17th Apr, 2003

Maundy Thursday

Preached by the Rev. Ian Elliott Davies

For all of us there are decisive moments, times of enlightenment and insight- perhaps listening to music, maybe when you are in school, perhaps falling in love for the first time- there are those times when everything falls into place and make sense and we can say: “oh, yes, that’s what Vaughan-Williams or John Updike or my History Teacher has been trying to say all along.” These moments are extremely important and have very special significance. They can also be profoundly spiritual: it happens to me sometimes at a Low Mass at 8 o’clock in the morning- we’re all used to the liturgical forms, the words, the gestures; but every now and again things click into place, the words mysteriously come alive and become heavy with poignancy and meaning.

I used to enjoy a correspondence with the Welsh Priest and Poet RS Thomas. He once wrote to me, when I was in my second Parish, that if I ever got frustrated, upset or bemused by the vagaries of Parish life then I was to climb the mountain on whose slopes my house was built; when I reached the summit I was to look down and see the various buildings, streets, schools, shops and churches. All those diverse elements of our communal life fell into place. There was the Parish Church and vast graveyard with thousands of faithful departed, there were the schools, the freeway with cars and trucks hurtling towards London.

Coming back down from the mountain’s summit one sees afresh the problems, the intricacies of life together as a community but this time in a new perspective.

That’s what is happening tonight in the Upper Room: we are given a new and enlightening perspective; Christ stoops down and washes our feet, we are reminded of our frailty and vulnerability. We cannot help but see God beneath our feet, taking the form of a servant. There is the possibility that we will reject, turn our backs on God. There is real pain and suffering here- one cannot love someone without the real possibility that we will be hurt or suffer pain or rejection. If you have ever loved someone you will understand what I’m trying to say- you know, sometimes it is best for that person if we love them to let them go, to do what’s best for them, to have the courage to say to them ‘I love you and I love you enough to want what is best for you.’ This is the very essence of God’s unconditional love for us- there is complete and utter freedom on our part, God will not force us nor constrain us.

Tonight, when we give thanks to God in this Mass for the institution of the sacrament of unity, we also follow that paradigm- our willingness to be part of each other and to stand in solidarity with one another cannot be constrained nor forced, it must be natural, spontaneous and spring from a realization that if he, our Lord and Master has done this for us, how much more ought we to do this for one another.

It takes a good deal of re-learning and changing ones perspective to find this; we like the times and occasions when we’re able to give advice or grant someone the benefit of our many years wisdom, experience and what we think: but to listen, to wait, to keep silence, to learn, that is the real challenge to the men and women of St Thomas the Apostle in Hollywood in 2003.

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