It has been a year of changing rules, hasn’t it? “Stay at home”, Rule of 6, bubbles, masks, no singing, limited weddings, to name just a few. We know on one level that this has been necessary in our fight against the pandemic, but it hasn’t always been easy, especially for our churchwardens (who in this parish have reacted admirably to the moving goalposts).
We have been angered by those who have flouted the rules, especially those at the top of Government and Science whose interpretation of the rules has been questionable, at best. For those who have been confused by the changing rules, by the tiers and their changes, by the inherent inconsistences, I am with you!
Thank God Christianity, whatever some may think, is not about following a set of rules. It is not! Today, we recall the very simple and the very hard rule that Jesus gave his disciples, and he gives to us. Against the background of a Jewish faith saturated in rules, Jesus says this:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
This is the one rule that matters, the new rule, that you love one another, that we love one another as we are first loved by God. But there is a problem, isn’t there? It is impossible, isn’t it?
Jesus is saying, here is the new rule, the only one that really matters for the new age after loving God. He Himself has given us the pattern in His own life and as the end draws near, he says “You do it!” You love one another like that, I’ve even showed you in the washing of feet, its hard and dirty work, but you do it! Love one another like that. It’s more than being “nice” to each other which is the caricature of the average Church-goer! It’s much deeper and more challenging than simply being “nice’! Nice isn’t really that hard. We can all put on a nice face and so rarely mean it. This is much more than that. This is the love that says stop trying to control and manipulate each other. Lay down your ego self and give your true Self to each other. Give God to each other and receive God from each other and raise each other from the dead. Wow.
Jesus knows that this is the hardest rule for the disciples and for us. We are so consumed by our own blind ego-centricity that we can often be “nice”, but we cannot live this love that Jesus commands us to walk in. Perhaps that is why he says that where He is going we cannot come, because the leap from the world to the Father is a leap from ego-centricity to Love which is probably the hardest leap that we can ever make. Perhaps that is why, on this night, that we call Maundy Thursday, he gives us ways to live this deep, challenging, costly and self-giving love:
Firstly, He shows us, by washing feet, that this love is more than an “idea”. It is practical and it is gritty. It is not for the lowliest slave, the poorest paid, the immigrant, the professional. It is for us all! If the Master can wash the feet of his disciples, we can wash the feet of others too. It will be dirty work.
Secondly, he leaves us this meal, this Eucharist, as a sign of the Kingdom. That in bread and wine we can be strengthened by Him, through Him and with Him, for His service. For this is the meal that makes strangers, friends, that binds us together as his mystical body in the world and empowers us to live that costly, challenging, self-giving love in our everyday lives.
So, friends, on this most solemn night, we recall the foot washing, and you can be grateful that Covid restrictions mean I am not seeking volunteers this year! It doesn’t matter because it is symbolic of something that only makes sense when we do it for real, outside this building, in the world. We also recall the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the centre of our lives as Christians. How good it is that we can share it together this year. But none of this is important until we grasp that most simple and most challenging rule, the only rule that matters, that just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.Amen.