"This Darkness Transforms Us, And the Whole World," Maundy Thursday

"This Darkness Transforms Us, And the Whole World," Maundy Thursday

Mar 29, 2018

Passage:John 13:1-35

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Holy Week

Category: Hope, Discipleship

Keywords: darkness, maundy thursday, new commandment


As we remember and participate in the last days of Jesus' life, we walk in the darkness that falls on his disciples. It seems that the light is going out and their hope is fading. But the darkness is necessary for the transformation of the world, and for our own transformation. And we can reassured that the light remains with us no matter how dark it may seem because we know that resurrection is coming!


May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

​Tonight we enter into the three-day journey that is the Triduum.  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are all one journey.  They’re not three separate events.  We give them distinct names to describe the liturgies we take part in during these three days.  But we’re sometimes deceived into thinking that these are three separate events when they’re really only one.

Maundy Thursday signifies to our modern liturgy the beginning of this journey.  This journey transcends time.  As we take part in these liturgies, we’re not only remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made.  We’re also participating in those events.  It’s a “now and then.”  It’s a “now and not yet.” 

We’re no longer bound by the limitations of our notions of time, we’re in the realm of heaven...the Kingdom of God.  We’re present with this Maundy Thursday service.  We’re present with Jesus at the Last Supper.  And we live in the knowledge that the resurrection is to come.

Tonight we enter a long night of darkness that descends upon us according to the rhythm of the Church calendar.  We don’t determine when the darkness falls on this journey.  It comes whether we’re ready or not.

The darkness has come for Jesus, too.  The Gospel of John tells us that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.”  He knows that there’s no stopping this part of the journey.  It will proceed.  It must proceed, whether his disciples are ready or not.  And he knows that one of his beloved friends, Judas Iscariot, will betray him on this night.  Jesus’ heart must be heavy.

Imagine this night as the Gospel of John presents’s dark and the disciples think they’re preparing for the Passover like every Passover before.  Jesus has already made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  They truly believe in him and the momentum seems to have picked up. 

But on this night, Jesus’ mood is different.  He shares a meal with them as is the custom. Then he prepares to wash the feet of the disciples. 

At this point, it’s clear that they don’t understand what he’s doing.  Why would Jesus, their Lord, wash their feet? That’s a job for the lowest of servants.  Peter tries to refuse.  Jesus knows that the disciples don’t understand—he even tells them that. 

Jesus performs this last act of private service to his closest friends even in the midst of his own grief and sadness.  He lovingly and carefully washes their feet.  He then begins to teach them.  He explains that he has set the example that they’re to follow. 

They’re to remember that they must live as servants in this world.  Even their “Lord and Teacher,” their Messiah, the King of kings, has acted as servant to them. 

Jesus then begins a “goodbye speech.”  He tells the disciples that he’s leaving them soon and they can’t come with him.  His last command to them is to “love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

Just a few short days ago, these disciples were celebrating with Hosannas and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  And now he’s saying goodbye.

Imagine how much darker it feels now.  It’s not only physically dark outside, but they start to feel the darkness take over inside of them.  What’s he talking about?  Why did he wash our feet?  What does he mean that he will only be with us a little longer?

This is the beginning of the dark journey that we remember.  It’s also the journey that we ourselves enter into as darkness falls on this Maundy Thursday.  Whether we’re ready or not, it has arrived. 

After we take communion, we’ll begin the “stripping of the altar.”  We’ll extinguish the lights and clear the sanctuary.  We’ll remove the prayer books and hymnals, the vessels of Eucharist and candles.  We’ll remove the fair linens and the frontal.  The clergy and altar party will remove our vestments.  We’ll extinguish the “Light of Christ” that burns when the elements representing his Body and Blood are present above the ambry.  We’ll remove the Body and Blood of Christ themselves from the ambry.  We’ll remove all symbols of the Church.  Then the Altar Guild will lovingly wash the altar and prepare it for the crown of thorns.

Each time I enter into this remembrance and participation in the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, I am deeply moved by the image of an altar with no signs of Christ, no signs of light.  I ponder what it must’ve been like for the disciples.  Jesus is leaving them; their hope is disappearing. 

As I try to walk with the disciples on their journey through this time of darkness, I wonder what it would be like if we had no hope.  What if we believed that the light of Christ was gone forever?  What grief we would feel, just as the disciples felt!  It reminds me not to take the journey to the cross and to the tomb for granted...even in all of its sadness and fear.  Without this part of the journey, we could not receive gift of the resurrection.

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Darkness, Barbara Brown Taylor says:  “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.”

As we enter into the mystery of these last days, we recognize that we need the darkness, too.  And we know the secret that the disciples didn’t yet know. This darkness is temporary.  In it, God is at work transforming the whole world through Jesus’ sacrifice and death.  And with this transformation, we never again have to question if the light is still there.  We know that the resurrection has come and is coming again.  We know, in the depths of our being, that the light of Christ is always with us, no matter where we are or how dark it gets.