Jesus’ Love in the Time of Pandemic: A Maundy Thursday Sermon

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A sermon given by the Rev. Laird Duran on Maundy Thursday 2020…

It’s weird. We are living in a strange time, unprecedented. After preaching for nearly 40 years, this is the first time I’m giving this sermon without a congregation I can see. To tell you the truth, I’m actually nervous about my delivery. I’ve never done it like this before.

Of course, these are strange times for everyone across the globe on every continent where people live. We’re all doing things we’ve never done before. Like going to the store wearing a face mask and gloves, trying to stay at least 6 feet apart from everyone else outside of our immediate family. And it’s weird watching other shoppers doing the same.

And of course there are still many questions about this pandemic flu called of Covid 19. How many millions of people will die, or get very sick? Will those who recover suffer long-term with their health and chronic condition? How many people are infected with Covid-19. When will we be able to get back to work? When will the economy recover? No one knows for sure.

Here’s a sobering fact. Until we can test millions of people across the world, no one knows the extent of this disease. Until our healthcare system finds a way to test everyone, we have no way of knowing how many people have been infected. Until we find a treatment and a vaccine, no one knows how long we will be home social distancing. Anyone who thinks they tell us when we can open up our society again is just guessing.

And I don’t trust even the so-called experts and scientists to bail us out. Remember they’ve been working on a flu vaccine for years, but struggle to find one that’s even 50% effective. How can we expect that we’re ever going to find a treatment and a vaccine that’s 100% effective?

And of course, the health care system we have now has never been able to adequately treat those who can’t pay for it. Like people who work in retail stores, we shop. Like those who pick the crops we eat and those who raise the animals we need to eat. Like those who drive the trucks that deliver what we need to survive. What happens when they get sick and can’t work anymore? We have every right to be scared and anxious. If you’re not anxious, I’m worried about you. You’re living in a fantasy, or taking drugs or drinking too much.

I hope we will rise to the challenge and learn from this pandemic. I hope that one day, we will realize that we are all one human race on one planet earth. I hope that one day, we will put away our anxiety and reexamine the way we interact with people, both our enemies and our friends. I hope that one day we will change how we interact with every person, across the world.

For too long, people have been trying to distance themselves from those who they think are different from them, or not as deserving as they are. Those changes are long overdue. Now we’re paying the price, and that gives me hope for the future.

So I have fear, and anxiety. But it is tempered with the hope that one day, everyone will hear the good news of the love of Jesus Christ. I’ve heard how he submitted himself to the human sin and violence of the world and died on the cross. You have, too. I’ve heard how he healed the sick, even those who had infectious diseases that were quarantined. You have, too. I hope that more and more people will hear it, and recognize that the kingdom is no fantasy dreamed up by Jesus. That’s what he died for, and that’s why he rose from the dead. For God the kingdom is  the new reality that has already begun!

So here we are on Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from an old Latin word, mandatum, from where we get our word “mandate.” Maundy Thursday is the day we remember the mandates Jesus gave us. The mandate of Holy Communion reflected in our reading from Apostle Paul. He took bread, blessed and broke it with the mandate to do this in remembrance of him with the forgiveness and grace that he had for all, even his enemies.

When we read John’s gospel, we hear the second mandate. It’s a command to love one another as he has loved us. In or reading, the mandate It came at a time when Jesus is well aware that the cross is just days away. But he insisted that he would become their servant, and gave himself to them before he gave himself over to those who would crucify him. He took off his robe, put on a towel, and became their slave. He kneeled at their feet and washed them, all of them.

I can understand why Peter protested. He wanted his messiah to be powerful over every adversary, and have the power of God on his side. Not Jesus. Jesus wanted to give himself to them before he gave himself over to those who wanted him to be crucified. Eventually, Peter would get it. After his resurrection, it would be the power of the Holy Spirit to come and give him the power to proclaim his faith in what God was doing in Jesus Christ.

What amazes me even more is that Jesus is well aware that Judas is about to betray him into the ones who want to arrest him. But he washes his feet, too. That’s a radical kind of love. Jesus is ready to forgive his sin even before he commits that sin. Then he gives them a new commandment, that second mandate. Love one another…. Period….. Full stop.

Love. We’ve heard it before, but now it’s a mandate, an order. That means we are commanded to do it even when we don’t want to, even for people we don’t like. Even to people who don’t believe us or are ready to betray us. Love.

So what is this love? Here’s a quote from my Lutheran bishop of the Arkansas Oklahoma Synod of the ELCA. He says he’s been reading a book on the problem of evil titled, “God Can’t” by Thomas Jay Oord. He said,” I’m not sure yet what I think about the book, but I like the author’s simple definition of “love”. Love, he says, is to “act intentionally in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.”

Bishop goes on to say, “Paul puts it this way: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1Corinthains 13:4-7).

As the Word of God that became flesh, Jesus embodied this love and called upon us to reflect his self-giving love in the world. In the face of this pandemic, we’ve seen heroic and inspiring stories in the media. That’s love. We also see  many ordinary people are sacrificing themselves in love in a thousand little ways that will never make the news. Why? Because the power of Jesus’ love is working through them. 

So what can we do with our anxiety and fear? A few weeks ago, I watched the movie starring Tom Hanks about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was also an ordained Perbetrian minister. On the television show, Fred Rogers taught young children what to do when they saw or heard things that scared them and made them afraid. He said that when you hear scary things that are happening, look for the helpers. There are always people helping those who have been hurt. 

Yes, even in this pandemic, there are people who are helping. There are the health care workers, there are people working at the stores, there are people driving trucks, they are all the helpers. Look for them, thank them. Then there are people working in our local chicken factories, picking up the garbage, look for them, too. And give thanks to them and thanks to God that there are so many people like them. That’s the power of God’s love working through them.

And it calls us to be like them. We are called to be like those helpers, being servants to all, even to those we don’t like, even to those who are not like us. That’s the power of Jesus’ love. The mandate to love is what Jesus died for.

Finally, the church will have to change, too. I don’t think we’ll need to worry so much about our beautiful buildings and or even our beloved traditions. We need to find new ways to love one another, and to love our neighbor. We don’t need to make it complicated. We need to remember the songs we learned as children that taught us the power of God’s love. It’s songs like this one. Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The bible tells me so. Amen.

Jesus’ Love in the Time of Pandemic: A Maundy Thursday Sermon
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