Homily for Thursday, April 13, 2017
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Preached by the Rev. Todd Miller
When our former Bishop, Tom Shaw, was diagnosed with the brain tumor that would take his life, he said that his first reaction to the news was gratitude: “Thank you, God, for this extraordinary life that you’ve given me.”
Tom’s reaction to the news of his terminal condition reminds us that there is a very short distance between grief and gratitude. Most of us most of the time, when we are faced with a loss, tend to take the long road between the grief and gratitude – the road of shock, anger, denial, depression, and bargaining – before arriving at acceptance and maybe gratitude. But the distance between grief and gratitude is actually very close.
Maundy Thursday likewise reminds us that grief and gratitude are very close. Today is a day of grief: “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world,” as tonight’s Gospel tells us. And today is also a day of gratitude, for tonight, Jesus institutes the Eucharist, and “Eucharist” means “thank you” in Greek.
The next three days show us what the fruit of the meeting of grief and gratitude can be. Though there is more grief to be pondered tomorrow, yet these days also contain gratitude, for each day we receive Eucharist. Every time we receive Eucharist, we allow the seed of “thank you” to be planted within – right there alongside any grief we may have. As that seed of “thank you” is tended and nourished – tended for example through prayer and worship – gratitude begins to grow, even where we may see only grief. And though the grief may never fully disappear, yet the leaves of gratitude grow and spread and heal until we are released from whatever binds us, and we are set free to move on.
Which is what Easter is about. Easter is about letting him call us out of the “tomb” – whatever our “tomb” may be. Easter is about letting him give us life abundant – no matter how “dead” we may be. Easter is about letting him in to give us peace and joy – no matter how dark or difficult our circumstances may be. Easter is the culmination of these three days, the fruit of the meeting between grief and gratitude that we remember tonight.
I invite us over the next three days not to shy away from grief. I invite us to enter into his grief – to feel his grief and to feel it fully. And I invite us to get in touch with our own grief – any place where we may know loss. At the same time I invite us to be lookouts for gratitude, which is surprisingly close to grief. The sacrament Jesus institutes this evening will help. Week by week in the sacrament God “titrates” our lives, titrates our grief, with ”thank you” so that one day, all of the sudden, our lives might “be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord,” and we will be released from that which binds us, and we will be set free to have life, and to have it abundantly.