April 2020

May the Lord Watch Between You and Me

Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

During this time of physical separation from one another, from our sanctuary and church building, I am reminded of four things.

The first is the benediction Laban offered to his nephew Jacob as they parted from one another. It has been my benediction for each of you as members of my spiritual family: “May the Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent, one from another.” (Genesis 31:49)

The second is that the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were instituted outside the established sacred settings of Jesus’ time, either in the homes of believers or nearby bodies of water.

The third is that the Lord’s Supper and the custom of foot-washing, unique to John’s Gospel, were acts of servant leadership by which Jesus impressed upon his disciples the importance of serving and sacrificing ourselves for those we love.

By offering the bread and cup to his followers, he assumed the role of a servant attending to the needs of honored guest; and the entrée of this meal was his life that he would freely give to each of us.

The custom of foot-washing is likened to the role of slaves who washed the feet of guests upon entering their master’s house. Peter’s reluctance to have Jesus wash his feet indicated the lowliness of such a task within the common culture, yet the heightened place Jesus now regarded such a task within the realm and culture of God.

These important customs were instituted outside the sanctuary, which leads me to my fourth reminder.

When Israel was in exile, separated from their homeland and temple, they instituted new forms of worship and ritual that allowed their faith to survive and thrive. The Pharisaic Movement in which the local synagogue emerged as the place of worship in the absence of the temple was, in fact, conceived in exile.

Now I’m certainly not suggesting that during this time of separation from our house of worship we devise customs that replace familiar forms by which we have worshiped together. However, I am suggesting that we consider the old Bell Telephone slogan by offering “the next best thing to being there,” and consider means by which we may experience the non-physical, virtual presence of Christ in non-physical, virtual ways until we come together again. In so doing, I believe we will discover new dimensions of ministry that tie us to one another that will continue long after we return.

In such considerations, the words of John Fawcett are fitting: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The unity of heart and mind is like to that above.”

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, may the Lord watch between you and me, while we’re absent, one from another. Amen.