The Preaching of the Word
First Presbyterian Church
116 South Loudoun Street, Winchester, Virginia 22601
Charles Marshall Webster, Transitional Pastor
March 24, 2016
“The Frame And The Picture”
Gospel Reading: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35
Text: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God…” John 13:3
It was not clear to the disciples of Jesus why they were there, or how they came to this place, or where these strange stories were heading. When you lack confidence and you lack clarity of understanding and purpose, it is hard to know what to do. Maybe the best thing you can do, when you are unsure, is to find people you know and spend time together, maybe over a loaf of bread and a glass of wine.
That’s how it was for the disciples of Jesus, I think, on Maundy Thursday. And that is how it is for many disciples of Jesus tonight. What time is this in which we live? What is happening with those stories of ISIS attacking Western Europe? How did we come here? What will tomorrow bring? Like those first disciples of Jesus, we have gathered together with a loaf of bread and a chalice of wine.
Back in 1955 Salvadore Dali painted a startling picture of Jesus with his disciples, unlike any painting of this event I have ever seen. Maybe you have seen this painting at the National Gallery of Art. The face of Jesus is young and strong and full of life. It is a face serene with confidence, and bright with courage and clarity. With his left hand Jesus points to himself. With his right hand he points up to God, and with unflinching eyes he looks boldly into the future, regardless of what the future may bring. It is the picture of one whose life has a frame and one who knows what the frame is. And because he knows the frame of his life, the picture is superbly clear.
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and he was going to God…”
If God were the frame of your life, if you knew where you had come from and where you were going, and if you knew that God has made you for this moment, then you too might be brimming with confidence and courage and clarity! You too might know exactly what to do. If this is the frame of Jesus’ life, what is the picture? What do you see Jesus doing while the disciples are waiting and wondering?
“Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet.”
That is what you do if you know where you have come from and you know where you are going, and you know that God has made you for this moment. If you have God-given clarity, you reach out to people around you in simple acts of compassion and love and service. This is the invincible life, empowered by God, and no worldly terror can snuff it out; not even the terror of tomorrow’s cross.
Even so, the disciples lack that understanding. The surrounding terror seems overpowering, and a life of compassion and love and service seems hopelessly fragile by comparison. That is why Jesus broke the bread and poured out the wine and said:
“Do this, remembering me.”
Even people who are scared and confused know that life is not possible without food and drink. But the ancient mystery of this Table is that people, who eat this bread and drink this wine, remembering Jesus, are empowered to see his face again and know that his confidence and his courage and clarity are Christ’s gift to each of us, by faith. Tonight, Jesus Christ invites you, his disciples, to the Table, saying:
“Take, eat. This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”
If you are scared or confused by the uncertainties that surround you, you are in good company with those disciples who ate bread and drank wine with Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed. But we are not alone here. The host at this Table knows where he came from, and he knows where he is going, and he knows that God has made him for a purpose. His life has a frame and he now gives that life to you, with his confidence and his courage and clarity. It is the invincible love of God that no terrorism can overcome.
Now our life, too, has a frame. Christ has shown us what to do and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it. Tonight, Christ calls us to remember him and to celebrate his new commandment:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”