The following sermon was preached on April 13, 2017, being Maundy Thursday, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Readings: Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35
Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before He suffered, instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”–1 Corinthians 11.26
“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”—John 13.15
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I was talking with a colleague at the school earlier this week, during which the subject of Holy Week came up, with me noting how busy a time it is for us clergy types. In response, my colleague, somewhat kidding, but also serious, asked, “Why do we have to go through all that? We already know how it ends. Isn’t that enough?”
Yes, we already do know the end. And while we are thankful for that end, in recalling the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday year after year, we do that which the Lord tonight commands: “Do this in memory of Me.” Enacting those events from long, long ago reminds us of “the love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”
Three crucial events occurred on this night. The first was Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present of His unique sacrifice in the Church’s liturgy. It is the Church’s principal act of worship, through which, as Saint Paul tonight proclaims, in our partaking of the Bread and drinking the Cup, we proclaim Jesus’ death until His Second Coming.
Next (and what immediately follows in tonight’s liturgy), Jesus “began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with a towel.” In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus, God in human flesh, humbled Himself and became like a slave, displaying pure humility and service. It was an illusion to the sacrificial death He would soon endure on the cross. In Jesus’ washing of feet is found the summary of the Christian duty
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall [also] love your neighbor as yourself.
And lastly, represented in the Stripping of the Altar after Communion, was Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus “was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” It is in His agony that we see Jesus at His most human. Make no doubt about it: Jesus was really afraid; He knew what was coming. He could have commanded the entire Heavenly company to whisk Him away to safety. Instead, Jesus chose His Father’s will: “Not my will but Yours be done.” He knew that He had a purpose to fulfill, to be the “expiation for our sins…for those of the whole world.”
But, again, why do we have to go through all this? The answer comes from one word—anamnesis. Meaning “reminiscence,” anamnesis is a word that originates from Plato’s philosophical thought, describing the remembrance of things from a supposed previous existence. In Christian theology, it refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist, as well as the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. It is through anamnesis that we enter fully into the Paschal Mystery, the ceremonies of the liturgy actively bringing into our time elements of those things done in the past.
Anamnesis is the word that is used in the Greek text of Jesus’ commandment, “Do this in memory of Me.” Through His mandate, Jesus is saying to us, “Do these things to make Me present.” His mandate speaks to His relational nature, how He yearns to gather His people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. That’s the heart of what Jesus commands. We are to go through these things in that Jesus may dwell in us and we in Him.
Tonight’s ceremonies render all human concepts of time irrelevant. We are, in a mysterious way, experiencing these ceremonies as if they are actually happening in real time. Through anamnesis, we become fully present with Christ in these events. We see first-hand how “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Of the Eucharist, Jesus says
“This is My body that is for you. This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me.”
In the Eucharistic Prayer, we ask God
“To send Your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and His Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to Your Son in His sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through Him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
All of this connects us in real time to Christ. Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist connects us all, one with another, both with those in the here and now and from ages past.
In the Washing of Feet, we see the unconditional love of the One who stooped down to do an act that not even the lowliest Jewish servant performed. Jesus did this because He loves us. Jesus said
Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
In return, “whoever claims to abide in Him ought to live [just] as He lived.” Jesus says to us tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This is what Jesus calls us to do for one another.
We have an obligation to obey Jesus’ commandment. This obligation comes from the fact that “the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.” It brings to light the reality that in Christ, all of us, regardless of any form of difference, are no better than anybody else. It forms our hearts in being more gentle, generous, truthful, and kind towards one another. And whenever we fail in doing what Jesus commands, because of what happens at the end, there will be no need to fear. Because of grace, we can repent, learn from our mistake, and be given another chance. “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.”
So, let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.” In the Church’s liturgy, may we make Jesus present, right here, right now. Let us do what Jesus commands: “Do this in memory of Me.”
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New American Bible (Revised Edition), copyright © 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.
 1 John 3.1
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1994), ¶1362.
 Matthew 22.37, 39
 Luke 22.44
 Luke 22.42
 1 John 2.2
 R. E. Allen. “Anamnesis in Plato’s Meno and Phaedo.” The Review of Metaphysics (Volume 13, Number 1, September 1959).
 Ernest R. Falardeau. A Holy and Living Sacrifice: The Eucharist in Christian Perspective (The Order of Saint Benedict, Inc., 1996), p. 27.
 John 13.34
 Romans 5.8
 I Corinthians 11.24-25; John 6.54-57
 The Holy Eucharist—Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer B, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 368.
 Mark 10.43b-44
 1 John 2.6
 Psalm 33.4 (New International Version)
 1 John 2.1b
 Ephesians 5.1-2