Maundy Thursday 2015

Year after year I have tried to say something worth thinking about on Maundy Thursday. This year I have only an image and a single thought. The image is from a twelfth century English manuscript, with a text added later in the fifteenth century. It shows the Beloved Disciple crumpled in sorrow and distress on Jesus’ breast.

The Last Supper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is the poignancy of that image which strikes me. Tonight there will be many fine homilies on the three major themes of the Maundy Thursday liturgy. There will probably be a nod or two in the direction of the Leaders’ Debate on TV and the irony of discussing human greatness when the words and actions of Jesus are entirely about humility and service. But, for all the brilliance of our preachers and all the loveliness of the liturgy we celebrate, we come back to those essential elements: the self-giving of Christ, and the pain of those who love him and would spare him suffering if they could. Yet again we are faced with an extraordinary and life-giving paradox: God’s ways are indeed not our ways, but only in him can we find life and peace and balm for our souls.

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The Menace of Holy Week

Yesterday we read the story of Mary’s anointing the feet of Jesus at Bethany; today  the story of Judas’s betrayal at the Last Supper. Just like all those photographs of the Titanic setting out on its first and last voyage, there is a sense of impending loss, of a strange and violent ending.

Read at other times, the beauty of Mary’s gesture, the extravagance of that pound of pure nard poured over Jesus’ feet, the sheer innocence of her love and generosity are completely disarming. Read in Holy Week and the story is full of forboding: she is anointing Jesus as a preparation for his death, without knowing she is doing so. Likewise, the story of the Last Supper. At other times, we concentrate on Jesus’ gift of himself and rejoice, but today we hear the words ‘Night had fallen’ and know it is night in the soul as well as in the sky: Jesus is about to be betrayed by one he loves, and that betrayal will lead to torture and death.

I wonder what was in Judas’s mind. Did he know what he was doing? Was he a bad man, or was he merely portrayed as such by the early Church as they struggled to make sense of their experience? For me, the real menace of the story comes from thinking how easily it could be you or I making the same mistake as Judas — thinking we could force Jesus into proclaiming who he was and ushering in the Kingdom. As we know, Jesus did proclaim who he was, and his death and resurrection have ushered in the Kingdom, but not in the way Judas expected.

Today, if we can find a few minutes’ silence, it is good to reflect on Judas and pray that we may be kept safe from sin. Later this Week we shall see the duel between good and evil which took place, once for all, on the Cross, but we are deluding ourselves if we think that we can escape a similar contest in our own lives. ‘Deliver us from evil’ is not a prayer to be said lightly, but we can be confident that we shall be heard. Evil’s triumph is only transitory; death is never the end of the story.

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