Maundy Thursday, Year B,
April 5, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
The other day I finally noticed what poem is framed in that little frame over there. Any one know what it is? “The Creation” from God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson. It reminded me of another part of that book, the first chapter. It is called “Listen Lord – A Prayer”. I’ve adapted it a little a bit to fit liturgically. There are copies over there to take home and they have Mr. Johnson’s original language.
Listen Lord – A Prayer
O Lord, we come this evening
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before Thy throne of grace.
O Lord–this evening–
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this evening —
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord–open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this evening.
Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners–
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord–ride by this evening —
Mount Your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this evening —
And in Your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.
And now, O Lord these people of God,
Who break the bread of life this evening —
Shadow them in the hollow of Thy hand,
And keep them out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take them, Lord–this evening–
Wash them with hyssop inside and out,
Hang them up and drain them dry of sin.
Pin their ear to the wisdom-post,
And make their words sledge hammers of truth–
Beating on the iron heart of sin.
Lord God, this evening–
Put their eyes to the telescope of eternity,
And let them look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine their imaginations,
Put perpetual motion in their arms,
Fill them full of the dynamite of Thy power,
Anoint them all over with the oil of Thy salvation,
And set their tongues on fire.
And now, O Lord–
When we’ve done drunk our last cup of sorrow–
When we’ve been called everything but children of God–
When we’re done traveling up the rough side of the mountain–
When we start down the steep and slippery steps of death–
When this old world begins to rock beneath our feet–
Lower us to our dusty graves in peace
To wait for that great gittin’-up morning–Amen.
He’s good. Now here is another good one. Here is St. Paul:
“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, 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 Lord’s death until he comes.”
Paul is writing to the struggling little church in Corinth. There was contention there, lots of it, even about the Lord’s Supper. Right before this, he criticizes those who drink all of the wine and become drunk, and those who eat all of the bread while others are left hungry. Fair enough. Then right after tonight’s section, he tells us that we will be accountable for how we approach the Eucharist. “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the wine. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord’s body eat and drink judgment on themselves.”
That poem by James Weldon Johnson, it is an examination of ourselves, a confession, a humble and joyful and spot-on confession of our own true nature. “We come… knee-bowed and body-bent… empty pitchers to a full fountain… proud and dying sinners…in a headlong plunge.” We ask, “Shadow us in the hollow of Thy hand… wash us inside and out… pin our ears to the wisdom-post.” We need these things. “Make our words sledgehammers of truth.” They are not always. “Put our eyes to the telescope of eternity.” We need to look beyond our selves. “…turpentine our imaginations.” We need to think beyond ourselves. “Put perpetual motion in our arms.” We need to get to work. “Anoint us with the oil of Thy salvation and set our tongues on fire.” Come Holy Spirit, come.
Two-thousandish years ago, Jesus sat at a table not unlike this one. Oh, the setting was different and we have better lighting and fewer pebbles in the chick peas and we are all going to brush our teeth tonight, but he was having a ritual supper, a seder with friends that he was on a religious mission with. That is what we are doing; having a ritual supper, a remembrance of our Jewish Lord’s remembrance of the original Passover in Egypt another thousand years before that. Memories upon memories upon memories. And we are friends in Christ because we are joined together on a religious mission to make real the Kingdom of God. And to his friends, then to their friends, then to Paul’s friends it was handed down, these words, these practices, this Way. And these words and practices, this Way kept being handed down from generation to generation leading to this very night.
Regularly we gather as friends, our hearts and minds open to the love of God and each other. We gather around a table, to be nourished in body, mind and spirit. We share a meal, usually symbolically in the Eucharist, sometimes literally like our potlucks, and on very special occasions, like tonight, we do both. And always, we examine ourselves; we must examine ourselves. That is part of it. Where are we today? What is closed off inside? What is bruised? What is ornery or angry or scared? Where am I empty? Where do I need God in my life? Where do I need you, or you or you to come to my aid? What do I have to offer? How much of the dynamite of Thy power do I have to spare?
So let’s examine ourselves together. Turn to one of your neighbors. Share with them something that you need tonight. And share with them a gift that you bring, something that you have to share. Because that, that is why we are really here…
Now, before we break the bread of life together, let us remember together one more of Jesus Christ’s actions on that last night of His human life. Let us love one another just as He loves us in the washing of feet. AMEN