Sermon for Maundy Thursdayadmin | 13 April 2017
“Turn unto the Lord your God”
“Rend your hearts,” the prophet Joel bids us, “and not your garments and turn unto the Lord your God.” Nowhere is that turning more concentrated for us than in the three great holy days of Holy Week, the Triduum Sacrum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Yet our turning to God is really only the effect of God turning to us.
“Turn thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned” as the prayer in the Penitential Service in the Prayer Book puts it, a prayer shaped by Joel’s words. Redire ad principia, as Lancelot Andrewes remarks, a kind of circling, repentance is really about our turning back to him from whom we have turned away. How we have turned away is seen and made visible in the hideous spectacle of the Passion where we confront all of the various forms of the disorder and disarray of human hearts and our human world. But that turning is because there is a principle to which we can return, an active principle. Such is the will of God made visible in the events of these days especially.
“A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another even as I have loved you.” This conveys the meaning of this day called Maundy Thursday. Mandatum is the Latin for commandment englished as Maundy. The events of this night concentrate for us the paradox of the double turning, God’s turning to us and our turning to God.
“He carried himself in his own hands”. In such a phrase, St. Augustine captures the paradox and the poignancy of the passion of Christ on this night, this very night.
“He carried himself in his own hands” who is delivered into the hands of his betrayers on this night, this very night.
“He carried himself in his own hands” who is delivered into the hands of his enemies on this night, this very night.
“He carried himself in his own hands” who is delivered into our hands on this night, this very night.
For we are his betrayers; we are his enemies and yet, that “he carried himself in his own hands” signifies something more than our betrayals and our enmities against God. It signifies the love that underlies the passion of Christ, the inner spring of the will that undergoes the passion of Christ, making provision for us out of our wills in disarray, out of our hearts of betrayal, out of our hands of cruelty and hate, the hands of sinful men and women, my hands and yours. Such is his turning to us in the face of our turning away from him or, more troublingly, our turning to him in violence and hatred.
“A new commandment I give unto you”, Christ says, even as “he carrie[s] himself in his own hands”. For what he speaks that he also does. The effective signs and tokens of his love are given to us in the sacrament of his body and blood. In anticipation of his passion, death and resurrection, he institutes this holy means of the true and abiding presence of God with us. Such, we may say, is the mystery of the Holy Eucharist by which we participate in the mystery of his passion and enter into the meaning of its purpose for us in our lives.
The “new commandment” is “to love one another even as he has loved us”. How has he loved us on this night, this very night? His passion shows us that love even as it shows us on this night, this very night, the means of our continuing in his love for us. “He carrie[s] himself in his own hands” who is betrayed into the hands of sinful men. And yet, on this night, this very night, he identifies himself with us through the bread and wine, the signs and tokens of his body broken and blood out-poured, the signs of the very reality of his passion which is nothing less than the reality of his love for us.
See how he loves us! “He carried himself in his own hands” and places himself in our hands. They are at once our hands of betrayal and our hands of grateful receiving; receiving him that his love and grace may be received in us.
Maundy Thursday reveals the poignancy and the paradox of the passion. Christ is betrayed, condemned, sentenced, scourged, mocked and crucified. He is acted upon and yet he acts. His love moves within all the actions that our hands visit upon him. His sacrifice and his service are about his love for us in his love for the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit, a love that extends eternally and embraces the world in hands outstretched and nailed to the cross.
That active love, at once hidden and unseen, shows itself to us ever so poignantly and yet ever so powerfully when, on this night, this very night, “he carried himself in his own hands” for us and for our salvation.
He commands us to love who commands us to take, eat, and drink of his body broken and his blood out-poured. He provides us with the sacrament of his love on this night, this very night in which he was betrayed.
Behold our hands of betrayal. But, even more, behold his hands of love. Such is the turning.
“Turn unto the Lord your God”
Fr. David Curry
Maundy Thursday, 2017