April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you.  Amen.

Alexander Hamilton was an orphaned, impoverished, 19 year old immigrant, determined to realize his dreams of freedom and revolution. The hit Broadway hip-hop musical[i] which is winning all kinds of awards, tells the story of his longing for something to be a part of, his eager energy, and his headstrong refusal to back down from his goal to roll like Moses, leading the colonies into the freedom of their promised land.

Many of the lyrics of the show are not “pulpit appropriate,” but the depictions of the revolutionary activists paint a wildly compelling tale of young, scrappy, hungry visionaries who won’t give up until the power of the monarchy surrendered, and a new nation is born.

Early in the first act, Hamilton and his comrades gather around a table, and propose a toast to their future. Raise a glass to freedom, they sing, dreaming about something that can never be taken away, no matter what others may tell you. Recognizing that they may not live to see the freedom and independence for which they long, they promise that when their children tell their stories, they’ll tell a story of the night they cemented their fates to each other, and committed themselves to the coming day.

Raise a glass to freedom. Is that what Jesus was singing to his friends at his last gathering with them? Like the young insurgents, some of his companions were ready for a fight, presuming that whatever was ahead of them would lead them into power, prestige, and success.

Jesus, a young Galilean outsider was not afraid of protesting the political and religious rulers of his day[ii], but he seems to offer his disciples a different sort of future. You can see how tough it is for them to understand where he is leading.

Jesus says that when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of a very unexpected night. Before he faces the night, before he lifts the cup, Jesus quietly wraps a towel around his waist, and kneels before his friends. Humbling himself, he gently takes his loved ones’ worn feet into his hands, and in a move no one could have seen coming, tenderly washes away their sweat and fears and regrets. There, on the final night of his life with them, Jesus invites his followers into a community of self-giving love; a story of undying compassion for a broken world.

The disciples are shocked. A leader willing to play the role of a slave does not fit with the vision of glory and admiration they been anticipating. You can almost hear them pleading with him to not give up on their dreams. Believing the coming revolution was imminent, it seems to them that Jesus is throwing away his shot. In fact, Judas decides to pay the authorities to get the necessary confrontations started. Peter can’t stand to see Jesus act in any way that doesn’t befit a respected hero.

Unlike the young rebels of Hamilton’s day, Jesus does not long to fight. Rather, he takes an even more revolutionary stance. Loving his friends, he loves them to the end; taking a towel, he stoops to show what love entails.

Most of us are still uncomfortable with the image. We really don’t like to have our feet washed at church. We don’t like the odd shape of our toes to be seen; or the rough skin around our bunions to be touched. We certainly don’t feel comfortable asking friends to catch a whiff of our socks, or wash away the stench of our fatigue.

Jesus claims a servant’s position, and insists on caring for his disciples in a way that only the least among them was expected to act. Is Jesus reminding his disciples to look for him among the least of our society?

Perhaps Jesus is washing away our worn-out imaginations of what the reign of God will look like, and offering an alternative dream – where the powerful and the powerless occupy adjacent seats; where servants and friends are indistinguishable, where the proud and the humble are reconciled, and where all of us are freed from the powers that would classify any of us as “haves” and “have nots.”

Raise a glass to freedom, Jesus sings, but it’s a freedom beyond anything we had expected, freedom from our prejudice, freedom from our fears of exposing our vulnerabilities, freedom from our repulsion to the world’s brokenness and sorrow, freedom from a false sense of security or superiority. Jesus sings of a community beyond our presumed social constructs, in which we none of us is free until all of us are, where none of us knows love, until no one is seen as unlovable, where none of us experiences the goodness of the reign of God until there are no more strangers, no one is hungry, and no one is left outside.

The patriots of our young nation couldn’t have foreseen the dangers and challenges that lay in front of them when they committed their lives to revolution. It would take Hamilton a lifetime of tragedy and regret to learn the lessons of forgiveness and humility. He never does seem to learn what is at stake in his insistence that others honor his reputation and legacy.

Jesus on the other hand concedes that his future will be crossed with sorrow and suffering. Rather than trying to avoid or resist it, he teaches us tonight that touching brokenness is the way into the coming reign of God. Service and compassion will shape his response to the end. He invites us to sing the story of this night, because he realizes that even when facing grief that seems unimaginable, God’s love will not be quenched.

The one who is the Living Water washes away our weariness. The one who is the bread of life feeds us with grace. The one who is the Way leads us into freedom beyond our wildest imagination.

Today Jesus invites us to raise a glass to the God who loves the world so much, than even death won’t impede that love from prevailing. No matter what may happen, no matter what the world may offer, no matter what they tell you, God’s desire for us to know love and gentleness will not be denied. Can you imagine?

Raise a glass to freedom. Who knows? It may be that we’ll see each other on the other side, that life will overcome death, and the world will turn upside down.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CDZBGoiCrIhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_(musical)  I refer to the lyrics of the musical many times in the sermon.

[ii] Mai-Anh Le Tran, “American Values; Religions Voices, Day 54,” March 14, 2017, http://www.valuesandvoices.com/letter54/