Maundy Thursday April 9, 2020

 

   On this day we commemorate the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. In today’s gospel, St. John recalls how Jesus told those who sat at table with him:“I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” In fact that new commandment, that mandatum novum, is what gives this day its name, Maundy Thursday.

The love about which Jesus spoke is rooted and grounded in humility, a humility which he demonstrated for his disciples just moments before by washing their feet. After which he said to them: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Therefore, I want to reflect with you briefly today on that greatest of all virtues,  humility,   of which someone once said:“Those who think they have it, don’t, and those who think they don’t have it, often do.”  There was also the Dominican monk who once said that, “The Jesuits are known for their learning, and  the Franciscans for their piety and good works, but when it comes to humility, we’re tops!” You and I are called to exercise that humility in the love that we show toward other people, following the commandment our Lord gave to us. True humility allows us to do what we have to do without recognition, to put our trust in God, and to be grateful for the things we have.   It is on these three aspects of humility that I wish to focus today.

There was an interesting article in Life magazine sometime back. It was about Dan Dyer, a maintenance man for Roper Hospital in Charleston, SC. Until 1989 Dan had been responsible for the hospital heating and air conditioning system for eight years and  yet the hospital staff for the most part were oblivious to Dan’s existence. Dan was usually out of sight in the boiler room or some such place, and his contribution to the healing of sick and hurting people just wasn’t all that obvious.  In September of 1989, though, Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. Electricity went out all over town.  Roper Hospital was reduced to a system of backup generators, and for some reason the diesel pump for  the generators was not pumping the needed fuel to them. That threatened to leave a large hospital and its intensive care unit, where patients depend on life-support systems,  with no electricity. It was in the midst of that crisis that Dan Dyer made five trips out into a hurricane to hand-pump diesel fuel back to the small tank that fueled the generator. Every trip through the high-velocity winds, water, and crashing debris was a risk of his life to safeguard the lives of the patients in the hospital.       After that night, nurses, the hospital administrator, and even the governor of the state knew who Dan was. Dan Dyer became a bit of a celebrity and was recognized from that point on as the man who keeps  Roper Hospital running. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that for eight years Dan Dyer worked faithfully behinds the scenes without any thought of recognition for himself, and only when a crisis occurred was he thrust into the limelight?

Another mark of the humility that underlies the love which our Lord asks us to share with one another, is our trust that God is with us and behind us in all that we do.  After Sundar Singh, an Indian Christian missionary who died in 1929,  had completed a tour around the world, people asked him, Doesn’t it do harm, your getting so much honor?” The ascetic holy man’s answer was: “No.” He went on to say, “ [On that first Palm Sunday] the donkey went into Jerusalem, and they put garments on the ground before him. He was not proud. He knew that it was not done to honor him, but that it was for Jesus, who was sitting on his back. Likewise, when people honor me, I know that it is not me, but the Lord, who does the job.”  When Communist forces invaded Vietnam in the 1950s,  Hien Pham, like many Vietnamese Christians, was arrested and jailed for his beliefs.    After his release from prison, Pham made plans to escape Vietnam.  He secretly began building a boat. Fifty-three fellow Vietnamese made plans to escape with him One day, four Vietcong soldiers came to Pham’s house and confronted him. They heard he was planning an escape. Was it true? Of course, Hien Pham lied to them. If he had told the truth, the Vietcong might have killed him and arrested the other fifty-three participants. But after the soldiers left, Pham felt uneasy. Had God really wanted him to lie? Didn’t he trust that God would provide for him under any circumstances? Even though it made no logical sense, Pham believed that God wanted him to tell the truth, even at the risk of his own life.    So,  Pham resolved that if the Vietcong returned, he would trust God, he would confess his escape plans. Well, Pham finished building his boat, and his friends made the final plans for their daring escape.     To their horror, the Vietcong soldiers returned and demanded to know if the escape rumors were true.     Hoping against hope, Hien Pham confessed his plans to escape.  Imagine Pham’s surprise when the soldiers replied, “Take us with you!”  That evening, Hien Pham, his fifty-three friends, and four Vietcong soldiers made a daring escape under cover of night on a homemade boat. But that is not the end of the story!  They sailed straight into a violent storm. Pham reports that they surely would have been lost, if not for the expert sailing skills of the four Vietcong soldiers. The escapees landed safely in Thailand. Eventually, Hien Pham emigrated to the United States, where he made a new life for himself. Hien Pham, in his humility, trusted in God, fully convinced that God is able to do what God has promised.

A final attribute of that humility to which Jesus calls us is a deep gratitude for all that we have been given. The famous American concert impresario, Sol Hurok, liked to say that Marian Anderson had not simply grown great, she had grown great simply.   He said:   “A number of  years ago a reporter interviewed Marian and asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. I was in her dressing room at the time and was curious to hear the answer. I knew that she had many big moments to choose from. There was the night Toscanini told her that hers was the finest voice of the century.    There was the private concert she gave at the White House for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England. She had received the $10,000 Bok Award as the person who had done the most for her home town of Philadelphia.  To top it all, there was that Easter Day in Washington, D.,C.  when she stood beneath the Lincoln Memorial and sang for a crowd of 75,000, which included Cabinet members,   Supreme  Court Justices, and most members of Congress.” Which of those big moments did she choose?  “None of them,” said Hurok. “Miss Anderson told the reporter that the greatest moment of her life was the day she went home and told her mother she wouldn’t have to take in washing anymore.”  We need to be grateful to God for all that we have been given, however small or insignificant that may seem.

In another place and at another time Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  Humility is the defining characteristic of the love which Jesus charged his disciples to share with one another when he said to them at the Last Supper: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” That commandment applies no less to us today than it did to those first disciples so long ago. We, therefore, need to express our humility: by doing whatever we do without any thought of attention or recognition; by trusting that God is with us and supporting us in all our undertakings and accomplishments; and finally by giving thanks to God for all that we have been given. The Lord’s Christ reminds us that if we truly show forth our love in this way, then everyone will know that we are his disciples.  Amen.

 From:  Rev. Philip Stowell

 

 

 

      

 

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