Thursday, 13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday: Leaning In

For those of us who have gathered around the table this night we already have a sense of Jesus importance in our own lives.  All of us here have an understanding that Jesus life has made a difference and that by gathering tonight we seek to transport ourselves back to that moment when Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples.  We do so not simply as an act of remembrance but as a way of personally connecting with the resurrected and living Lord.  We pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus becomes present to us as we share.  His presence comes close.

So we contemplate this story tonight, this story we know so well, I want to focus on one aspect of the story, one scene.   The part of the story that I want us to hone in on is the moment that the disciple whom Jesus loved asks the question, “Lord, who is it?”

To set the scene.  Jesus has already washed the disciples’ feet.  We have seen Peter indicate that he is unsure why this is occurring.  Peter doesn’t understand and in response Jesus tells him that he is not going to understand until later.  And even though Jesus goes on to explain his actions, even though Jesus explains why he has done it, there is still a level of confusion lingering in the air.

Alongside this there is already the fact that Jesus has named that he will be betrayed.  “One of you will betray me,” says Jesus.  And he is deeply troubled in spirit, this is what we are told. That Jesus is deeply troubled.

We also come into the presence of Jesus who is deeply unsettled – it is a confronting moment for us.  Jesus who is our Lord, our friend, our teacher, our healer, our saviour, our prophet, our priest, our king – the one whom we follow is deeply troubled. More often than not our expectation is that Jesus is in control, that he is a clam of assuring presence, but here on this night we find Jesus is in a state of distress, he is out of sorts.

So, as we come on this night we come with this sense of confusion confronted by the possibility that we do not understand and that we are not as in control as we might like to think and that God himself shares in the distress and disorientation of our lives.

It is in the context of all of this, the confusion of the disciples and the clear distress of Jesus, that Peter indicates to the disciple that was sitting closest to Jesus to ask Jesus a question. ‘Lord, who is it?’

Now as we picture this moment I want to revisit with you a couple of things about sharing meals in the ancient world and meal etiquette.  The first is this.  That seating arrangements reflected status and relationship, it was not just as random roll of the dice.  The more important you are the closer you get to sit to the guest of honour or the host.  This reminds us of the special relationship that this disciple has with Jesus.  John tells us that it is the disciple that Jesus loved.  The person had a privileged position, he got to sit next to Jesus.

The second thing to think about here is that the meal table was probably low to the floor.  The disciples would have been reclining on the floor, possibly resting on their elbows with their legs stretched out behind them.  This little detail helps us understand how Jesus might have been able to move around washing the disciples’ feet.

So it is in this position stretched out on the floor that Peter indicates that the disciple whom Jesus loved should ask Jesus the question, “Lord, who is it?”  If you can imagine the disciple leaning in to Jesus to ask this question, who is it,’ it is more than likely that there would have been a deeply intimate moment of connection, including physical touch.  I have come across commentaries and seen pictures that have the disciple with his head on Jesus chest or shoulder as he leans in to ask the question.  He leans physically into Jesus.

It is a deeply intimate and emotional moment as the disciple asks this terrible question – who is going to betray you Lord.

Now, of course, we have already heard the narrative and we know what happens next.  Jesus dips the bread into the cup and shares it with Judas and Judas goes out into the night to do quickly what he must do.  Yet the question of who betrays Jesus should never be limited to a finger pointed out the actions of Judas.

We know that the other disciples desert Jesus and hide.  They deny Jesus, Peter denies Jesus! They doubt his resurrection. They remain in confusion and darkness.  And we who know this story know that we too betray God and Jesus in our failures to follow as closely as we ought and to live as we should as God’s people.  We are also confused by the world we live in and life and death and suffering.

This is the moment in which we find ourselves as we gather on this night and the thing on which we reflect tonight that moment of intimacy between Jesus and his beloved disciple.  A moment of intimacy leaning in on Jesus’ breast amidst the confusion of life and troubled Spirit of God that is within him.

In my mind the good news is that we are one with that disciple on this night.  That we who have gathered are invited to lean in and come close, to be intimate, with our questions of life, with our troubles and to know that God in Jesus is deeply troubled and distressed for the suffering and injustices of life.

We can lean in and ask Jesus personal questions about issues that plague our minds:  why have I suffered so Lord? Or why does this friend or family member struggle so much?  Or how do I continue believe in this secular society? How do I keep going when I find life so pointless?  We might also ask question of our life in the world.  Questions about chemical weapons, questions about bombings in Coptic Churches, questions about terrorists acts and refugees and starvation and suffering and evil. Our troubling questions are matched by Jesus’ troubled Spirit – God is with us as we lean into that intimate moment. 

In Jesus, God is with us, this is our hope and our faith and God’s Spirit in Jesus is troubled by the confrontation with confusion, suffering, betrayal and death.

We know that this is not the last word on these matters and we will be sharing in communion soon as a remembrance of this night but also the promise of the feast of the coming kingdom.

Yet before we do this I want to invite you into a few minutes of silence. To take the opportunity to lean into Jesus’ presence, just as that disciple did, so long ago, and as you do so to silently ask a question or maybe more than one of Jesus and to feel his troubled Spirit close to yours.  Maybe there will be an answer but if not maybe Jesus that feeling of intimacy as the Spirit of God comes close will bring some comfort in the face of the confusion and troubles of life.

So close your eyes and lean in.  Lean in and come close to Jesus, just as he has come close to us in the power of the Spirit, and know that in Christ all shall be we

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