Maundy Thursday: 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26 & John 13, 1-17 & 31-35
‘I give you another commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.’
Some of the most beautiful, hard, and challenging words in the gospel: love one another, love as I have loved you.
Of course the apostles don’t know at this stage quite how Jesus is to show his love. They don’t know that on the cross as Jesus died the love of God is to be glorified. Neither do they know that they have just received a divine tutorial in the art of loving through the events of the Last Supper. They, the apostles, are still hoping that Jesus will find another more worldly way to be the Messiah. Yes, they want to be loved, but differently.
The Last Supper is the most remarkable of events. Jesus, who by this stage knows that he is going to die on the cross, takes the time to feed his closest friends, including, perhaps especially, Judas the betrayer and Peter the denier, with bread and wine, and then he washes their feet.
Only slaves, the lowest of the low, washed feet and they washed the feet of the refined and the powerful. Ordinary people, smelly people, dirty people, such as fisherman and tax collectors didn’t have their feet washed. What Jesus is saying through this incredible act is simply this: I esteem you and I love you. And, of course he speaks, through his actions, as the Messiah the Son of the Living God. God, it seems, wants to wash us and cleanse us, from His knees. He wants to do so that we too, in turn, can obey the new commandment to love one another just as he has loved us. Through this simple act Jesus turns on its head the traditional concepts of power and authority and redefines them as loving, humble service.
If we are to keep Jesus’ final commandment to us, ‘to love one another', we need to first of all learn the art of opening ourselves up to love’s extraordinary power and authority. The way we do this is simple, yet difficult. In fact it is so simple that we can barely believe it. All we need to do is open our hearts and extend our hands and say ‘thank you' : ‘thank you that you are the God who stoops to cleanse us, thank you that you are the God who feeds us in bread and wine.’ So when you come to receive the sacrament in a few minutes time, please do so with hands extended and gratitude in your hearts.
In a very real and scary sense we need to decide for ourselves tonight whether we are more akin to Peter, who has just had all his assumptions turned upside down, who can scarcely believe that his Lord is prepared to stoop and wash his feet, and yet despite all his protestations remains and receives, or more like Judas, who chooses to reject the love he is being offered for free. Whether to be more like Peter, even though his thinking is muddled and even though the following day he is going to deny Jesus, or more like Judas who can’t even bring himself to take the first step into knowing that he is loved, is the key to understanding Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday’s concern is the free offering of God’s unconditional and transformational love.
If we are open, however feebly, like Peter, to the love of God our very lives will be transformed. We too will become great lovers. In 1 John 4 verse 19 we read that ‘we love because he first loved us.’ Tonight let us allow Jesus to take the initiative and allow ourselves to be re-schooled in the art of love. All we need to do is open our hearts and extend our hands in gratitude, allowing ourselves to be fed by, and feast upon, the King of Love, our Lord, and Saviour Jesus Christ,
Palm Sunday – Philippians 2, 5-11 & Mark 11, 1-11
I have spent a lot of my life answering Compare and Contrast questions.
I studied English A Level, then read, but not as much as I should have, for a humanities and social sciences degree. In my forties I studied for my M.B.A. and then spent two years at theological college, where we spent an awful lot of time comparing and contrasting different Old Testament prophets, Gospel accounts and liturgies. I remember comparing and contrasting six different early baptism rites (Rome, Milan, Gaul, Lyon, Ireland and somewhere I can’t remember!). I wrote a paper comparing and contrasting Cranmer’s 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books (I preferred the 1549 Prayer Book, but that’s a subject for another day) and, so it went on.
The Gospel passage we have heard this morning tells of Jesus entering into Jerusalem on a colt, or donkey. Jesus is greeted by his supporters who are hoping for and anticipating ‘the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.’ This of course means, for them, a restoration of independence and an overthrowing of imperial power. Odd then that they are prepared to overlook the fact that Jesus makes his entry on a colt, or donkey. A single man, riding into Jerusalem on a colt or donkey I would want to suggest was hardly likely to frighten anyone; especially the Romans. We are also told in Mark’s account of the triumphal entry that ‘many people spread their cloaks on the road.’ How many, we are not sure. What I do think important to note however is the complete absence of detail. If you think about it the gospel writers weren’t afraid of ascribing a number to the great multitudes; think of 4, or 5,000 for example. Which brings me back to the notion of ‘compare and contrast.’
There were in fact two processions entering Jerusalem that day. Jesus on his humble colt and, Pontius Pilate carried high, on a throne, in his imperial procession. The Roman imperial procession was designed to encourage a sense of awe and fear and to raise money. Rather than being feted with palms Pilate would have been bowed at and rewarded with dosh. Pilate wouldn’t have been greeted simply by ‘many people,’ but by hoards and hoards of people. His entrance would have been stage managed and designed to impress. Anyone who was anyone would have been watching Pilate’s triumphal entry, not Jesus’.
