In baptism, God says: ‘Remember who you are. Remember what you’re here for. So, let’s go!’ –Rev. Andrew K. Barnett
This sermon by The Rev. Andrew K. Barnett of Washington National Cathedral stuck a chord with me. Probably because of me going through a similar experience with the death of my mother a little over a year ago. But also because what he says about God’s call to us in baptism speaks to my soul.
When we are naked and alone, newborn or on a deathbed, or anything in between with nothing but the body God gave us, we are still and especially a creature of God. Built for loving. Equipped for serving. Called to return to wholeness. That is who we are. –Rev. Andrew K. Barnett
At the very core of who we are, we are creatures of God, beautifully and wonderfully created in God’s image. In the waters of baptism, God’s covenant with us is sacramentally made known to us. We are bonded in an unbreakable relationship with God. And that is a beautiful thing to periodically remind ourselves of.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it. Love is strong as death.
Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree,
That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.
Ye are washed, ye are sanctified,
Ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation;
That ye should show forth the praises of him
who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I beseech you brethren, by the mercies of God,
that ye present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy,
acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Music: John Ireland (1879-1962)
Words: Song of Solomon, John 15, I Peter 2, I Corinthians 6, Romans 12
We simply cannot fathom the depth of the love that God has for us. We can only say “thank you” for that love, made known to us in the selfless life of Jesus Christ. Words cannot express what the life of Jesus has done for our world, for all of humankind and all of creation. Songs have been sung, scriptures have been written, monuments have been carved, and churches have been erected all to glorify God in Jesus Christ. But nothing comes close to compare to the glory that God enfleshed in Jesus Christ. On this Good Friday, all of creation mourns for the pain that Jesus endured as he was tortured and put to death on a cross, in deep humiliation and pain. We cannot say anything that will suffice. We can only say “thank you.”
There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.
There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.
O dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
and trust in his redeeming blood,
and try his works to do.
The rituals of Maundy Thursday are, to me, the most beautiful in our Christian tradition. This is the night when Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples, and washed their feet and commands them to love one another as he has loved them. It was after the Last Supper and washing the disciples’ feet that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemene to pray and was arrested. This last night of Jesus’s ministry was perhaps the most powerful. The one in which he tells his disciples to share that unconditional love to the world, and to make his love known to others in such acts of love.
At my church, we share an Agape Supper with each other every Maundy Thursday evening. It is something I look forward to every year. After the supper, we have a foot washing ceremony. When I first attended the Agape Supper years ago, this was a hard part for me to accept. But the foot washing brings to life those words of Jesus on his last night of freedom. We enact that love that Jesus has for us in washing each others’ feet. We pour the clean water over another’s feet and tenderly wipe them dry. And in doing so, we remember the love that Christ has for us, and that we have for each other as disciples of Christ.
Our tradition is, after the Agape Supper and footwashing, to process from the Parish Hall to the Church where we have the Maundy Thursday Eucharist. After the Eucharist, we symbolically strip the altar bare of all adornment. The only thing left is the cross, which we shroud in black cloth. The bare altar is a visible reminder of Christ being arrested and taken from us.
These traditions are powerful physical reminders of Christ’s obedient call to be arrested, tortured, and crucified. Just as each Christian is called to obediently resist evil and hate, and to embrace love and charity, we remind ourselves of that nakedness and vulnerability that each of us must embody through stripping the altar bare.
The final words of this hymn: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” send shivers down my spine every time I sing them. I think that this phrase perfectly sums up the duty of each Christian of committing one’s life to God in service, prayer, love, and humility. God’s love for us is unfathomable. It is a love that transcends all descriptions. We can only imagine what that love is like, which was made known to us in the life and death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the cross of Christ, my God:
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
–Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1707
–Music: Gilbert Martin