Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sermon for Maundy Thursday - Participation in the Life of God

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

One of the themes we have been developing in our journey together through Lent and now Holy Week has been that of participation. In Lent we explored Christian practices of Generosity and Hospitality, of Love and Forgiveness, of Truthfulness and Openness one to another, but what I was at pains to point out was not that we should sit around and come up with Our ideas of what these were - asking ‘how might We be hospitable or Generous?’ Rather that we were called to enter into the very Life of God’s Generosity and Hospitality. That Forgiveness can only be understood Christianly in terms of God’s forgiveness  - and that to Live the Christian Life was no more and no less than to live ever more fully into and Participate in the Very life of God in the Life of God. This is the invitation of The Last Supper, an invitation to Participation

As the disciples are gathered together, Jesus revealed the full extent of His Love. He shows them what Love is when it is Enacted. (there is no such thing as Love that is Not Performed). And he does it by washing the feet of his disciples and only then inviting them to participate. ‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ It is our Lord’s Gracious Invitation at His table to enter in, to Participate in His Life which He first reveals. To Simon Peter he says ‘You do not now understand what I am doing’ - he is a Stranger to Love at this point only having his own ideas to go on. And of course that footwashing is a reminder of forgiveness - Perhaps Peter does not understand, because he doesn’t yet understand how much he will need Jesus’ forgiveness. Perhaps this is why we all find it so hard to Participate in the lIfe of God, because we don’t yet understand how much we need it ourselves? That we need God’s hospitality before we can be hospitable and that that hospitality is expressed in forgiveness. If we would come in, we needs must accept his Love

As it would be unthinkable for the guests to eat without their feet being washed - and so we see one part of this Participation, that we cannot approach the table of the Lord, unless we have been forgiven. Peter of course doesn’t get this - Poor Peter :) It seems to be his Role. ‘‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’’ Jesus invites us into Participation by first serving us - be One with me is his invitation and He serves us. In so doing he reveals the Nature of the LIfe of His Life that we are called to participate in.

Peter of course has a Big problem with Participating fully in the Life of JEsus. It is He who said ‘this shall never happen to you!’, and perhaps in a fit of remorse - in a very short while he will gird his loins and try to enter the Life for himself Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. We are so quick thinking we can do things for HIm, not understanding that we cannot, unless we first encounter and accept his Hospitality. FAce up to our Utter Need of Him.

Will You lay down Your Life for Me?? ‘No you will not - I Will lay down My Life for You!’ is Jesus unspoken response. Of course Peter was not alone in this bravado, It had been the same with those two Sons of Thunder, James and John. "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?". “You don’t know what you are asking? You will lay down your life for me??

Can you drink the cup? Of course we have been thinking much over the last hour about cups, the four cups of the Jewish Passover. But there is something odd. Try as we might we cannot perfectly match the Jewish Passover meal with the Last Supper. It seems clear it Is a Passover meal - but . . . it seems to be strangely unfinished. We rehearse the story in our Eucharistic liturgy. ‘After Supper he took the cup and when he had given thanks he gave it to them’ The Cup after Supper is the third cup . . . we read that after drinking this they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. ‘You do not yet understand what I am doing for you - this Passover is not yet complete’

This is an unfinished Passover - there is as yet, no fourth cup . . .

Can you drink the cup? our minds wander forwards an hour or so, into the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’

‘My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me’ There is yet another cup - and the lack of the fourth cup is not the only odd thing about this meal. A Passover meal is presided over by the Father of the house - He is the one who rehearses the story and blesses the cups - But the Father has not been visible in the story until now. Jesus is continuing the Passover meal out in the garden but now it is not Jesus with the disciples, it is Jesus with his Father. If this cannot pass unless I drink it . . .The Fourth Cup signifies the end of the meal, the Passover cannot be completed unless the fourth cup is drunk, and that lies ahead of Him.

it was not permitted to drink wine between the third and fourth cups - it was not permitted to drink wine until the end. Jesus does not actually drink of the Third cup  - for this is his self offering to his disciples - This is my blood of the New covenant - and he will not drink of the final Cup until the Father ends the PAssover meal. Jesus in the self offering to His Father waits in obedience until the end - At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, . . . the final cup is drunk . . . Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

‘It is finished’ - Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. ‘You will lay down your life for me?’ Jesus asks Peter - No, I will lay down my life for You

Yes there is a Passover meal, but it begins with the Last Supper and ends on the cross and in so doing the Whole focus is shifted , entirely away from remembering the Exodus, to Remembering Christ Himself - but it is no mere memorial. This is Participation in a Way that we could scarcely begin to imagine -  a Huge new dimension is opened up - for the cup is not of wine, but of Blood. ‘drink this all of you, this is My blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins’. Do this as often a you drink it in remembrance of Me.

This is My blood. Do this In remembrance of Me

The Passover meal was meant to be a remembrance of the great saving act of God in bringing his people out of Egypt - Do this in Remembrance of Me? And as for drinking Blood!! Whatever else you did with the Passover Lamb - you did Not drink it’s blood, For its Life was in its Blood

Which begins to make sense of John’s Lack of a Last Supper - it's actually there in shocking clarity ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ Drink the blood, the Life is in the blood. It is a great promise of Participation in the Life of God

To participate in the Old Passover - it was imperative - you had to eat the lamb! Five times the scriptures commanded that the whole lamb Must be eaten - None was to be left. But you were Not to drink the blood for the Life was in the blood -  To participate in the New Creation life of God - you must eat the Lamb, the Lamb of God - you must eat his flesh and drink his Blood - that His Life might be in you.

Christ invites us into Participation in life - His Life - He gives his life For us  - He washes us that we might have a part with him  - and then gives his life TO us. His eternal life, in Bread and Wine.

James and John - they thought they could drink the cup - they thought they were up to it.  but they didn’t know what they were asking. They didn’t realise that the life they were called to was God’s Life to only do what they saw the Father doing.  Peter, desperate to get it right Just once wanted to Go where Jesus went - but he couldn’t - he couldn’t - not yet. For this was God Work and Life For the PAssover was not complete - the eternal life of Christ that is His own self offering had not yet been made. The Life was not yet available - not set free and wild in the world - His Spirit not poured out on all flesh - No Peter, not yet - you will not lay down your life for me - but when at last the work was finished,when God’s Life was released into the world -  he would say to him

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

If you drink the Third cup - the cup of my blood - when it is poured out - THEN Peter you can participate and drink the Fourth in costly self sacrifice - then it will be no act of bravado - no girding up the loins of our will is required for it is His life in us, to will and to act according to the impulses of the Love of the Father

Eat my flesh, drink my blood - now you can follow for it is no longer you who live, but I who live in you - now you can  participate in this Life of God - for when you eat the bread and drink the wine - my Life is in you

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

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