Maundy Thursday

Introduction and Call to Worship Tonight, we join together in worship from our own homes to recall Jesus and his disciples sharing Passover; His Last Supper, and how He taught them to love, washing their feet and then offering them His eternal presence in broken bread and wine outpoured. He offers us that same Real Spiritual Presence tonight. Do you accept his invitation to love one another, to watch and pray? Today’s Readings First Reading Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10) 11-14 The specific instructions for Passover were a crucial component of Israelite life. Just like our Christmas and Easter traditions, every Israelite would have a collection of memories of their experienced Passover traditions, occurring on the tenth day of the first month of the Hebrew year. We can relate to language we use in our liturgy today: sacrifice, lamb, Passover, blood etc. Second Reading 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 Saint Paul counters the Corinthians’ behaviour by reminding them of the Lord’s Supper. This account of what Jesus did with his Disciples on the night he was betrayed is an event that has been received “from the Lord”. Gospel John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 Jesus demonstrated love in action by humbling himself to take the role of a servant and wash his disciples’ feet. His followers are therefore to do likewise, to be servants of one another, to love. Homily “My command is this; love one another, as I have loved you. Just as I have loved you, so you should love one another.” (John 15: 12) Today’s Gospel reading is set at the Last Supper. While all the other Gospels record the origins of the Eucharist, John chooses to focus on another God-moment, when our Lord transforms our understanding of service and discipleship in an allusion here to the other universally accepted sacrament, that of baptism. To lead now means to serve, to be washed, cleansed. The usual interpretation of this foot-washing scene is that it promotes service of others, in imitation of Jesus. It is both a practical example of the “new commandment” that Jesus gives afterwards: to love one another as he loves us, and another sign of cleansing, to illustrate his point that most of us are not perfect – we are nonetheless called to service. Tonight, we are reminded of our call to discipleship, and at the same time called to be servants, to follow, to listen, to act and to love. What greater teaching can there be than this? Tonight of course is rather different to previous liturgies that we have been blessed to share, for it is an honour to wash your feet on Maundy Thursday. I miss you all dearly and it is a privilege to lead you in worship, never more so than through the experience of Holy Week. And to the many joining us tonight who haven’t yet been a part of regular worship in St Mary’s Church, or who have been at a distance, I have to say: you have missed out thus far. But this community of faith, that gathers to worship and pray in St Mary’s Medieval Church Thorpe, is a joy and a privilege to be a part of and you are so very welcome tonight, indeed always. I welcome you to our family, whoever you are, whatever you bring. Jesus longs tonight to wash your feet – to spiritually cleanse all of us and call us anew to be his disciples and the servants of others; to gather round the altar and witness the breaking of the bread in which he is present among us. In the baptism rite we believe that Christ cleanses us of the general sin that mars our fallen world. And let us be honest, there is much that requires cleansing right now and not just our hands for 20 seconds while we recite Happy Birthday twice. In baptism we go down into the water (either totally immersed or symbolically splashed!), just as Jesus went down into the tomb on Good Friday. There is complete trust required in becoming a disciple of Jesus, in learning to follow in the way. But then, as with baptism, we rise again with him, cleansed by the power of his death and resurrection that together triumph over sin. Jesus predicts that Peter will only understand this “later”…after the mind-blowing events of Easter. He must first deny Jesus three times, after falling asleep with the other disciples in the garden, unable to watch for just one hour. What of you, can you stay up and watch and pray tonight? There is so much to bring before Jesus in prayer currently. John’s account is focused on the other great sacrament of the church that identifies us as Christians – baptism, cleansing. As always, context here is important – it is a meal and Jesus teaches us that this is all about love and being loved. Loving service is at the heart of Maundy Thursday as we prepare to break the bread and spiritually recognise Jesus among us. Wherever we are tonight, however separated we feel from one another – Jesus is with us, spiritually present and longing for us to be his disciples and watch with him in prayer. Perhaps we need to re-discover the eyes of faith to recognise Jesus in our midst, even without the beauty of our church building and the physical presence of our community at worship. We are united still in our baptism and can never be separated from the love of Christ for us, his forgiveness and his call to discipleship. For us to identify ourselves as the Lord’s disciples requires more than baptism, and more than our regular participation in Holy Communion, as important as these two sacraments are. To be a disciple of Jesus means loving service in action and it means watching in prayer. It requires our all. For many of us, now more than ever in our lives before this moment, we have an opportunity to do just that, to stop, to pray, to watch, to be close to the Lord who calls us into service where we are. Yes, that’s right. Not in a church building, but at home, where we are and where God has called us to be now! Friends in faith, the world needs us right now to be those disciples, life-long learners who pray. This requires of us genuine humility to place the needs of others before ourselves, just as so many health service staff and carers in all sorts of contexts are doing this very night, along with many others on the front line fighting the Coronavirus epidemic. They watch over us to keep us safe tonight. We must watch with the Lord in prayer for them and all those they are caring for. And I am keeping you all very much in my prayers too, my dear friends. Jesus, the Lord of life washed the feet of all the disciples: the beloved disciple and the headstrong Peter, and even Judas, yes, even the one who was to betray him, because he demonstrated what real love is. It is the unselfish serving of others, loving one another and in the process, making Jesus himself present to all around us. It is prayer in action – Sacrament. That is why Jesus gave us such a liberating new commandment: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you. Just as I have loved you, so you should love one another.’ Amen. SUMMARY 1. The synoptic Gospels record Jesus breaking bread at the Last Supper. 2. John’s Gospel records Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and demonstrating in action his new commandment to love. This sacramental sign mirrors the cleansing and new life of baptism. 3. The world needs us right now to pray and to demonstrate in action the Lord’s call to service and love for one another. 4. Once baptised we are never separated from Jesus, even if our sacramental communion is temporarily impaired by the Coronavirus crisis. Jesus is still spiritually with us, uniting us as his body, his disciples. 5. May we have the eyes of faith to recognise his presence in our midst as we watch in prayer tonight.

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