Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Jesus told Peter, ‘the rooster will not crow this day until you deny me three times.’ Luke 22.34
During Holy Week two significant changes took place in the life of Christ’s disciples: first, the events of the Passion changed their perception of their Lord. Second, (which is the focus of this talk) the Passion changed their perception of themselves. In short, the disciples’ eyes were opened. They came to know Christ for who he is. They also came to see themselves for who they are – met face to face with their sinfulness.
I will follow you
The disciples’ encounter with their sinfulness emerges during the dispute concerning who is worthy to be the greatest among them. Their view of the Kingdom up to this point is a worldly view. They are striving to ensure their place on Christ’s right and left-hand side; they want to be in places of prominence in the heavenly Kingdom. You would recall the two sons of Zebedee coming with their mother to ask Jesus for the possibility of reserving the two most senior sets for themselves in his Kingdom. In return, Jesus asked them, are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I will be baptised?‘ (Matt. 20.22) Yes, they confidently reply. In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, the argument as to who is the greatest amongst them takes place just after they have shared the Cup of the Lord and the Blessed Bread. As far as the Twelve were concerned, they have done their bit for Jesus and the time is ripe for their loyalty to be rewarded by him. For after all, unlike many others, the Twelve sincerely loved and believed their Lord (except for Judas). You would recall, that they were the ones who when called to follow Jesus, did not hesitate in doing so. They left everything behind: their fathers, mothers, businesses, and their community for the sake of Jesus. Peter spoke for all of them when he said, Lord ‘See, we have left everything and followed you‘ (Matt.19: 27). And of course, he was right. Jesus acknowledges their loyalty, ‘You are those who have stayed with me in my trials’ Luke 22:28. They were the ones who did not look back, who bound their destiny with that of Jesus. All this, as far as they are concerned makes them worthy to be partakers of the Blessed Cup. However, tonight while Christ shares his last meal with them, they will be confronted with the ugliness of their human nature; they will realise that their self-confidence and self-promotion have no place in the Kingdom. Tonight, before heading to the Cross, Jesus at the sacred meal where they finally get to drink from his Cup, is resolved to help them come face to face with the ugliness of their sinful nature. He is determined to show them that they are like everyone else – that they can never follow him in their human strength.
On this sacred night, all the disciples finally get to drink of the Cup. However, rather than bringing them comfort, it becomes a cause for a great disturbance. When Christ distributes the Cup, which he identifies with his blood, what follows from the partaking of the cup is not a distribution of posts in his Kingdom. No, what follows is a disturbing announcement – he announces an imminent act of betrayal is about to take place. ‘…one of you will soon betray me’, and the one who is to betray Jesus is from among the Twelve, eating of the blessed Bread and drinking of the Lord’s Cup. It is at this point we see Peter (the chief of Apostles), once again, so sure of himself rushes to say ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’ (Luke 22.33). This mome
nt of self-confidence gives way to self-confrontation, and self-discovery. Jesus told Peter, ‘the rooster will not crow this day until you deny me three times.‘ Luke 22.34. And as we all know, Peter did exactly that – denied Jesus three times.
Upon reading the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus we are tempted to think that Peter was weak. That he was a coward, he was not able to fallow through with his promise. Some may even want to go as far as questioning the genuineness of his affections, his love for Jesus. But the Gospel narratives make it clear that Jesus, apart for Judas, does not call into question any the disciples’ loyalty. It is not their loyalty, but their self-confidence, their blind faith in their human ability, that he want to question. And it is with Jesus’ direct questioning of Peter’s rush and proud promise to follow his Lord, that we find him confronted, like never before, with his human nature – a nature that is weak and sinful to its core. It is when Peter loses faith in his own ability, he starts to put faith in his Lord’s strength. And when he does put his faith in his Lord, he is truly able to follow Jesus to the end, to the Cross and the Kingdom.
Tonight, we too join Christ’s first disciple. We who during Lent have witnessed Christ’s trials, followed him through fasting and prayer, through the study of Scripture and contemplation of his journey to the Cross. We, like the disciples, have been preparing for this evening, we were determined to be here, to stay by his side and to drink from his Cup. Let us come to the Cup with open eyes, acknowledging our true nature: miserable offenders (As BCP puts it). Though we may desire him, we are unable to follow him by ourselves; we fail to follow him in our natural strength. Hence, as we approach the Holy Altar let us remember his words, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit… without Me, you can do nothing.’ (John 15:16).