Thursday, 2 April 2015

Maundy Thursday: ‘I give you a new
commandment, that you love one another’

The Last Supper ... an image from Bridgeman’s workshop in Quonian’s Lane, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Readings: Exodus 12: 1-4, [5-10] 11-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As time moves on, one day becomes just like another.

Publicans and hoteliers want to open the bars tomorrow. Good Friday, in their thinking should mean having a good time at the beginning of the first Bank Holiday weekend of Spring.

Easter is about bunnies and eggs, and about getting away to the mobile home or the boat for the weekend.

Today is just one more working day in a foreshortened working week, when everything had to be completed before the end of business so everything was in place, and a good weekend was not going to be interrupted by demands of work and business.

If I stopped and asked anyone in the city centre today what day it is, some might have called in Holy Thursday, but few would have named today as Maundy Thursday. And fewer still, I am sure, would not have been able to explain the meaning of the name Maundy Thursday.

The English word Maundy is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the Latin, Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13: 35), part of the closing words of Christ in our Gospel reading this evening as he explains to the Twelve the significance of washing their feet.

I was one of the group of people chosen to have my feet washed by the Archbishop at the Maundy Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, earlier today.

And together, those involved in lay ministry, along with ordinands, deacons and priests, renewed our commitments to ministry and our ordination vows.

We said once again that we would be faithful in prayer, minister by word and example, witness to God’s love for his people, build up God’s people, to serve them, to watch over and care for them, to absolve and bless them, to proclaim the Gospel, to minister the sacraments, and to “continue as faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, preaching the Gospel of Christ and ministering his holy sacraments.”

It is, at one and the same time, a moment when we receive a stern yet joyful reminder of our call, our commitment and our obligations.

In a way, those demands come as jumble rather than a list. It can appear as if they have equal and similar claims on our time and on our commitments.

And, of course, that is at it ought to be.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It would be wrong to try to separate the ministries of word, service and sacrament.

The call to freedom for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt (see Exodus 12: 1-14) is not just a matter of human rights and social justice but also, if we think back to original demand to Pharaoh by Moses, a call to freedom to worship God.

In our Epistle reading (I Corinthians 11: 23-26) we have the earliest Biblical account of the Last Supper, the first Maundy Thursday, earlier than any of the Gospel accounts.

But the context in which we find this reading, where the Apostle Paul places it in his first letter to the Corinthians, is an important consideration. In the immediate verses before this, Saint Paul rebukes the Church in Corinth for its divisions, which are based on social position, status and wealth, and then in the verses immediately after this he rebukes those who are more interested in feeding themselves than in feeding the hungry, on loving themselves but not loving others.

In providing us with a very different and challenging account of the Last Supper, Saint John’s Gospel – unlike the other three, synoptic Gospels or this letter by Saint Paul – is totally without an account of the words Christ speaks over the bread and the wine at the end of the Last Supper.

Instead, his emphasis is on service in humility, and on love, on loving one another.

Indeed, the way we see the Body and Blood of Christ being received in Saint John’s account of this week, this Holy Week, is when Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea take his body from the cross.

Pity and compassion, care and love are central to any understanding of how we receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

The memorial in Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster, to Bishop Frank Weston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bishop Frank Weston, who was the Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908, held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns which formed the keynote of his famed address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. “The one thing England [we might say Ireland] needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.”

And so he concluded: “But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.”

After I had my feet washed in the cathedral earlier today, I was challenged to ask myself:

● Where will you, where will I, seek the suffering and dying Jesus in the streets of this city this weekend?

● And how shall we share the Easter joys of the Resurrection?

And so, may all we think, say and be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect of the Day:

God our Father,
you have invited us to share in the supper
which your Son gave to his Church
to proclaim his death until he comes:
May he nourish us by his presence,
and unite us in his love;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

and/or

Almighty God,
at the Last Supper your Son Jesus Christ
washed the disciples’ feet
and commanded them to love one another.
Give us humility and obedience to be servants of others
as he was the servant of all;
who gave up his life and died for us,
yet is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
in this wonderful sacrament
you have given us a memorial of your passion.
Grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries
of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
the fruits of your redemption,
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

and/or

O God,
your Son Jesus Christ has left us this meal of bread and wine
in which we share his body and his blood.
May we who celebrate this sign of his great love
show in our lives the fruits of his redemption;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Maundy Thursday Eucharist in All Saints’ Church, Grnangegorman, Dublin, on 2 April 2015.

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