Sermons That Work

Why Is This Night Different…, Maundy Thursday – 2004

April 08, 2004

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

In Jewish culture, a child asks this question to begin the celebration of the Feast of the Passover, as Jews throughout the world retell the story of the Exodus and celebrate the escape of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. It is a time when the People of God keep the divine commandment to “tell the story to their children, and their children, and their children’s children, so that everyone will know” how God acted in human history to bring freedom to their oppressed forebears.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

On this night, God’s Chosen People recall the violence of that night, the gruesome, bloody death that swept over Egypt. They recall the story of the People of God as they ran for their lives under the fire and cloud of God’s own protection, with Egyptian soldiers in hot pursuit. They remember the waters that miraculously parted to ensure people’s safe passage out of Egypt, and then reconnected to drown their pursuers. And just as we claim this biblical story to be our truth, we, too, must ask that child’s question, along with our own special recollections.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

On this night we talk about Jesus’ commandment to love, as we consider the models that he left us. We remember how he took old, familiar things and gave them new meanings for the first time. Foot-washing had simply been a kindness to barefooted travelers after walking for hours on hot sand. But on this particular Passover night, it became a symbol of love expressed in kindness and in service to others. Recalling that the Altar represents Christ’s body, we strip it bare just as he was stripped of his clothing before he was crucified. Recalling his death on the Cross, we wash the Altar as a dead body being prepared for burial. But unlike what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, we do not leave him to pray alone on this night. We surround him with beauty and keep him company as we do what he did, praying for the strength to do what God asks of us as we live on, in a cruel, destructive, and sin-filled world.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?”

For generations people had seen bread and wine raised in a Sabbath blessing to a great and faithful God. But on this night, the same bread and wine became the Body and Blood of a Lord whose death gives life. This ritual offering becomes a new act of sacrifice and redemption, as the atoning Body and Blood of Christ gives life without destroying. We gather to give thanks for the blessing of a God who forgives us, restores us, and calls us to join in the creative act of “making all things new.”

And so it is that on this night, which is so different from all other nights, we are called to witness to that difference. More than simply gathering for services of remembrance, we are called to carry the touching, healing, and transforming message out to the world that God loved enough to send a Son to die for. Tonight Jesus is calling us to continue his great legacy, to keep it alive by finding find new ways to wash feet and nourish bodies and give comfort to people who are in pain. Renewed by the presence of his Body and Blood within us, we take seriously the divine call to bring Good News, to help the hungry, the homeless, the harried, and the hurting.

As a commentary on the violence during Passover in the Middle East today, a news commentator raised the question, “What makes this night different from all other nights? Absolutely nothing.” But our witness, as those bearing the name of Christ, is that we make it different by laboring with God to stop the violence, not accelerate it or give into it. We witness to the power of our Great Redeemer by redeeming pain, striving for peace, and working for reconciliation with justice.

That is what makes the difference. It makes us different, too, and this society is not kind to those who do not fit in with the rest. Ours is never an easy task. But the witness of this evening is that no matter what the world’s response may be, nothing it can do can stop Jesus, working in you and me for the furtherance of God’s work in this world. So let us take courage today. Let us remember that God will sustain us as we are guided by the Spirit to follow the Son. Let us give thanks for a Jesus, who strengthens us with his own Body and Blood and labors with us as we make God more fully known. And let all the People of God say AMEN.

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Christopher Sikkema


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