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City Church


Maundy Thursday – 9th April 2020

Apr 10, 2020, Author: Fr Jeremy Tayler

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Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14
Psalm 116.12-19
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
John 13.1-17, 31b-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In my last parish in north London, I had the honour of being invited to share in a Passover Seder meal with our neighbours at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue. It was a moving, interesting and memorable experience. It is worth saying at this point that the Seder meal shared by Jews today is probably quite different to that which Jesus shared with his disciples; Judaism has not stood still for the last 2000 years, and the ritual of the meal has developed over time. One of the things that really struck me was the way in which the ritual meal has kept alive for the Jewish people the hope of a return to the land of Israel. The experience of exile has been a formative influence on the shaping of the identity of the Jewish people, and in the ritual and liturgy of the shared meal, the connection to the Promised Land, and the hope of return, has been kept alive through the centuries.

A ritual shared meal is also at the heart of our worship, today above all days. And perhaps there is a sense in which in the experience of our Jewish friends sheds an interesting light on our current experience. Because we too experience a sort of exile; not as shattering or profound as the Jewish experience of exile, nor as long-lasting, but nonetheless painful in its way. Marking these holy days in our homes alone is hard for us. We are separated from our holy places and from our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are commemorating the institution of the sacrament of our liberation whilst in lockdown, deprived of our physical liberty. In marking this shared ritual meal together, albeit online, we too are keeping alive the hope of a return.

And we can take the analogy a step further. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that Christians have no abiding city here, but look for the city that is to come. Or as the old gospel song puts it, we are pilgrims and strangers, travelling through this wearisome land. As much as we love our town or our village, and as much as we love our own parish churches, our ultimate identity as Christians lies elsewhere. These times bring this into sharper focus, but that has always been a part of the meaning of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Just as the celebrating of the Passover has for the Jewish people through the centuries kept alive the story of their identity, formed as a people by the experience of slavery in Egypt, and liberation into the Promised Land, so for us the celebration of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ keeps alive the story of our identity, called by Jesus, commanded to love one another, liberated from the slavery of sin into the freedom of the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist has a forward-looking quality, it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, which we see in the account in S. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

And yet the cruellest thing about our current situation, from a religious point-of-view, is that the sharing of the ritual meal is the very thing that is denied to us. The Jewish people have kept alive through the centuries of exile their shared identity and their hope for the future; for Christians the Eucharist has functioned in a related way. But now, the shared ritual meal, and the shared story-telling in which we recall the history of God’s saving acts through Jesus, the things that form our identity and sustain our hope, these are things that are denied to us.

But the denial is only a partial one. Thanks to the wonders of technology, we can share in worship together to a remarkable degree. Even those of us who are not online are able to turn to their bibles and their Prayerbooks and rehearse the stories and say the prayers of the church. And perhaps even more than that, the withdrawal of the social networks in which our lives are usually embedded, and through which our lives find much of their meaning, these experiences throw us onto the mercy of God. It is not an easy experience. It can be very painful. But in the pain and the isolation and the uncertainty, Jesus is with us.

So as we share together the stories of God’s saving acts through Jesus, and as on your behalf I break the Bread of Life and drink the Cup of Salvation, I invite you in your hearts to place yourself at Jesus’ side at the table with the other disciples, I invite you in your hearts to lean on Him, to recline your head on his chest, to listen for the beat of His heart which overflows with love for humankind. Because whilst the necessary laws of the land can deny you access to the Sacrament during this time of crisis, there is no law which can separate you from the love and the grace of the Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.