkness, of uncertainty and doubt:
We give thanks for the Light of the world come into our lives.
When we meet times of darkness, of injustice and unfairness:
We give thanks for the Light of the world come into our lives.
When we meet times of darkness, of danger and of fear:
We give thanks for the Light of the world come into our lives.
When we meet times of darkness, of sorrow and regret:
We give thanks for the Light of the world come into our lives.
We give you thanks in all things Loving God, for the gift of the Light which dispels the darkness of the world, and the darkness of our lives.

Our journey through this long dark night begins with a celebration: friends sharing fellowship together over a meal, and preparing for the festival of the Passover – the festival to celebrate God’s salvation, the freedom of the Israelites from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. So, preparing to celebrate salvation, the friends gather for a meal….

Reading: John 13:1-20

Our lives lead us down many dusty roads: and we collect the dirt on our feed. Sometimes what we collect is a physical or spiritual or emotional load which we cannot bear. Sometimes what we collect is guilt – a dirty, unclean feeling in our souls – a knowing that we have failed to be and to do what is worthy of disciples of Jesus.

Pour water into the bowl.

In our baptism, Jesus meets us and washes us clean from the discomfort and burden we bear. Until we have been washed clean by Jesus, we are not clean  - until he has wasked us, we have no share with him. But more than that … Jesus teaches us to do the same for each other, to go his way of self-sacrificing love; to ignore our pride and dignity, for the sake of serving each other.

In baptism, we have been washed clean by Jesus, at times we may need to recall that cleansing. You are invited to come forward, to think of what you have been freed from, and what you may yet need to be freed from; to touch the water and be assured of the cleansing love of Jesus.

Extinguish second candle.
Reading: John 13:1-30

What a dark, lonely night; for Jesus, who knew he was about to be betrayed; for Judas who was about to betray him; for the other disciples who really did not know what was happening.

Jesus tore the bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas. Only Jesus, Judas and the disciple who tells the story knew what this meant: it was a secret shared between the three of them. The traitor, the betrayed, and an observer. Could  any of them have changed what was about to happen?

Jesus would not stop it. Through these events people would see God glorified. Judas would later try to stop it, but by then would things would have progressed to the point where nothing could be done.  And, like us, the disciple Jesus loved could do nothing but observe and retell the story.

We like to condemn Judas for what he did, and imagine that we would never do anything like that. To sell Jesus for money! But I wonder… do I sometimes take the bread in communion, and go into my daily life to betray Jesus by the way I live, by the way I relate to other people?

Judas was not alone in his betrayal. In the course of this night, others would also betray Jesus: they would run away or deny him, abandoning him to his fate.

If we put ourselves in Judas’ sandals for a moment: he realised what he had done and repented. He gave the money back. But it was too late, the chain of events begun with his betrayal could not be stopped.

How often do we find that when we do something, unthinking, or knowingly wrong, that it has consequences we don’t foresee?  We can’t control the results of our actions. The rest of the twelve would see Jesus again after this night, and would know his forgiveness and his continuing love: Judas would not have that opportunity – not believing in the possibility of forgiveness, not expecting to be freed from his guilt, he compounded one crime with another and took his own life.

On this night, Jesus would teach the disciples many things: about love and forgiveness, about what the future will bring, but Judas had already gone, and would hear none of it. Having had the opportunity to choose for or against Jesus, he chose to be against him.

Break off some bread, dip in the cup and eat – then pass around the group.

Extinguish the third candle.

Reading John 13:31-35

It was Jesus’ last night with his disciples, and all the time he had to prepare them for what was to come. While the other gospels show Jesus praying alone, to prepare himself, in this account of the story, Jesus took his last opportunity as a teacher.

Just as he had demonstrated in washing their feet, he again told them to love one another. This was how they would be known and recognised as his disciples: by their love for one another.

At another time, Jesus is said to have summarised the Law into two mandates from the Old Testament: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.  On his last night he said: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This was a much more difficult command. Jesus’ love would take him through this night and into Good Friday, through betrayal, abandonment, torture and death. A community of people who had such incredible love for each other really would be a witness for Christ in the world.

