April 18, 2019 — Maundy Thursday
Rev. Alison Quin
When I was in seminary, I had a wonderful professor named Mark Dyer. He was the retired bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He was very knowledgeable and an excellent teacher. But to be honest, I don’t remember much of what he said. What I remember is who he was as a person—his relationship with all of us students.
A little background about him: he was born into an Irish Catholic family in Manchester, New Hampshire. His father died young and so he joined the Navy right after school so that he could help support his mother and siblings. In the Navy, a chaplain took him under his wing and encouraged his faith. When he left the Navy, he joined a Benedictine order of monks, and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.
But then, the late 60’s happened. He got involved with people burning their draft cards and his theology began to shift. I was never sure whether he was kicked out of his order or left, but he felt called to become an Episcopal priest and married a woman who had been an Anglican nun and later was ordained to the priesthood as well.
The two of them could not have children so they adopted three. The eldest was Matthew. They brought him home as a newborn thinking he was fine, but they soon realized something was terribly wrong. He was born with only a brain stem, not a full brain. He would be completely disabled. The doctors said he would only live a couple of months.
By the time I knew them, Matthew was in his 20’s. All he could do was lie on the couch—he was blind and completely helpless. Mark and his wife Marie did everything for him—and his siblings helped when they were home. I can hardly imagine how hard it must have been at times. But they were not down or depressed—neither were they bitter or resentful.
They found joy in caring for Matthew—in discovering that he could register emotions, that he was happiest being stroked or cuddled and that his favorite music was Judy Collins. Mark used to say that Matthew was his spiritual director. When he was with Matthew, he let go of other concerns and just focused on loving and caring for him. Matthew had no ego, no mask—all he could do was simply be.
The core of our being is love—we are made in God’s image and God is love. Matthew was disabled, but Matthew could still love and be loved.
Mark and Marie’s house was open to the seminary community—people tended to gather around them. Seminarians and professors took turns sitting with Matthew and helped care for him.
Mark and his family radiated Christ’s love—it was a blessing to be around them. They were sustained by prayer and intimate friendship with Christ.
Mark was a wonderful teacher, but who he was made a lasting impression.
I would argue that the same is true of Jesus—his teachings are astonishing and profound, from the Sermon on the Mount to the parables to the Great Commandment. But who he was and what he did transformed the world. It is through our relationship with him that we come to know God’s love.
On this night, he gathers us together to break bread, just as he gathered his disciples on his last night. Even when he was facing death, his concern was for them. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
He knew he would be betrayed, denied and abandoned by his closest friends, but he loved them anyway. He showed them by example what love in action looks like—taking off his outer garment and tying a towel around his waist, he washed their feet. “I have set you an example, that you should do just as I have done.”
This is who Jesus is—he gathers us in community, feeds us, cares for us and forgives us when we betray him. And he gave up his life for us—believing that each of us is infinitely precious and refusing to give up on any of us. “Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends.”
This is who Jesus is—this is who God is. In return, he asks only that we love one another as he loves us. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
He has shown us what loving one another looks like: gather together, break bread together, serve one another, sacrifice for one another, forgive each other. But it sounds easier than it is. We can’t do it on our own—we fall down on the job all the time.
The only way we can love one another is by letting him love us. The more we let him in, the more we let him care for us and sustain us, the more we accept his forgiveness, the more we can love one another.
His love flows through us and enables us to love others. Through his love, tragedy is transformed into an experience of grace, death becomes a doorway into life and we become the people God created us to be.