WOULD LIKE to begin this evening by sharing something with you from my recent experience: In February I was fortunate to have undertaken a pilgrimage to Rome with other pilgrims from Leicester, Nottingham and the Midlands. As some of you may know, the journeys both to and from the Eternal City were not entirely unproblematic. Due to first snowfall in twenty five years both our arrival and departure were somewhat delayed. After our flight had finally been cancelled on the Saturday afternoon, and we had spent several hours waiting in the airport to try and find out what was going, we eventually got back on a bus and returned to the Hotel where we had been staying.
As part of our pilgrimage we had celebrated Mass in a variety of local churches – a generous gesture, but one which had been planned long in advance. It was now Sunday, and nothing had been arranged – we had all expected to be back at home, what could we do? We couldn’t just walk into a church, so we went to one of the larger rooms on the first floor and rearranged the furniture. Priests had vestments with them, some wine was bought, and we had some bread and water with us already, a couple of wineglasses and a plate. Forty or so of us squeezed into this upper room, some stood, some reclined on the beds, or sat. We had gathered on the outskirts of the city as the first Christians, to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his letter did, on that the day of the Lord’s Resurrection we had gathered in a way not unlike Our Lord and the Disciples did on this very night. It all felt very real, we were aware that despite the slightly cobbled-together nature of things, God was very close; we were doing just what Christians have done ever since our Lord and Saviour commanded us to do it in memory of him.
That is why we are here, tonight, to gather as disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be fed by him, with him and for him. He has given us an example that we should copy. We do things as the Church, not because they’re nice, not because they make us feel good, but because Jesus told us to.
Jesus begins this evening by removing his clothes, taking water, and washing his disciples’ feet. He, the son of God, who was with His Father before the universe and time began, kneels before his disciples, and serves them. He takes the place of a slave or a servant and shows us as Christians that to follow him is to serve. Never did a cross redeem nature from the curse: never was a lamb set upon the altar that could take away the sins of the world, until God took on him and nature of the servant. We as Christians are to serve one another; we are to wash one another’s feet, to help each other to pray for each other, and not to think that any of us is better than the other.
Despite what the world may think about clergy: that we are weak, ineffectual, and well-meaning, or that we love to lord it over our flock, to stand pontificating 6 foot above criticism, we are in all things to fashion our life and example after Christ. In giving an example of service before the Last Supper, in praying for and setting apart his disciples as the first priests of his church, we who follow in their footsteps are shown in the clearest possible way that to love him, to care for his people is to serve them: we are to imitate the mysteries which we celebrate: offering our lives in his service and the service of his church. It is truly extraordinary that we should have such a responsibility placed on our shoulders. We are all of us, if the truth be told, incapable of such a task if we were acting solely in our own strength and our own abilities. But through the grace of God, and with the help of the prayers of you his people, it is our hope that we may conform ourselves ever more closely to Christ, our great high priest.
Priests are amongst other things set apart for the service of God and the administration of His sacraments. At this time on this night, Jesus gives us himself, his body and blood to feed us, to nourish us, to strengthen us and to help us become what he is, to share in the outpouring of love which is the very life of God, that we may be given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, that we may experience something of the joy and love and life which awaits us in heaven, forever united with the triune God.
To do this our Lord takes bread and wine, simple ordinary foodstuffs, to transform them, to make something other than they are to view them with new meaning and new life, to strengthen and heal his mystical body of the church with his own true body and blood. It is remarkable and extraordinary, words cannot fully express our awe that we poor wretched sinners, though unworthy are fed by our Lord as both priest and victim. It is not something for us to understand with our minds, but a mystery for us to enter with all our lives.
Jesus, receiving the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying: drink ye all of this, for this is my blood for blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. This is my blood he says which is to be shed. The blood shed and this blood are not two different things, but one and the same. Tomorrow it shall be shed from my side, tonight you drink it and behold it in the cup.
We here, tonight, have come together as the people of God, to be fed by God to be strengthened by him, to live lives in his service. Both tonight and tomorrow, we will see how God loves us. In his service, in his giving of himself to be taken, beaten, falsely accused, scourged and crucified, God shows us what true love, true glory, and true service are. The world can’t understand this, it goes against everything people are told about putting themselves and their lives first, to judge their importance or worth by what they own, rather than how they live their lives. And yet this world is wounded by sin, the image of God is marred. In its selfish searching, what it truly wants and needs is to be healed, to be embraced by a loving God. That is why it tomorrow on the cross our Lord’s Arms will be flung wide open to embrace the world with God’s love.
Let us then prepare ourselves, let us have our feet washed by Christ, let us be fed by him, with him, strengthened by him, to fashion our lives after his. Let us prepare to go to Calvary with him, laying down our lives in his service, picking up our Cross and following him, to death and beyond, to the new life of Easter. Let us live his risen life, and share our joy with others, that the world may believe and trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now, and forever…