Extinguish fourth candle.

Reader: John 13:36-38

It was a little rash of Peter, perhaps, to say “I’ll lay down my life for you.” And yet, the time would come when he would do just that. But that was for the future. On this night, he would do the unthinkable – he would deny even knowing Jesus. With his own safety threatened, possibly his life threatened, he would take the safest way out, and protect his life at the cost of his loyalty to Jesus.

And for his part, Jesus, knowing that one disciple was going to betray him, one was going to deny him, and others would abandon him all together, still turned his attention to them and to their needs. The time was short, but he went on to teach them all that they would need to know for the coming weekend: he assured them that they would eventually be able to go to him – his Father’s house had room for all of Jesus’ followers.  While events may be frightening, confusing, they would not be left alone. The Holy Spirit would come, would be with them, just as Jesus had been with them.

Jesus promised them peace: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Peace promised, in the face of what was to come. Peace which could overcome the fear and confusion. What kind of peace could this be? What kind of peace could be offered by someone about to be tortured and killed? And yet, he left them peace – the peace of never being left alone. While they would abandon him, he would never leave them. The peace of knowing that Jesus had a place for them saved in his Father’s house. Jesus left them the paradox of peace in the midst of despair, of turmoil and strife – peace in the midst of persecution and oppression.

The last thing he did before Judas returned, was to pray. Jesus prayed to consecrate himself as a sacrifice to the glory of God. He prayed for his followers: that they would be one. In all the disunity among Jesus’ followers then and now, we are all still one in him. He prayed to consecrate his followers as they went to show his love, and so bring the gospel to the world.

Holy God, as Jesus prayed for us, so we pray for ourselves. May we, and all of Jesus’ disciples throughout the world be one in him. May we through our lives as individuals and through our joint life as a community of faith, bear witness to the Light. May we carry the Light of Christ in the darkness of the world, and may our lives in Christ bring glory to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Extinguish fifth candle.

Reading: John 18:1-11

If Judas is not remembered for anything else – he will always be remembered for this one night, and for the kiss which this gospel does not record, but which is burned into our recollections of this night. We shudder in horror at the thought of the touch of the traitor’s lips – the kis of Judas is like the kiss of a venomous snake.”

The soldiers and police asked for Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered “I am”  … I AM is the way God identified God’s self to Moses on the mountain. I AM … Jesus was not simply identifying himself as the person they were looking for – but someone far more than they expected. I AM: confronted with the reality of who it was they came to arrest, they fell to the ground.

Surely, Jesus could have just walked away from those men who had come with their lanterns, torches, and weapons, who collapsed on the ground at the mere sound of his voice. But instead, he gave himself into their custody, asking only that his followers be allowed to go free. He would give his life in return for their freedom, and ours.

Extinguish sixth candle.

Reading: John 18:12-27

The reason it was Peter who denied Jesus, is that it was Peter who followed him. The others did not have the opportunity, they’d already deserted.

Peter probably didn’t even think about what he was doing. Those accusing voices asked “Weren’t you with him? You sound like a Galilean – aren’t you one of his followers?” What could  Peter have done, except to tell the lie – to say “Of course not! You’ve mistaken me for someone else! I don’t even know him.”

Sometimes, when we’re frightened, or in an awkward situation, it’s easier to pretend that we don’t even know Jesus than it is to speak the truth about him. To confess Jesus among people who are against him makes us vulnerable – puts us at risk. Had any of us been standing by that same fire in the courtyard, would we have acted differently?

Peter denied Jesus the third time, just as the rooster crowed. The gospel writer doesn’t tell us how Peter felt, but we can imagine the pain and guilt as he remembered Jesus’ words earlier that night: that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed.

Extinguish seventh candle.

The rooster crowed, and it was morning.

The time to celebrate will come, but for now, it seems as if the darkness truly has beaten the light. We go out, in silence, into the darkness and despair of Thursday.  We have yet to go through Friday. But we go, knowing that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not put it out.                                                                                                

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