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Maunday Thursday Sermon
March 24, 2016

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

As we gather this evening we remember the night that Jesus was betrayed, when he sat down to eat the Passover meal with his disciples on a date which has long since been lost to us. But the date doesn’t matter anyway; what matters is what happened: the meal for a closed group of people, namely the Jews, was transformed into a banquet for all, especially those who are followers of Jesus. Jesus was present there, and Jesus is present here in this place just as Jesus is present in every place where this sacred meal is celebrated. Here, under that veil is Jesus’ body – given for each one of us; here too is the blood of the new covenant, shed - poured out - for each one of us. As we receive Jesus’ real presence tonight, we remember his innocent suffering and death; and we remember his resurrection, and we experience the connection that we have with Jesus and his disciples, and with all people who have ever gathered to share this sacrament together.

Thirty six years ago today, on March 24 of 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero spent much of the day with fellow priests in the city of San Salvador, El Salvador reflecting on the priesthood together. That evening, Romero was celebrating mass with a small group in a little chapel located in a hospital called, “La Divina Providencia.” He had finished a sermon where he called for Salvadoran soldiers (who were killing innocent citizens in the name of a civil war) to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of human rights. Next he stepped behind the altar, as I do every time I preside at the Communion table. Bishop Romero came to the part in the liturgy where he raised the chalice above his head in blessing and suddenly a shot rang out in the chapel. He had been gunned down, right in the middle of presiding at the very meal which Jesus shared with his followers on the night before he was brutally killed as an innocent man. No one is sure how it all happened, but I have always had an image in my mind of Romero falling forward onto the altar, the chalice spilling forth onto the altar cloth, mingling with his own blood from the bullet wound. It isn’t a pretty thought, I know, but this night is about betrayal, sacrifice, and innocent suffering and death, and redemption.
We get a little squeamish when we talk or think about blood, but that is exactly the kind of language that Jesus used when he described the wine that we will soon share. While we Lutherans don’t believe that the wine literally turns into Jesus’ blood (molecularly, it retains all of the attributes of wine), we do proclaim that Jesus’ own blood is really, truly present in, with and under that wine. Jesus was not only truly God, but he was also truly human. If you have ever seen the movie, “The Passion of Christ” you remember how it seems that the filmmakers went out of their way to depict the torturous process of crucifixion in the first century. There was a lot of blood. The instruments used to scourge the victims were designed to produce a lot of blood while not delivering the deadly punch that the cross eventually would. It was meant to be a show for all to see, just in case they had any ideas of clashing with the Romans and their oppressive regime.

The Salvadoran military government did the same thing to insurgent groups who wanted to fight for the rights of farmers and ordinary citizens. The Salvadoran Civil War went on from 1979 to 1992, and the civilian casualties were immense. Finally in 1992, a settlement was negotiated establishing a multi-party, constitutional republic, which remains in place today. There is relative peace now in that land, but it was not until a lot of innocent blood was shed.
The innocent bloodshed which is being spilled today reminds me of Oscar Romero and of Jesus’ own blood. None of the people of Paris in November, or of Brussels this week deserved to be wounded or killed by the terrorists that strapped on bombs and detonated them in those public places, or picked up weapons to shoot. Their blood is mingled with the blood of Christ in our sacrifice today. And the people of Boston, of New York City, and even Oklahoma City, Sandy Hook and Columbine, their innocent blood is mingled with the blood of Christ. And there are places we don’t hear about that experience this kind of innocent attack every day. We vaguely heard about an attack in Jakarta, Indonesia, where one of our own church families, Tom, Deb and Zoe Mak reside. They are fine, but at least four civilians were killed and 25 wounded. ISIS is committing genocide against Christians living in Iraq, and they are even killing fellow Muslims in Africa and the Middle East. Since declaring their caliphate in June, 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has conducted or inspired nearly 70 terrorist attacks in 20 countries besides Syria and Iraq, according to a CNN report. Innocent blood seems to be everywhere.

Now you may ask why I am talking so much about innocent bloodshed, and I will admit that it began because I was intrigued by the fact that bishop Romero’s commemoration day falls on Maundy Thursday this year, that his blood was shed while celebrating communion, and the fact that there are still Christians and other innocent people being killed in our world by those who would impose their own twisted idea of life and rule on them. Maundy Thursday is a night full of promises in the midst of a dire, desperate situation. Even though the mood at the supper table is one of fear, grief and foreboding at what is to come, there is the promise that the very blood that Jesus will shed is the vehicle by which all people are saved. And not only that, we have the promise that every time innocent blood is shed, Jesus’ blood mixes with theirs to make it holy.
And not only does that make it Holy, but it makes a difference for the deaths of those who die as Jesus died. It was because of Romero and those who protested through the church that peace finally came to El Salvador; and it will be through Christians and others of peace – including peaceful Muslims, some shedding blood, that groups like ISIS and other repressive regimes with be defeated. That is redemption; that is the point of blood making a difference in the world, that it is really not being spilled senselessly, meaninglessly. It is mingled with the blood of the lamb, Jesus, and transformed into the very presence of the son of God, with us here today to walk with us, suffer with us, die with us, and rejoice with us when love and peace are victorious.
The new commandment this evening is to love one another. This is such a nice sentiment, but in reality is so hard to do. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, it was a sign that loving others isn’t like taking your own cute little naked infant into the sink and turning on the faucet, bathing them with baby shampoo and gentle soap. This act broke all barriers, and proclaimed that the son of God himself is not above getting down on his hands and knees and scrubbing the dusty, dirty feet of grown men around him.

Tonight we hear the promise that the love of God isn’t just about good feelings and pleasant thoughts. The love of God is about Jesus writing a new covenant with us – a new promise and contract with us – in his own blood, not taken with a little pin prick on the tip of his finger, but by nails driven into his hands and feet, a crown of thorns forced down onto his head, and a spear thrust into his side. That is the love that Jesus showed to you and to me. That is the love that Bishop Oscar Romero showed to the people of El Salvador. That is the love that we are called to share with one another. Amen.