Maundy Thursday

John Wilkinson Third Presbyterian Church
April 5, 2012 Maundy Thursday


Several months ago, at a memorial service, a group of young men sang a song. It seemed fitting for that gathering, and it seems fitting for this gathering. Listen to a portion now… “You are not alone in this. You are not alone in this. As brothers and sisters we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.” (“Timshel,” by Mumford & Sons)

That is the truth we affirm and embrace. We are not alone in this – we are not alone because we have this community, but even more so, we are not alone because we have a God to whom we belong. We are not alone, a contemporary church creed even says. We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

And yet, on this night, that affirmation trembles just a little bit. Death is at the doorstep.

Perhaps you remember in The Descendants the scene when George Clooney’s character runs panicked, awkward, frantic, down the street after learning that his wife – in a coma in a hospital after a boating accident – has been having an affair. One death piled upon another, and it’s not clear which is the more devastating. You are not alone in this.

In Acedia & Me, Kathleen Norris writes of the final moments of her husband’s life. “I stayed with David to honor the deep silence in the room and say a few final loving words. When I could let his hand go, I went to the nurses and told them that I wanted to help with the body…The body bag they brought was white…The sound of the zipper was horrid, final.” You are not alone in this.

I have been thinking about Trayvon Martin a great deal, and his family. Tonight I think about how alone he must have felt, and how alone his parents must feel, even now in a gathering of hundreds and thousands. Many things died when he died. You are not alone in this.

And yet. Jesus must have felt it. This night, and tomorrow, a series of abandonments, of betrayals, of alone-ness. He identifies this night who will betray him, as the drama of his death continues to unfold. He asks the disciples to stay up with him, and they fail miserably. Tomorrow, Peter, his most ardent supporter and the one upon whom the mantle of leadership will be placed, denies him not once, but three times.

You are not alone in this, and yet even Jesus will cry out to God – “why have you forsaken me?” Can it be any more devastating than that? The son of God, exalted just a few days before as he entered the city in triumph, now abandoned, betrayed, isolated, convicted unjustly, alone. And yet. You are not alone in this.

It is a core article of our faith, and I believe it. In life and in death we belong to God. We know how the story will unfold. Sunday morning and the empty tomb are imprinted on the DNA of our faith. And still we must move through these days, these difficult, deadly, lonely days, Thursday to Friday to Saturday, in order for that news to take root and blossom.

In community we discover sisters and brothers who stand with us, in dark and forsaken moments, never making the pain and loss go away, of course, but providing a place, a sanctuary, where it can abide and be held and lose its sting. As brothers and sisters we will stand, and will hold your hand.

Kathleen Norris writes: “Before he died I had more than an hour with him…I spoke to David and recited some poetry. He responded only once, when I said the Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy, indeed. I could not recall the Latin for the requiem hymn “In Paradisum,” which David had told me he loved, but hoped that the English would do: “May the angels lead you into Paradise.” David muttered something incomprehensible, and I felt a faint pressure in my hand.”

Those hands – the hands that break bread this night – did so much. They healed. They welcomed. They built. They embraced. They overturned. When we reach out to hold one another’s hands, what we really do is hold those hands, and those hands hold us. Those hands make real the promise that death is not the final word, that though, as the song affirms, death is at our doorstep, always, it may steal our innocence, but it will not steal our substance.

I believe that, that at the heart of our story, the substance, the hands and heart and flesh and blood substance, is love, love that is stronger than death. That can never be stolen, even on this night. Never be stolen. We are not alone in this.

 

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