Lift the Cup of Salvation

Message for Maundy Thursday, Year A (4/6/2023)

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

John 13:1-17, 31b-35


“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things God has done for me? I will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

On this Maundy Thursday, the church’s commemoration of the Last Supper and of Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved us, these verses from Psalm 116 are especially appropriate. How shall we respond to God’s gift of grace upon grace upon grace? Raise a glass.

The underlying premise of the psalmist’s question is that the goodness of God is priceless. So, we can never repay it; we can only celebrate it. To “lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” is to acknowledge that abundant life is no accident; rather, it is the gift of our divine Lover.

And, the gift is extravagant. It’s the multiplication of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table week after week, ensuring that there is always enough for everyone, regardless of our deserving. It’s the cascade of water flowing over the feet of Jesus’ beloved into the basin as he sets for us a lasting example of humble service. It’s the flourishing of the natural world as a sign that life is determined to take root even in spite of the winter’s cold, even in spite of death. It’s the myriad blessings we enjoy, both simple and extraordinary, those we cherish and those we take for granted. Even the impulse to give our thanks and praise, even our gratitude is itself a gift of God. It’s grace upon grace upon grace.

So, you might think that we’d be primed to “lift the cup of salvation,” that we’d leap to claim the love of God and credit the Lover. But, true love has a tendency to offend. Notice, for instance, that Peter is inclined to refuse the gift: Lord, are you going to wash my feet? Never. Of course, there’s a scandal in offering the gift in the first place, as the Son of Man willingly sets aside his authority to take the position of a servant. But, there’s a scandal in receiving it, too. The intimacy and generosity are unmeasured. There’s no propriety in the act of foot washing, and no reciprocity. There’s no standard by which to judge worthiness or unworthiness. There is only love. And for Peter, it’s too much to bear.

“Unless I wash you,” Jesus insists, “you have no share with me.” Unless you accept the gift, Peter, you’ll miss out on God’s greatest offering, the offering of my love, my life given and poured out for you.

That is to say, for you and for everyone else, too. I’m fond of the story of a priest who once was asked, “Father, is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior?” He paused for a moment, and then replied, “No, I prefer to share him.” That is wisdom for Maundy Thursday. There is a necessary mutuality in our celebration tonight. God’s goodness is never mine, but always ours; if God fills my cup to overflowing,[1] then it naturally flows to yours. How could it be otherwise? It’s the logic of Christ’s great teaching at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

So, tonight we “lift the cup of salvation” together, friends. We are washed and we wash, we are fed and we feed; that is, we receive with gratitude the good things of God and we share them freely, and all for the sake of love.

[1] Psalm 23:5.

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