Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sermon for Maundy Thursday


St Paul's Cathedral

There probably isn’t a day that goes by in which any of us do not experience a sensation that we would name as hunger. It may be a faint rumbling in the stomach before downing a cheese Danish in the morning, or it may be a feeling of weakness and low energy and stomach rumbling that can be heard across the room! Hunger is an elemental, visceral experience. Only oxygen, immediate personal safety, and water rank as needs more basic than food. When my wife’s 13-year old orange tabby notices that he can see the bottom of his food bowl, even if there’s actually quite a bit of cat chow left in it, he makes everybody in the house aware of his displeasure. He doesn’t want to take the risk that he might ever be hungry!

But let’s face it—the chances are that everyone in this church tonight is very well fed. A case could be made that few of us even really know what true hunger is. For a good percentage of the world’s population—maybe even half or more—hunger is the number one life issue. It is an all-consuming concern. Everything else fades in comparison. Finding food, on a day-to-day basis, is a full-time job. When you and I say “I’m hungry,” we’re talking about a temporary state which we have every intention of alleviating in the next few minutes with a trip to the refrigerator or the fast-food outlet down the street. Then we’ll be satisfied; we won’t be hungry anymore—for the next few hours, at least. When most people in the world say “I’m hungry,” they’re referring to a permanent life condition, something that never completely goes away. It is a hunger that is never fully satisfied.

The way you and I experience genuine hunger—hunger that is all-consuming—is at a metaphorical level. For example, we experience a desire for material comfort—to be warm and dry and clean, to have privacy, and a peaceful place to get a good night’s sleep, the assurance that we won’t be poor in our old age. This much is certainly not too much to ask. But soon we want convenience—a domestic infrastructure that doesn’t call attention to itself. We want beautiful things—a garden, a deck, nice clothes and a nice car. Gradually, a simple and honorable desire is transformed into an insatiable hunger for wealth, and we begin to acquire things simply for the sake of having them. We’re never satisfied; there’s never quite enough. And along the way, we never think of ourselves as rich—the rich are those who have more than I have. But we’re still hungry, and it won’t go away.

We experience a desire for freedom, for personal autonomy. We want the freedom to live and work where and how we see fit. This much is certainly honorable, and not too much to ask. Liberty of this sort is a value that is deeply ingrained in our sense of who we are as Americans. But the desire for freedom can easily be corrupted into an appetite for power that knows no bounds. We are hungry to control our environment, and everyone in it. We seek to control things and we seek to control people, and we’re never satisfied. If another person has one unit of power, we take that as a personal failure, because it’s a unit of power we don’t have until we possess it. Even the most ruthless dictator on earth doesn’t feel like he has enough power. He’s still hungry, and it won’t go away.

We experience a desire to be in relationship with other people. We want to authentically connect with someone outside ourselves, to transcend the barrier of loneliness that separates us as individual human beings. We want to be intimate—to know somebody fully, and to be known by them. This is an honorable desire, and not too much to ask. Yet, this impulse to connect, this instinct to love, is so often, and so easily, distorted into lust. Lust is disordered love, turned in a twisted direction. In a desperate desire to connect, to jump-start and accelerate the process of interpersonal intimacy, lust short circuits, and turns back on itself, and, in tragic irony, fails to establish anything but temporary and shallow connection. It becomes an insatiable hunger that litters the landscape with broken promises and broken hearts. It’s a hunger that is never satisfied, because maybe the next hook-up, the next relationship, will be the “real thing.”
           
This last sort of hunger—which, to put a label on it, we might name as sexual hunger, whether in the pure form of love or the distorted form of lust—sexual hunger is an important sign to take note of, because it most readily resembles the hunger that is truly the deepest hunger in every human heart, which is for a connection with the one who is completely transcendent and
Wholly Other—in a word, God. This one hunger, the hunger for God, incorporates into itself everything else that may pass as hunger. All forms of hunger, both literal and metaphorical, even physical hunger itself, is but a reminder that full humanity is realized only in relationship with the One who created it. So if we look to have that hunger satisfied any place else but in God, well … we’re “lookin’ for food in all the wrong places.” Or, in the immortal words of St Augustine, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in you.”

This observance of the Paschal Triduum—these three sacred days in which we participate in the dying and rising of our Lord and Savior—is all about our hunger for God, and how that hunger gets satisfied. Particularly in tonight’s liturgy, as we celebrate the Eucharist in specific remembrance of the very institution of this great sacrament, we share in the mysterious reality that it is God Himself, in the person of His Son Jesus, who satisfies that most profound hunger in our hearts.  In Holy Communion, He gives us what Psalm 78 calls the “bread of angels.” Jesus tells us that he is himself the “true bread come down from heaven,” which is to say that he doesn’t just feed us, he doesn’t just give us bread; he is the bread. He gives himself, his own Body and his own Blood, the nourishment that is ultimately satisfying, the food that leads to eternal and abundant life.  When we eat this bread and drink this cup in Holy Communion, we have such an experience of the fullness of life that all our other hungers are satisfied in the process.

In response to such a gift, the gift of life itself, we cannot but adore Christ. Adoration is one of the seven traditional forms of prayer, and defined in our Prayer Book catechism as “the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.” … lifting up of heart and mind … asking nothing … enjoy God’s presence. That lamp that hangs over the sanctuary is in indication that we have an opportunity to adore Christ in a tangible way, right here in this church, 363 ½ days per year. The Lord Jesus is sacramentally present, under the forms of bread and wine reserved from previous celebrations of the Mass, and it is “meet and right” that we adore him, in our hearts, and with our bodies—by genuflecting (if we are physically able), that is, bending the knee when we approach the altar.

 We can also adore Christ as he is present in other people. One of the baptismal promises that we will renew at the Vigil two nights from now is to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The next part of our liturgy this evening will be an enactment of that vow, as Father Roderick, your immediate pastor, representing Christ, will honor the presence of that same Christ in twelve other members of this congregation by washing their feet.

I’m hungry. You’re hungry. There’s food here tonight, food that satisfies. Come, let us adore him who gives us himself in that food. Amen. 

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