Old Testament: Exodus (12:1-8, 11-14)
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall stand at the head of your calendar;
you shall reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it. The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. “This is how you are to eat it:
with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt—I, the LORD! But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you. “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.”
The Response: Psalm (116:12-13, 15-18)
12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (11:23-26)
Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
The Gospel: John (13:1-15)
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, Not all of you are clean.” So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table gain, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In a recent issue of The Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers Kaitlyn Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach explored the power of eating together or, more specifically, of eating the same food together. In one experiment, volunteers were divided into two groups. One group was supposed to take the part of managers and the other of union representatives in an attempt to come to an agreement in an hourly wage dispute. When one group was provided with sweets to eat during the negotiations and the other was provided with salty snacks, it took them an average of 7.3 rounds of the game to come to an agreement. But when both groups ate the same food, whatever it was, while they were negotiating, they managed to settle the matter in only 3.6 rounds, essentially half the time. Other experiments yielded similar results. Eating the same food together was consistently shown to bind people together at some deeper level than the one of which they were consciously aware.
This evening’s readings have to do with eating together and, specifically, with eating the same food together. Doing that or failing to do that was an issue among the early Christians at Corinth, and Paul identified it as a serious problem. The wealthy were coming to their supposedly “common meal” and feasting sumptuously, while the poor had virtually nothing to eat. Yet they then dared to share together the bread and the cup that were intended to serve as a remembrance of Jesus and of what he had done for all of them in his death and resurrection. Their behavior showed contempt for the powerful ritual meal for which they supposedly had gathered: a meal that was intended to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
This is the meal that, according to The Book of Common Prayer (page 13), is “the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts.” It is one in which we eat the same food together: feasting first on the Word of God and then on the Bread and Cup, shared together in Jesus’ name and Jesus’ memory. Sharing in that two-fold meal together is central and vital to our life in Christ.
But there is also another food that is central to and vital to our life in Christ as well. Just a few Sundays ago, we listened once again to John’s story (4:5-42) of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a wonderful drama from John, who is an expert dramatist. In one scene, the woman has gone off to tell her neighbors about her experience with Jesus, and the disciples have returned, bringing him some food. Jesus informs them that he has food to eat that they do not know about. As repeatedly happens in John, the disciples misunderstand: a device that John uses to allow Jesus to explain further. This time he tells them: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
Doing God’s work was Jesus’ food; and doing God’s work, specifically doing God’s work together with one another, is our food as well. It is the food that binds us together. It, too, is central and vital to our life in Christ. Like our listening together to the Word of God, like our breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, our ministry together in the world is something that we do in remembrance of Jesus. And it, too, is a way in which we allow Jesus to become present in the time and place in which we live.
The early believers in Corinth had made the mistake of thinking that they could separate their sharing the Eucharist from what they did in the rest of their lives. But St. Paul made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that that attempted separation was making a mockery out of their common worship. For in the Eucharist, we share the body of Christ specifically so that we can be the body of Christ.
As we gather here on this very special night, as we begin the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter, Jesus calls us once again to “Do this in remembrance of me.” But there appears to be much more intended in his words than simply a command to repeat these sacramental rites, as important as they are.
Instead, Jesus appears to be telling us, “Do this, and repeat this shared meal in remembrance of me”; but also, “Do this, and dedicate your lives to making God’s reign a reality in the world, just as I did, in remembrance of me”; “Do this, and serve the world together, just as I served it, in remembrance of me”; “Do this, and be my Body, the way that I continue to be present and active in the world, in remembrance of me”; “Do all that I have done in remembrance of me – for it is in you that I will continue to be present in the lives of the people of your time and place.”
It is in the ongoing and repeated sharing of the same food – the food of the Word of God, the food of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the food of doing together the work of God — it is in the sharing of this same food that we allow the Spirit of God to make us more fully one. And it is in being one, in serving the world together in Jesus’ name, that we become what God calls us to be: the living Body of Christ, given for the world that God has made.