Another point of comparison could be made about the ultimate destination of the two processions; processions after all have to end up somewhere. Think of our own processions today. The procession into church finishes at the altar, the gospel procession at the intersection of the cross in the middle of the church etc. Pilate’s procession on that first Palm Sunday would have ended up at the Imperial Palace at a gala dinner at which he would have, as the emperor’s proxy, sat on a royal throne. Jesus by comparison is of course no proxy. He is himself, the Messiah, God incarnate, as St. Paul stresses ‘he was in the form of God.’ His gala dinner is to be a simple supper, in an upstairs room, where he washes the feet of his disciples and institutes the Eucharist. You see nobody knows what Pilate and his cronies had at the gala dinner that night but 2000 years later we all know and continue to participate in the feast that Jesus held: the Eucharistic feast.
And of course Jesus is to have no earthly throne. Instead he goes to the Cross. No one knows what Pilate’s throne looked like, or what it was made of, but today we still know all about the Cross. But, why did Jesus have to go to the cross? Why was the Cross to be his earthly throne? Michael Mayne put it like this:
‘Because he accepted at his baptism his vocation to be totally open to God, to show God’s undiscriminating love for people of every kind, good and bad alike, to forgive hurts and offences, to eat with those considered outcasts: to challenge established values and views where they denied or obscured the values of God’s kingdom and the worth of every person. And many hated him for it, as perversely, the good, the generous and the vulnerable will be always hated by that within which feels threatened: which finds it easier to settle for the easy option, to protect our rights and interests and not to go the second mile. Jesus came to be the love of God: love that is not an easy emotion but nothing less than a costly giving of yourself for the good of another – giving your time, your attention, if need be your very life itself.’
My final compare and contrasts are simply these: is the account of the first Palm Sunday something we should read as a one-off, or is it a story we can still use to reflect on the misuse of power and authority in the contemporary world? And, where do we, you and me, look for redemption and salvation? Is it in the easy pickings of an off the shelf world view, or in the cult of the seemingly all powerful leader, or is it in the Messiah who entered into his city on a donkey, and then ‘humbled himself (still further) and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross?’
These are comparisons and questions I invite you to reflect on this Holy Week.
Mothering Sunday: Colossians 3, 12-17 & John 19, 25-27
This week I spent some time with my spiritual director. We discussed the importance of spending time with people who provide us with a sense of security and stability. People who can minister to us and, in a very real sense, ‘mother us.’ We both felt that in choppy, unpredictable and, difficult times this is necessary for the good of our own souls. We all need to be affirmed, nurtured and at times gently challenged. We all need to be mothered.
Mothering Sunday – as distinct from the American Mother’s Day – reminds us of all that is good and necessary about the concept of mothering. It also reminds us that we need to allow ourselves to be mothered, and this implies accepting our own fragility, vulnerability and need to be both loved and nurtured. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact I think owning, and offering, our own vulnerability and fragility is the essence of that highly spiritual quality we hear about in the Sermon on the Mount, and in today’s epistle: meekness.
Mothering Sunday is so called because it was the day, mid way through Lent, when domestic staff and servants were given the day off so they could do two things: return to their mother church and, spend time with their family; the underlying, subliminal, message being that it is vitally important for own sense of well-being that we spend time in places, and with people, who give us that all important sense of stability and who feed and nourish us. Mothering is, at heart, about doing this. Mothering’s concern is in saying whatever else is going on in your life, however much the ground beneath your feet seems to be shifting, I am here for you. I am here to cherish you, affirm you, strengthen you, and stand in solidarity with you.
Today’s readings paint an attractive picture of mothering. Just listen again to the virtues St. Paul lists in his letter to the Colossians: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love. St. Paul insists that when these virtues are offered and accepted everything is bound together ‘in perfect harmony.’
We all need to find people and places where compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love are the guiding and animating virtues, for only then can we be truly mothered. But, we need to go further and commit ourselves to becoming active agents of these virtues, both individually and corporately, for only then can we be good neighbours and, only then, can we truly become Mother-Church. Our Mothering Sunday challenge is simply this: to become an authentic Christ-like, Mother-church. To do so we need to open ourselves up, in prayer, to the work of the Holy Spirit, asking that the Fruit of the Spirit ripens within us.
Over the last few years the Church of England, or at least some churches within the Church of England, have begun to re-appraise their attitude towards Mary. I think this is an entirely good thing. Mary is the icon of all that is good in the concept of ‘mothering.’ The gospel reading makes this clear. Mary is to be found at the foot of the cross, watching her son being crucified. It is an horrific image. Mary, no doubt, is utterly confused and bewildered. She doesn’t as yet know that she will see her son, our Lord, again. And yet, she is just there for her son. A rock of stability. She is the only permanent in his life and she is there, for him, at the hour of his need. She is just there: permanent, stable, faithful and always loving. If I had to use a word to describe the values that Mary embodies it would be holiness, which is, of course, one of three benefice aspirations.
We need, this Mothering Sunday, to let Mary’s story inspire us and challenge us. Are we faithful and stable to our friends, family and neighbours when, especially when, the very ground beneath their feet seems to be shifting? Is the Church always faithful, stable and loving, even and especially when, all around us seems uncertain and when our best efforts seem to go unrewarded? These are the hard mothering questions and, they are ours to answer.
This Mothers day let us be grateful to all who have mothered us, and let us re-commit to becoming a truly all loving, perfect, and harmonious Mother-Church.
We need to do so both for own sakes and, for the sake of the world around us, Amen.
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