Echoes of fearfulness

Mary Copping, 9 April 2020

Exodus 12: 1–14; 1 Corinthians 11: 23–26; John 13: 1–17, 31b–35

Today, Maundy Thursday, we begin the Easter Triduum – the period of three days of preparation and prayer from Good Friday to Holy Saturday and then Easter Day. These days stand at the core of our faith as the time when we re-member and re-enact Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. But this year, as no other, the darkness of Jesus’ Last Supper has deeper meaning than ever for each of us.

Tonight, we recall Jesus’ final Passover meal when he was preparing his disciples for what was to come. We think of the fear of the disciples as Jesus spoke to them about what was going to happen – about things they could not understand. What was the suffering he’d spoken about, and what was going to happen to them? He had said to them, ‘You will be sifted like wheat’. What did that mean for each of them?

And in this time of the terrible spread of Covid-19 and the devastation it is causing, we all in our own way echo that fearfulness – of what is going to happen to my family, what is going to happen to me, will I have enough money to live on, will I have enough food, will I keep my job, how can I manage on my own, how will the NHS cope and when, when will it all end?

The confusion of the disciples then echoes our own confusion. They didn’t realise what was happening; hadn’t ever believed that it would come to this, though Jesus had said to them, ‘I will be with you only a little while longer’. Our confusion: ‘But things were going so well only a few weeks ago – out with our families, worshipping together with our church community. How did this happen; how could things come to this and when, when will it all end?’

There were no answers that night of the Last Supper. As Jesus took them to the Garden of Gethsemane, they slept while Jesus wept, and then they saw him being arrested and taken away. There are no answers for us as we try to take one day at a time. In that garden all was darkness and fear – and for us too, sometimes darkness and fear.

But at the end of the meal, Jesus did something totally unexpected. Jesus knelt and washed the disciples’ feet, telling them that they must do what they had seen their master doing. Peter did not want this to happen – felt it not right for the master to kneel and wash the dirtiest parts of their bodies – but Jesus insisted. In doing this, he was sending them out to serve those around them, to serve those in need. And in our present situation, which is totally out of our control, as it was then with the disciples, the only thing we can do, the best thing we can do, is to help one another as much as we can: stay apart from others, stop the spread, keep in contact with those around us by phone or by any other way of connecting with people. Serve others, and accept the help whenever offered.

Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment, that they love one another as he loved them. This commandment is given to us; in all that we are going through, the love that God shows to us we must give to all those around us. And we see such great love and service in so many people: those working tirelessly and selflessly in the NHS, those showing such kindness, those helping to lift our spirits by films on TV and YouTube, and the generosity of many, many people – God’s love through neighbour, friend and stranger.

As we live sometimes in fear and confusion, God walks with us, his presence beside us as we go through the darkness.

In that Passover meal, at the table Jesus was so near to the disciples, yet they still felt fear and confusion. For us, as we live sometimes in fear and confusion, God walks with us, his presence beside us as we go through the darkness, his presence bringing light and hope to our situations.

For us, our Easter Day will come on Sunday, but our great joy will come much later, when we are through the deep darkness and out into the sunlight again. Meanwhile, we see occasional glimpses of light in the beautiful things that people do.

Psalm 23: 4, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me’.

And as the Queen said in her recent speech, ‘We will get through with self-discipline, quiet good-humoured resolve and fellow feeling’. She then spoke of this situation giving us opportunities to pause and reflect in prayer and meditation, whether of any faith or no faith.

So, as Christ suffered and died on the cross for us, let us draw closer to him, asking him for the help and strength we need, and trust that he is always with us.

View the sermon here
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