Thursday, April 21, 2011

Let Us Be Friends

A Maundy Thursday Sermon
Saint Faith's Anglican Church
21 April 2011

        + My friends in Christ, I speak to you in the name of God the Weaver, who through the shuttle of the Holy Spirit weaves us into the pattern of the Word made flesh.  Amen.

         On a visit to UBC Urgent Care three days before I was to leave Vancouver to travel to Myanmar, the physician who examined me asked, “Why would you or any one travel to a military dictatorship like Myanmar?”  One of the members of the rugby executive that I used to serve on wrote to the parents of our rugby team, “Please keep Dr Leggett in your thoughts and prayers.  As you know he is an Anglican priest and a professor at Vancouver School of Theology.  He’s off on a trip to Myanmar, a country where the military persecutes Christians and jails intellectuals.  We’d like him to come back to us.”  Another person expressed his concern that I was not adhering to the request of some members of the democratic opposition in Myanmar that foreigners avoid travelling to the country.  Our own foreign affairs web-site advised against ‘non-essential’ travel.

         So why did I go?  I have come to realize that there is only one reason.  I went to visit friends.  I went to visit friends whom I had never met but friends nevertheless. These friends needed to see and talk to me in the flesh as much as I needed to see and talk to them.  It was, with due respect to our foreign affairs travel advisory, ‘essential’ travel.

         On this night two millennia ago in a secure location Jesus met with his friends.  The different gospel accounts do not agree as to what kind of festive meal they were sharing.  Matthew, Mark and Luke describe it as the Passover meal, while John describes a chaburah, a fellowship meal where a rabbi met with his disciples and conducted what I would call a graduate seminar.  What is clear, whether the meal was the Passover meal or a chaburah, is that the community of disciples gathered around Jesus had reached a climactic moment.

         The controversy that began with Jesus’ teaching ministry of the past three years had led to conflict within the Jewish community throughout Judea.  The Jewish authorities, concerned with the integrity of the Jewish tradition and with maintaining some semblance of political autonomy under Roman imperial administration, had begun to take more active steps to solve ‘the Jesus problem’.  As Jesus had travelled to Jerusalem, even some of those who had followed him began to abandon him, some simply walking away, while one, Judas, for reasons that have never been clear, decided to betray Jesus to the authorities.

         In this environment Jesus girded himself with a towel and performed one of the basic duties of a domestic servant.  When he had finished, he spoke words that I believe are among the most significant in the New Testament:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35)

         Genuine love cannot be disembodied.  Genuine love demands to be embodied incarnation in the lives of men, women and children who have been grasped by Jesus of Nazareth in their own times and places.

         Genuine love is not primarily an emotional state.  It is the choice to live out the call of the prophet Micah to do justice, to adore covenant loyalty and to walk humbly in the presence of God.  To love is to choose to share in this eucharistic feast knowing that to do so is to re-commit oneself to the baptismal covenant which we shall explicitly renew at the Easter Vigil but which we implicitly renew each time we reach out our hands and take the bread of life into our hands.

         The consequences of baptismal faith lived out in eucharistic fellowship for Christians are several.  First, Christians understand their relationship to be public rather than private.  Our covenantal relationship with God and with each other, forged in baptism and renewed in eucharist, has communal and societal dimensions.  Our claim to be members of the Christian community causes our lives to come under special scrutiny, especially if we claim that our life as members of the Body of Christ represents, in some spiritual way, the life of God as expressed in our trinitarian faith.

         We seek companionship, people with whom to break bread.  Later in the gospel of John, Jesus will say this:

This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  (John 15.12-15)

At the heart of all genuinely Christian relationships is a self-giving and self-revealing friendship where we permit ourselves to become more and more transparent to one another.

         Christians understand the need for a community of support that shares both values and hopes.  When red-hot charcoal briquettes are separated from one another, they quickly lose their heat and burn out.  If they are kept close together, their heat increases and, in a counter-intuitive fashion, lasts longer.  In many ways the Christian life functions similarly.  When we find ourselves in the midst of a supportive community, our faith is reinforced and deepened, enabling us to live out more faithfully our baptismal commitments to one another.

         An adequate theology of community must take account of sin.  Love in community is not exempt from hurt and injustice.  Thus the religious dimension of community involves redemption and reconciliation.  Without grace, without the gift of healing and renewal and forgiveness, no community will reach its fulfillment.  Indeed, it would be come a stifling idolatry.  (Hefling, Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies, 96)

         We come from a tradition that understands the necessity of forgiveness if old hurts and new wrongs are ever to be laid aside in order for the new creation to be revealed in and through our relationships.  Furthermore, our tradition empowers us to a greater commitment to a world in which reconciliation takes place between peoples and nations.  How the Christian community conducts itself when in the midst of controversy and conflict can be a witness to the larger human community.

         The call of the gospel to love one’s neighbour as oneself is the corollary to the commandment to love God.  When we fail to treat one another as God’s beloved in whom the image and likeness of God is present, then we fail in our baptismal vocation.

         So, my brothers and sisters, let us be friends tonight.  Let us embody that love for one another as friends which we have come to know in Jesus of Nazareth.  Let us be friends tonight to prepare ourselves for the work that still lies before us.  Let us be friends tonight to remember those of our brothers and sisters, our friends, who struggle each day for bread, for water and for human dignity.  Amen.

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