Friday, April 15, 2022

No pretend, only reality. . .

Sermon for Holy Thursday, Historic, preached on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, April 14, 2022.

We are a people who love to pretend.  Whether it is children dressing up as favorite characters or imagining playmates or adults who put on a persona for the benefit of neighbors, employers, and even family and friends, we love to pretend.  Sometimes it is hard for us to figure out where pretend ends and reality begins.

We could pretend we were Jews and hold a Seder meal, a meal to mimic the meal that begins Passover.  Jesus knew nothing of the Seder – its history is tied to the period either right before or right after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.  For Jews it is the replacement for a Passover no longer possible without the Temple.  But that has not stopped us from pretending, from acting.

John’s Gospel seems to presume the Words of Institution and the meal of the Upper Room and focuses instead on the washing of the feet.  Again, it makes for  great theater.  The Pastor could pretend to be Jesus and strip down and put on an apron and wash the feet of a representative sampling of the congregation.  Wouldn’t that be fun!  But one thing it would not be is faithful.

We pretend at calling things that are sins good and then calling good sin.  We pretend sin away instead of acknowledging that we need a Savior who needs to shed His blood in death to take those sins away.  We pretend at righteousness that is itself a pretense for recognition and approval from those whose recognition and approval do not count.  Oh, we are very good at pretending.

Jesus never pretends.  He did not act a part in taking on flesh but became a real man, born of the Virgin, the Son of God incarnate.  He did not act like some precocious child acting old than His years but willingly sacrificed His equality with God to be one with us.  He did not do miracles like a comic opera to entertain but as signs of the Kingdom in fulfillment of the prophets.  He did not act self-righteous but was the only righteous man ever.  He did not act the part of a Messiah but showed His humility by serving the unworthy instead of demanding service for Himself.  So when He knelt down to wash the feet of His disciples, He was not play acting or pretending.  He was showing His great love for them.

Love is not pretend and it does not act a part.  So our Lord washes even the feet of Judas who is unworthy of Jesus but not unloved by Him.  The disciples, especially Peter, did not get it and wanted to make something of it all.  But not Jesus.  He will wash so that you are really clean – not in some imagined show but by doing for the unworthy what they do not deserve, giving Himself up to the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.  Jesus does not play at anything but, unlike us, takes most seriously sin and even more seriously its remedy in His suffering and death.  We are not here today to pretend but for something more real than reality itself.

The disciples were not pretending when they wondered if they were the betrayers of Jesus.  And indeed they all were.  Not just Judas but Peter, for sure, and all of them who scattered when a threat appeared.  So are we betrayers.  We have done no less than Judas or Peter in denying Jesus.  Peter repented and Judas did not.  Therein lies the example.  But even repentance is not an act or a show.  Do not make it one by falsely pleading you will never do it again or you did not mean to do it when it happened.  Jesus knows the truth even if you do not.

Holy Communion is not a game or pretend.  The pastor does not wear the vestments to pretend to be something he is not but in order that you might know who he is.  He is here in the person of Christ to offer you Christ and His gifts in this blest communion of His flesh and blood.  The bread is not pretend but real – the very crucified and risen body of Christ.  The cup is not symbolic.  It contains in and with the wine the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all our sin.

For this reason, we cannot act or presume something that is not in coming to the Lord’s Table.  Let a man so examine himself, says St. Paul.  For the body of Christ can heal and it can kill – faith makes all the difference.  We come here at some risk to our eternal souls.  This is not a game but the greatest of all realities.  Here, in this Sacrament, your sins are forgiven,, your life as a baptized child of God nourished and strengthened, and you life in Christ renewed.  Love is not a toy – at least not to Jesus.  We come not in fear of what might happen here but in confidence that what He has promised will happen.  The repentant will be cleansed, the weak will be made strong, and the dying will taste eternal life.

And in this eating and drinking, we are made over into Christ’s own.  His love for us now fills us so that we might do the good works He desires.  His love inspires us with joy that sorrow cannot overcome.  His love teaches peace to hearts so troubled by anxiety, fear, and upset.   There is no game or act or pretend in what happens here.  So that is why we come.  We come to meet what is true not for a moment only or in our imagination but real and true for now and for eternal life.  He washes feet, body, heart, and soul.  He feeds us body and soul with the body and blood He sacrificed on the cross and displayed from the empty tomb.  And how wonderful it is.

Though we deserve none of it, we receive all of it – forgiveness, life, and salvation enough to rescue the lost, restore the fallen, renew the weary, and reform the wayward.  His love is real, not pretend, so that our love may be real as well.

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