Thursday, April 9, 2020

Holy Week 2020 at All Saints', Benhilton - Maundy Thursday

On this Holy night we are drawn by the Holy Spirit and the sacred Liturgy to share the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples before he goes into the Garden to pray, before he is to be given over to death at the hands of wicked men. 

Traditionally today is called ‘Maundy Thursday’, from the Latin ‘MANDATUM’ (from which words like ‘mandate’ and ‘commandment’ are derived), reminding us of the NEW COMMANDMENT. It was on this day that Jesus said to his little band of apprehensive and fearful followers:  

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)  

So, the first thing we are to think of tonight is the love with which Jesus first loved his disciples - and all of us. He had given himself to his disciples completely throughout his ministry. They were so often stupid, selfish, arrogant, and full of sinful pride. They constantly missed the whole point of what he was trying to tell them. So often he had to correct them, and he did so lovingly (and often firmly!). 

In fact, he loved them to the end. He went with them to their weddings; he healed their families, he looked after them when they were hungry; he gave their lives a sense of purpose and enriched them with the warmth of his loving presence. When those who did not really know him left, he said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away too?’ to which came the reply, ‘Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of everlasting life.’ He loved them to the end. 

And even knowing that, save for the Beloved Disciple John, the Blessed Virgin and a couple of other women, they were about to desert him in his hour of greatest need, he takes the towel, truly humbles himself, and begins to wash their feet. He loved them to the end.  

On that first Maundy Thursday, Jesus turned their last supper into the Holy Mass - the primary means by which his loving presence would continue with his people until the end of time. He is no longer present to us in this world in the physical body that was his in Palestine many centuries ago, but we know that - true to his word - he is present among us in the Sacrament of his love.  

‘THIS IS MY BODY’, he said over the bread at that last Supper. And as he glanced over at the cup and saw the redness of the wine he said, ‘THIS IS MY BLOOD’.

The same words are said over bread and wine slowly and deliberately by the priest at every Mass, and a transformation that many Christians call ‘the miracle of the altar’ takes place. The Body and Blood of the Lord - his loving presence - is with us, just as he was with his disciples in the days of his flesh. We know he is the Risen Lord of Glory, yet he still humbles himself, not now with a basin and towel, but under the appearances of bread and wine, in order to come to us and be with us. And as we receive the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation, we are united with him, who is the Real Manna from Heaven, true God and true man, our husband, our lover, our master and Lord, our JESUS!  

So, those who allow Jesus to love them and guide them through this life are sustained by him as Heavenly Food. And it is this Food - the Blessed Sacrament - that strengthens the soul in death and makes us ready for the resurrection. For Jesus also said:  

‘. . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. (John 6:54-55)  

Is it any wonder that the Church brings together the very best she can muster in art, ceremonial, beauty, and music, to adorn this service that the Lord gave us? 

Is it any wonder that his sacramental Presence on the Altar at Mass, and in the Tabernacle from week to week and day to day, is surrounded and honoured by symbols of reverence and devotion:- vestments, candles, flowers, sanctuary lamps, bells, and incense? 

Is it any wonder that those who love Jesus and rightly discern his Body, his loving Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, honour him by bending the knee each time they pass by? He is our Saviour. He is the King of glory He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). At the name of Jesus every knee will one day bow. (Philippians 2:10)

And yet, we are not those who endlessly debate and divide over which theories best explain HOW he is present; but we do believe the Bible and the historic, unbroken witness of the Church; we do believe the mystery ‘that Jesus is present, and wherever he is, there he is to be worshipped and adored’, loved and received, under the veils of bread and wine.

Or, in words attributed to Queen Elizabeth 1:  

His was the word that spake it. 
He took the Bread and brake it, 
And what his word doth make it, 
I do believe and take it.  

It was specifically to the Apostles that our Lord gave the commission to ‘do this in remembrance of me’. They had the task of establishing the infant Church in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through their ministry the Church went from strength to strength, and, as we are told in the Book of Common Prayer, this ministry of the Apostles has continued from their time to the present in the orders of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon. 

During Holy Week, the Bishop gathers with his priests for the annual ‘Chrism Mass’ in which the priests, at whose hands the Blessed Sacrament is consecrated and the Holy Sacrifice offered, renew with humility and repentance their priestly vows of service to God and hia people. 

Let us give thanks for the sacred order of Priesthood in our Church. Let us never forget to pray for our priests as they seek to be true to their vocation in the midst, not only of real spiritual warfare, but also of unique pressures and temptations, that they might be to us all a sacramental sign of the loving High Priesthood of Jesus himself, who is ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities’ (Hebrews 4:15).  

It is vital that all who are called to be icons of Jesus our great High Priest notice what else happened at that supper. It’s all about the kind of leadership Jesus seeks in his priests. He washed their feet, taking the place of the lowliest servant, and said: 

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)  

That is why we have the foot washing in this Mass while the choir sings the traditional Psalms and antiphons. It is a poignant interlude in the liturgy. And while it is a special sign of authentic priestly ministry, it is surely a reminder to the people of God in general that we are to love and serve each other as the Lord has loved and served us. 

Don’t forget his words: By this shall it be known that you are my disciples ... NOT that you have really wonderful liturgies, the finest music in town, the grandest church building in the district or a whole host of things we sometimes imagine are MOST important . . . By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, THAT YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Which of us is not guilty of flying in the face of this new, but old commandment of Jesus at home, at work, at school, or even at Church? Which of us is not guilty of driving swords and daggers into others to hurt them, and even on occasion enjoying it? 

Hard words for you and for me! But then so were they to the original disciples on that First Maundy Thursday. They had been vying with one another for the best jobs and the most honoured places in the Kingdom; they were so ambitious for themselves even with regard to the things of God. 

The effect of the love of Jesus was the change in these men. May WE be changed a little more into his likeness and image as a result of sharing this Last Supper with him tonight; may WE appreciate afresh his loving Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, given to us on this day; may we be thankful for and pray for those carrying the cross of the Apostolic Ministry that - in his great love - Jesus gave to us. 

May we all, with humble repentance, make a fresh attempt to put away bitterness and resentment, learning to appreciate each other more and more as dearly loved brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This Mass calls us to participate in the gathering of Jesus and his disciples the night before he died. And so we know it as the ‘Mass of the Lord’s Supper.’ 

Special features of this service are :

1. After the sermon, the priest washes the feet of twelve  men, in imitation of our Lord, and as a reminder to us all that we must love and serve one another with the love of Christ

2. After the people have received Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is carried slowly in solemn procession to the Altar of Repose, which represents the Garden of Gethsemane. This altar is decked out with many flowers and candles in honour of our Lord’s presence. In union with the disciples, a continuous watch of prayer is kept until midnight.

3. The altar cloths, candlesticks and crosses, and other removable objects are taken out during the solemn recitation or chanting of Psalm 22.  


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