Have you ever been loved by someone in a way you knew that you didn’t deserve? Has someone loved you so much that it just felt overwhelming?
Perhaps it was the love of a parent or grandparent, a spouse or child, or maybe even a stranger who showed you an unexpected act of kindness and compassion.
I want you to sit with that thought for a moment. What did it feel like when you have been loved in that way?
If you have had this experience you can understand the feeling behind the old Appalachian hymn we just sang, What wondrous love is this?
What wondrous love is this?
These aren’t just the words of a familiar hymn, but the feeling of being loved when we don’t deserve it, it’s a feeling the disciples experienced in the presence of Jesus.
Tonight we have heard the stories of the wondrous love of Jesus. On the Thursday of Holy Week Jesus gave us this gift of Holy Communion, the body and blood of Christ. No one could give more than that. To love to the point of saying this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you. What wondrous love is this that could take items as common as a piece of bread and cup of juice and make them holy?
This same Jesus, who gives us this sacred meal, then gets on the ground and washes feet. Not clean modern feet whose nails are cut and bathed in soap, but first century feet that walk through dirt, dust, trash, refuse. Jesus not only makes the common holy, but also makes the holy common as he places himself in the filth and muck of our lives, what wondrous love is this?
It is a love unlike any other, a love that can sometimes feel like it is too much to handle.
Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is the Latin word for mandate. What is the mandate? In John’s gospel, it is on this same Thursday night that he says to them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The mandate is to love others as God has loved us.
Who can love like this? Accepting this kind of love is hard enough, but loving others as God has loves us, impossible.
Perhaps this is part of the reason the disciples disappear on Thursday night and are not heard from again until Easter morning.
Everyone else runs away.
That same gospel of John tells us that the light came in to the world to overcome all darkness, but for those of us accustomed to the darkness, the wondrous love of that light can be just too bright to handle.
Imagine walking from a dark room out in to the bright sun. Think of a time you walked out of a movie theater in to a glaring July day. The sun shines do bright you wince and turn your head away from it.
The light is too powerful and we prefer the darkness. The darkness of our pride and our egos can feel safer than the brightness of God’s love.
So we run in to dark corners, we betray, we deny, we fall back to old habits, instead of placing ourselves on the vulnerable ground with Jesus where wondrous love is found.
But when we do that, we miss it.
The disciples missed it.
In arguing about who would be the greatest, they missed it.
In sleeping while Jesus prayed, they missed it.
In running away, they missed so many things we remember in Holy Week.
They missed the journey to Golgotha.
They missed hearing the compassion as Jesus said Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.
They missed the culmination of “it is finished”.
They missed the tearing of the curtain, the rolling away of the stone, the presence of the angels.
It is easy to point our fingers at them and wonder how they could’ve missed it, but how many things do we miss in our betrayals, our denials, and our running away?
It is easy for us to get busy and distracted and miss it.
It is easy to feel unworthy of the wondrous love and miss it.
It is easy to excuse ourselves by saying I can’t love as he loved and miss it.
We miss the holy and sacred that is all around us, in things as common as grape and grain.
We miss seeing the face of Christ in the common and every day moments of life, in the eyes of those who give more than they receive.
In our desire to avoid the suffering, we miss the blessing.
Where will you place yourself this Holy Week, this Holy Thursday, in the gift of this one holy and sacred life?
Will you be there or will you miss it?
When I ask if you will be there, I’m not simply speaking of attending every worship service or reading the gospel stories, but allowing those moments, those gifts of grace, to penetrate your heart, to enter your soul.
Will you allow the love of Christ to shine in the dark places in your life; will you love others as recklessly as God has loved you?
Will you be there for the suffering and the blessing or will you miss it?