Letter Sermon for Maundy Thursday, Year B
Based on Mk. 14:12-26
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Tonight, I am asking you to put your imagination to work. I would like you to imagine that an archeologist recently discovered a letter, well preserved, buried beneath the remnants of an ancient house in Jerusalem. The content of this letter reads as follows:
- Dear friends and followers of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth,
- Shalom in the name of our One and Only God Most Holy! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Isaac, otherwise known in the Gospel of Mark as the man who carried a jar of water when Rabbi Jesus sent two of his disciples to meet me for the purpose of preparing the Passover meal.
I am writing this letter to share with you some of my memories of Rabbi Jesus and his Passover meal that year. My memories remain more precious than all the treasures of this world. Never before or since have I met a rabbi like Jesus ~ so outstanding and fascinating was his impression upon me! Never before or since then, have I celebrated such a marvellous Passover meal as I did that year.
I can still remember the first time I met Rabbi Jesus. It was a month before Passover. He was alone; we had just finished the Sabbath Day service in the synagogue, where Rabbi Jesus had preached a fantastic sermon, which touched the hearts and lives of so many that day.
He spoke with such inspiration for a whole hour, yet it seemed like five or ten minutes. So powerful and convincing was his message that I truly believed he was the very voice of God! The synagogue air was filled with the sweetest perfume of God's perfect Shalom. It was the most wonderful experience ~ as if heaven, God's realm had embraced each one of us with all of its pure, shining glory!
After that service, I just had to meet this Rabbi Jesus! So I watched and waited patiently, until everyone had greeted him. People clung to him like bees to honey. It must have been at least another hour or so later before I had an opportunity to meet him.
When his eyes looked into mine, so intense was his gaze that I felt he saw into my very soul ~ he knew me better than I do myself. The silence of his look seemed like an eternity. He was judging my every thought, word and action, it was very painful. Yet, at the same time, he was looking at me with perfect gentleness and love. His eyes were telling me that he was giving me healing, wholeness, peace and complete forgiveness. I knew that it was true.
Then I introduced myself to him, and told him I was Rubin the Pharisee's servant. He spoke with great urgency, telling me that Rubin the Pharisee was one of his disciples. Prior to the Sabbath Day service, Rabbi Jesus and Rubin the Pharisee had met to discuss Passover preparations.
He told me that the Passover meal would be eaten by himself and his twelve apostles inside Rubin the Pharisee's upper room. After that, he made the strangest request. He asked me if I would carry a jar of water in public for everyone to see, right out on the same street as Rubin the Pharisee's home.
"But Rabbi," I protested, "you know thatů." ~ then he cut me off only to finish my sentence for me ~ "is work for women, not men." He also added the following words: "In God's kingdom there is no women's work or men's work, everyone is equal and free to serve God in whatever ways they are able to, according to their gifts. Besides," he continued, "I want you to stand out from the crowd, so that my two disciples, Andrew and Philip will know exactly who you are, in order that they might follow you to Rubin the Pharisee's upper room." My first response was still one of disbelief and protest: But Rabbi, you've got to be joking! I can't do that. I'll make a fool of myself. Folks will think that I've gone crazy! That's too embarrassing for me, to stand out like that."
However, after all of my protestations, he was very convincing. His gentle, kind, all-knowing eyes melted my heart. So, I agreed to do it. Then, we both went our separate ways.
Two weeks later, I was standing out there on the street like a poor camel surrounded by sheep ~ on display for everyone to see. You should have seen the looks on people's faces as they passed by! I'm convinced that some of them thought for sure that I'd fallen off the deep end. Finally, the two disciples came and spoke the special code question, which Rabbi Jesus had instructed them to speak: "The Rabbi says, 'Where is the room in which I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?' "
Then, they followed me into Rubin the Pharisee's home, where they, once again, spoke to him with the same code question. Then Rubin instructed me to help Andrew and Philip with the Passover preparations.
We roasted the lamb, baked the unleavened bread, poured out a bowl of salt water, collected and mixed-up the bitter herbs, prepared the Charosheth paste, and poured out the four cups of wine. There was, of course, plenty of water on hand for washing.
As we made these preparations, I began to speak with Andrew and Philip. They reminisced about many events and stories that their Rabbi had taught them. Some of them were simply wonderful. I could see how deeply their Rabbi loved them and how their lives had changed since they began to follow him.
When everything was ready, evening had fallen upon us and Jesus entered the upper room with ten more of his disciples. I could see, by the look on his face, that he was a little sad, and under considerable stress. Yet, at the same time, I knew that he was a rabbi with some special mission.
The first thing he did was to give us the traditional Shalom greeting. Then Rabbi Jesus turned to Rubin the Pharisee and myself and said: "Rubin and Isaac, please join us for our Passover celebration ~ for you also are citizens of God's kingdom." Of course, neither of us could resist such an invitation.
As the evening unfolded, all was going smoothly until, out of the blue, Rabbi Jesus took everyone's breath away when he said one of his very own twelve disciples would betray him. How could anyone do such a horrible thing? Why would anyone want to betray such a rabbi as this, who emulated such perfect love and peace to everyone?
All of the disciples glared intensely at each other, then at Rabbi Jesus. All of them adamantly denied it. After the twelve said it was impossible that they could betray their rabbi whom they loved; there was a silence that filled the room. A silence so tense that you'd be able to cut it with a knife.
The silence came to an end when Rabbi Jesus spoke again ~ this time with utter seriousness, authority, and love. Most, if not all of us were rather puzzled and surprised when he said: 'Take this; this is my body,' and: 'This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, shed for many.'
Surely Rabbi Jesus did not mean that we were now about to engage in an act of cannibalism! God forbade this! Jesus, being a rabbi, certainly could not have meant that!
It was only after Jesus had died and was raised from the dead that we were able to understand, at least in part, what those words meant. For me, there is still something deeply mysterious about those words, which goes above and beyond my understanding.
What those words of Rabbi Jesus do mean to me is that they reaffirm and assure me of God's unconditional love for me and for everyone. The bread and wine are signs of life. The words help us to remember Jesus' death ~ a death which draws us all nearer to God, and God's all-inclusive love. Love which has the power to change even the most cruel and hard-hearted people. Love which has certainly changed me as well as Rubin the Pharisee. Love which is able to change all of you who read or hear the words of this letter. Love which is not static or fixed in one place. Rather, love which grows larger all of the time, until it embraces the whole world with everyone in it.
May this letter help to encourage and build-up your faith in God, as you are called to be disciples of Rabbi Jesus.
May God's Shalom be with you all as you celebrate the Lord's Supper.
- Sincerely, I remain,
- Isaac of Jerusalem
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