Sermon Preached on April 18, 2019 – Maundy Thursday
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14a
I Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Maundy Thursday – The Day that Love Pours Out
Monday, we watched in shock as flames engulfed the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, “Our Lady of Paris.” Even in our 21st Century busy-ness and absorption we were stopped in our tracks – stunned. Our normal “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance on religion went out the window, even on public news broadcasts. It was as if we couldn’t help ourselves – people blurted out statements like: “Even if you don’t believe, if you’ve ever been inside Notre Dame, you’ve felt it, a Presence.” And: “There are 13 million visitors a year of all different religious backgrounds because it is compelling and awe-inspiring, face it – it’s a holy place.”
One BBC announcer stationed in Paris came rushing into the broadcast station, having run across the city. He remembered aloud the role of Notre Dame in 2015 when Paris grieved the 130 victims of the terror attacks; he spoke about their funerals held in the cathedral. And he said, “This is where people grieved and found comfort together; this is where I was comforted. Notre Dame is more than a historic treasure and tourist destination, it’s a functioning church for the city and nation. People are standing outside and weeping because we are losing more than a building – so much more.”
Thankfully, all was not lost. Hundreds upon hundreds of firefighters responded, against incredibly difficult odds, with the clock ticking, and emotions heavy and desperate, they were able to save the primary structure and many of the sacred artifacts. While the world watched in distress, water streamed into the flames, and the smoke rose from the cathedral for hours. And what was equally striking were all the people gathered nearby, standing together almost as far as you could see.
People, mostly strangers to one another, gathered around the Cathedral for hours, at first watching because it was a shocking sight. But as the hours went on, the crowd became those who had come there intentionally, to stand in witness. To what “our Lady” Notre Dame means to them, to all she has given them. First, it seems, they stood in silence, and then they started to sing: Ave Maria… and other hymns. Grace and prayer, love and witness – pouring back to her, sharing that with one another.
And she was saved, just barely in time, and yet mostly structurally … somehow saved.
My point on this Maundy Thursday is that while the fire was catastrophic, it did more than cause destruction. This tragedy reminded us that we are connected – to each other and to God, and that is remarkable. In that way, Notre Dame did her work this Holy Week, just as she was doing all along, and will do again. Serving as an instrument of grace and connection between God and God’s beloved people.
She was able to do that because we let her, we let our hearts be broken open by what happened. We let it be personal, we allowed it to matter to us.
That’s not all Notre Dame accomplished, even in flames this week. She reminded us that three other churches have burned in recent weeks. Those fires were just as heartbreaking to those who worship there, to those who were married there, whose children were raised there, who are displaced this Holy Week, and sifting through all that was lost, while facing the need to rebuild. Between March 26 and April 4, St. Mary Baptist, Mount Pleasant Baptist, and Greater Union Baptist Churches were destroyed by arson.
These three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, are not Notre Dame, and their financial need is not as great, but also they don’t have Notre Dame’s fame, or the financial resources of the Catholic Church, and the French government.
When the flames in Paris broke our hearts, a handful of people made the connection to the churches in Louisiana. The outpouring of support for Notre Dame focused attention on these churches and their situation, sending a fresh wave of relief funding pouring forth for these churches as well. As our hearts were reminded why the burning of a church, any church or place of worship, is devastating to all of us.
This is the week when we remember all that was done for us. And we let it become personal, we let ourselves be drawn in and affected, we allow these moments to matter to us. We let our hearts to be broken open. That’s what makes this week holy, that we step into this time – willing to be transformed.
On this day of the week we remember the meal and the washing, the praying and the betrayal; but mostly we remember the love.
This is the day that love pours out.
As Jesus gathers with his friends one last time, he tends to them, washing their feet, serving them. Teaching them how to be beloved community together when he is gone. Breaking bread, sharing wine. He tells them he loves them, clearly, directly. He reminds them to love each other, as much and as well as he loves them. Whether or not they like each other, or agree with each other, or things are going well in that moment – they are to love each other. He is showing them – do what I do, just like this. He pours himself out for them, like the water in the basin, like the wine in the cup. His love for them is overflowing, extravagant, boundless.
This is the day that love pours forth.
To us it feels intimate and personal. It’s supposed to. My friends, enter into this remembering whole heartedly. Allow it to matter, to be personal. To break open your heart, making room for the transforming love of Christ.
This is the day that love pours forth. Open your heart to receive it. May you be soaked and saturated in the extravagant love of Christ. Amen.