Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Maundy Thursday sermon from the live-streamed service at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York
The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Maundy Thursday sermon from The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, New York. This sermon was pre-recorded for inclusion in the live stream of the Church’s April 9, 2020 worship service.
This sermon can be watched at any time by clicking here.
The video appears in the “Holy Week 2020” section at the bottom of the webpage. Look for where the webpage background changes from white to black.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin
April 9, 2020
Michael B. Curry
And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and bring you greetings on this Maundy Thursday from your brothers, sisters, and siblings who are The Episcopal Church, wherever they may be. How I wish that I could be with you physically, but we are together in the spirit, and it is good to be together in God's name in any way.
Allow me to offer a text, a text that comes from John's Gospel, John's insight into what was going on at that last supper, that supper where Jesus celebrated, commemorated the first Eucharist: "This is my body. This is my blood."
That evening when he washed the feet of his disciples and said, "As I have done to you, so you should do to each other;" that evening, when he gave them his last thoughts before he sacrificed his life on the cross, in John Chapter 15 this is what he said: "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." Then he goes on to say, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now abide in my love. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit so as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now abide in my love."
In John's Gospel, chapters 13 through 17, several chapters are devoted to John reflecting and hearing deeply what Jesus was saying, meant, and did at that Last Supper. Raymond Brown in his magisterial commentary on the Gospel of John says that John has fashioned this Last Supper in the manner of the ancient world's last will and testament of a great teacher, of a noble one, of a great spirit. He has taken that model and used it to amplify Jesus, giving His disciples those teachings that can steady them in days that are hard and difficult, those teachings that will lead them and guide them and will help them along the way. It is in these chapters, chapters 13 through 17, oh, just hours before he would be in that lonely garden to be betrayed, only hours before he would be handed over to those who would take him prisoner, only hours before trials, only hours before execution, only hours before his death. If you look carefully at what Jesus teaches them, two things stand out.
One, the key to this life, in this way that he teaches, is a deep and organic, a living relationship with him, with Jesus. I am the vine; you are the branches. As I live, so you must live. As I love, so you must love. Let my life live in you. Let my way of life be your way of life. As St. Teresa taught us, let you be my hands, my feet, my heart, my life in the world. When folks see you, let them see me. I am the vine; you're the branches. Eat my body, take it in. Drink my blood, take it in. Let my life infuse your life. Abide in me as I am you.
But then He goes on and says something else. He emphasizes this relationship with him as the way into the heart of God, for those who would follow his ways, but then he says something at this supper in John's Gospel. He says, "A new commandment I give you," not a new possibility, not some new suggestions, not a new philosophical idea. "A new commandment I give you: that you love one another as I have loved you. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, abide in my love." Greater love is no one than this, but that they give up their life for their friends, and I have called you my friends. A new commandment that you love one another. As he washes the feet of his disciples, love. As Judas slithers out of the room to betray him, love. What thou must do, do quickly. Love.
As Peter declares that he will defend him and stand by him, Jesus knowing Peter well enough to know he may not make good on that promise, love. When he leaves that upper room and goes into the garden and sweats and prays, "Let this cup pass from me, but not my will but thine be done," love. When Judas comes up and kisses him, the kiss of betrayal, love. When soldiers take him by the arms and carry him off under arrest, love. When he is thrown into a jail cell, love. When they take him before various tribunals from a Sanhedrin to Herod and back and forth, in trials and hearings, convicting him of nothing he had done, love. When Pilate sits in the praetorium, "Are you a King? What is truth?" "My kingdom is not of this world," he says, love. And when soldiers take him away under orders of the empire to be executed, love.
The old song says, "Oh, he never said a mumbling word, just love." When nails are hammered through the wrist and hands that only helped and healed, love. When he's lifted up on a cross, love. He bleeds to death, love.
Father, forgive them.
Woman, behold your son.
Oh my God, my God, why?
Today you'll be with me in paradise.
It is finished.
Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.
For John's Gospel says, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. That all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Love. Unselfish, sacrificial, this is the way, the way of the cross, the way of God, the way of life.
A number of years ago when I was bishop with the Diocese of North Carolina, I joined with Bishop Rob O'Neill, the Bishop of Colorado, the then Bishop of Colorado, to represent The Episcopal Church at the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Burundi in East Africa. This was a number of years ago now. Burundi, tucked in with Rwanda and Tanzania and Congo, had known the same violence and civil war between Tutsi and Hutu that was known in Rwanda. We went soon after there had been a peace settlement, a tenuous peace settlement, but a peace settlement. We flew there in friendship between our church and the church of Burundi.
As we left Nairobi flying to Bujumbura, the capital, we made the approach to the city of Bujumbura, the capital city, a city and a country that had been in civil war for 10 years. As we made our approach, we circled the city, and when we made our approach, you could see the city below. It was a heap of rubble. It was like the lamentations in the Old Testament, how lonely since the city that was once full of people. When we finally landed, we were met there by representatives of the diocese and the church, and we were taken to a hotel where we stayed. The next day there was the grand celebration of Anglican Christians and other religious leaders and government officials who came for this celebration of the installation of the new Anglican Archbishop of Burundi. The bishops of Burundi had represented in their House of Bishops, those who had once been at civil war Tutsi and Hutu, were part of the one House of Bishops together. In Christ, there is no east nor west. In Him, no south, no north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.
Well, the ceremony went on and the new Bishop was enthroned. After the ceremony and the wonderful meal by the Mother's Union, the Archbishop took Bishop O'Neill and took me, and we went out and he gave us a tour of the capital city. We went up on a hill much like sitting up on the hill above Jerusalem, only now we were looking at Bujumbura. "How lonely sits the city that was once full of people." The Archbishop said something I've never forgotten, pointed to the city, greatly a heap of rubble, and he said, "This is man's way. Jesus has taught us another way. We must love each other, and that is how we will rebuild our country."
Jesus was right. He is right: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son," and this way of love, it is the way of life.
God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.