A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Maundy Thursday • March 24, 2016
“How is this night different than all other nights?” That’s the question that begins the celebration of Passover at Jewish seders. It’s asked by the youngest male child present and it’s a good question for us to ask. When we speak of Jesus at the Last Supper, we are telling the story of a seder service, a Passover celebration, that took on a new significance.
“How is this night different than all other nights?” The questions, following the seder tradition might be: at all other services of worship, we gather upstairs, in the worship area; tonight we are down here in the hall; at all other services of worship, we light the room and decorate with flowers; tonight we might in dimness, lit only by candles; at all other services of worship, we sit in pews; tonight we gather around a table.
Passover is among the oldest of all worship traditions. It remembers a moment when an enslaved group of God’s people, hopeless before the power and violence of the Egyptian Pharaoh, decided to hope in the Lord and trust God with their lives. Their leaders had demanded they be let go; the Egyptians refused, as the powerful always refuse to give up domination. At Passover, the violence of the powerful comes home when their first born children die; the children of the slaves are saved, passed over.Only then do the powerful bend their knee to the all powerful, almighty God and let God’s people go.
This dark, violent moment is what Jesus and his friends remember at the Last Supper. The parallels must have been obvious. Like Moses, Jesus has demanded the powerful of his time let go of the souls of God’s people. Like the Hebrew slaves, a great empire ruled with violence and refused. Like Passover, Jesus asks his followers to put their hope in the power of God to make a way in the wilderness of the future. Here are all the symbols of Passover, of Exodus: bread for the journey, a cup whose sharing symbolizes a covenant commitment to the God who makes covenants.
Now we gather in these shadows, as Jesus and his friends did. Like them we are reminded: our fathers and mothers in the faith were slaves in Egypt, set free by the power of God. Our fathers and mothers in the faith were hunted criminals in the Roman Empire, inspired by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Our fathers and mothers in the faith in every generation lifted their eyes from the violence and fears that surrounded them and believed in the power of God to give new life even in the empire of death.
How is this night different than all other nights? Tonight we are in this plain place, reminded all God’s people really need to worship are repentant, open hearts, not the decoration of sanctuaries. Tonight we gather in shadows because there is real darkness in our world and sometimes the light is dim and flickers.
Yet God’s light is never wholly gone, never vanquished, never extinguished. Tonight we gather around a table, remembering what Jesus said: where two or three gather in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
So gathered in his name, certain of his presence, tonight we come in the shadows seeking light. May the light that shines in the darkness shine in us. May we remember what the gospel says, even in our darkest moment: the darkness has not, cannot, overcome it.