Sermon preached by Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Maundy Thursday – March 28, 2013
In tonight’s service we are invited, rather I believe we are biblically urged, to experience the hospitality of God . . . the untamed hospitality of God! *
I wish to emphasize that word “untamed.” This quality of hospitality I have in mind, move beyond even radically. The hospitality of Maundy Thursday is wild, ironically undomesticated, and thoroughly grace-driven. I just said “ironically” undomesticated. For what could be more “domestic” than bathing at home or having supper with friends. Tonight our scriptures present us with the fullness of a Teacher and Lord whose ways are not our ways and whose wonder surpasses human understanding. Such a Teacher leads us onward and prepares us for the journey.
The hospitality I believe we are invited to experience on this evening has three characteristics 1) it is public, not private, 2) intimately embodied, not abstract, and 3) it commands attention.
Public, not private. This hospitality is not akin to the private, polite entertainment of my Grandmother’s home (or to name another example: Southern Living). It is not a commodity to be possessed, boasted about, or hoarded. This is public hospitality, a table, a liberation feast, where all are invited, compelled to come in especially the least, the lost, the lonely, and the left out.
Intimately embodied, touching not abstract. The foot-washing as presented tonight in John’s Gospel — and offered for us as well — is offered with care, with intentionality, with tenderness, and most of all with exemplary love. We are not asked to wash our Lord’s feet. Rather we are presented with an opportunity: whether we will allow him to touch us. And – as with all reversals of power and hierarchy, all instances of Christ-like love – we are invited not only to cleanse our feet but our intentions as well. That is, to wash away whatever prevents us from following our Lord and Teacher. My beloved teacher, the African American Prophet Verna Dozier, used to challenge us by saying: Are you ready to follow Jesus, or are you content just to worship him?
The Hospitality of Maundy Thursday is also commanding, not meek or subdued. As you may know, Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment. Tonight our Host at the feast of liberation, the freedom table, is our most compelling Teacher, the Nazarene Rabbi, Raboni (as Mary called him). By words, by actions, by symbols, by dramatic story, we are commanded to “Do This.” “Do this in remembrance of me.” And in the foot washing, “I have set [for] you an example that you also should do.” All of this summed up in the commandment: “to love one another, just as I have loved you.”
The hospitable love of our Teacher and Lord is wise enough, wild enough, untamed enough 1) to embrace each of us knowing our failings and our fortes, 2) sustaining enough to guide through the certain knowledge that there already are and will be trials ahead in our daily lives and in our society, 3) and steadfast enough to companion us as we look to the future.
By experiencing God’s untamed hospitality on this evening we are (I deeply believe) lovingly prepared for the journey ahead. Amen.
Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett
Mary Wolfe Professor Emerita of Historical Theology
Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
* In this sermon I am directly influenced and informed by an article by Professor Elizabeth Newman, “Untamed Hospitality,” published in 2007 by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University.