May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
In our Order of Service here at St Mark’s we are invited to ‘draw near with faith’. In faith to put aside our worldly concerns and focus on our relationship with God.
On this Maundy Thursday, when we reflect upon the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples, we learn that they too are invited by Jesus to ‘draw near with faith’. At that particular moment it meant to gather around Jesus to share his body and blood in the bread and wine. Here, nearness reaches its zenith.
This ultimate nearness is attacked by Satan who imitates God in terrible ways. The aim is to destroy Jesus, who has rejected his offer of power and possessions, and what better way to imitate than entering Judas so that Judas will betray Jesus. This nearness prompts Judas into betrayal but, unlike his disciples, Jesus knows what is going on and knows that it is ‘to fulfil the scripture’. He knows that his death is coming but ‘the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him’.
Satan, then, does not win the day. What prompts his demonic deeds? Across the centuries scholars and theologians have given a varied response. My preference is for the view of the 13th century scholastic theologian, Thomas Aquinas who held that Satan was once probably the very highest angel who, through pride, fell immediately after Creation, seducing people to follow him. Can you imagine the agony of having been very close to God and then remote from him? As they disobeyed God, pain and hardship were also the fate of Adam and Eve but we know that God, through his son Jesus, has reconciled this fall from grace which allows us to ‘draw near with faith’. As the Book of Revelation expresses it: ‘the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, has been conquered by the blood of the lamb’. All is well then. As St Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘you who were afar have been brought near by the blood of Christ’.
If the disciples, and we ourselves, wish to stay near to God then it only requires one commandment to be kept. As John’s Gospel gives it: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another’. An expression of this love is to welcome all peoples. Welcome unites us and helps us to help each other. This is a strong theme in the Jewish Passover at which there is always a space for the stranger. Today marks the beginning of the Christian understanding of Passover, which reminds us of the Jewish idea of escape from slavery. In the current debate on immigration rules, we need to keep this in mind. Particularly now, on Maundy Thursday, which is also known as ‘the Day of the Reconciliation of the Penitents’ when sinners were welcomed back on this day.
So let us, on this Maundy Thursday, renew our commitment to God by drawing near in faith, being the welcoming presence, and demonstrating love for one another as God loves us.