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Maundy Thursday: The Servant King

May in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Each year, on Maundy Thursday, one of my duties is to go to Blackburn Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist. During it, not only do I renew my vows as a deacon and a priest, I also collect the holy oils that will be used for the next 12 months or so. The night before, I tend to burn the oils, as is tradition so we are ready for the new set blessed this afternoon by the Bishop. There is one other thing that has become a tradition of mine which I will share at the end. And it is about these oils that each day for the triduum, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, I will speak about a different aspect of these oils.  

When you burn the oils, its often a messy business. I soak the oils in paper towels and set it alight and it burns for quite a long time, often with hints of the beautiful aromas of the essential oils in the chrism oil. But as it burns the whole thing quickly gets enveloped with soot, and soot mixed with oil which is near impossible to wash off. Whatever I do, my sooty hands just can’t quite get clean enough.    

This evening we have been celebrating the Passover feast, the feast that celebrates the salvation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites that day thought they had found freedom, but that freedom was only partial, for alongside all people of the earth, they remained slaves of course. Slaves to temptation, slaves to sin, slaves to death. That sin that sticks so close to all of us, and is just like oily soot just seems impossible to be rid of, no matter how hard you scrub. The signs of that self-inflicted slavery to sin are seen with all, throughout time right up to the present day. There are people killing, physically, emotionally, spiritually. There are people hating others even their own family. There are people hording their wealth or power or privilege. There are children who are not loved. There are elderly who are abandoned. There are people in despair. There are people who are deliberately ignorant of neighbour. We could go on couldn’t we? Often we need look no further, truth be told, then our own hearts, to find much hurt, evil and pain. Yes we celebrate freedom tonight for the Israelites, but it wasn’t true freedom. The sooty sin that clogs the hearts of all people was still there. As Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.’

The world is enslaved to sin. The solutions to the worlds problems are obvious, but impossible to achieve so often because of the sin of people. Look at the awful, evil conflict in Gaza or Ukraine. The solution to those conflicts is very simple. If everyone was to simply stop killing each other, to put the guns and bombs away, well, the war would end instantly, wouldn’t it? It really is that easy. However, it is impossible, because evil from people on all sides means that there is no end in sight and therefore people will continue to die. Another problem, look at places in famine, there are over 800 million people who are chronically undernourished in our world today. The solution again is simple. Share food equally across the globe and feed everyone because, after all, the world makes 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Yet we still have people starving. Evil greed stops people being fed. The world is enslaved to sin, that sticks just like the soot of a fire of holy oil. So often, the solutions are easy but the sin that enslaves the world cannot be overcome, at least not by human means.

To our enslaved world came the Son. He is the light in the darkness, the hope of humanity. He preached about freedom from sin and life everlasting. He healed the sick and cured the lame. He sat with the least and served the poorest. He took all the commandments that show us just how enslaved we are to sin and boiled them down to just two commandments, love God and love neighbour. Both those commandments can be boiled down further to one simple lifegiving principle, which of course is simply to love. It is the solution to all the world’s problems. In all the history of the world, the Son, fully God and fully man, was the first to not be enslaved to sin. Instead of insisting on the glory that is His, He served humanity who gave up our glory at the fall. On that first Maundy Thursday the first thing He did was wash the feet of the disciple, to serve them. The only person ever not be a slave to sin, decided to be a slave to others. And as He comforted His disciples He gave them a very simple command, the simple solution, the only thing that can remove the sin of the world and is the antidote to sin. “He said My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It is where the word Maundy comes from, Latin that means ‘command’. His command is so simple - Love one another, love one another, love one another. Love each other as Jesus loves us. A command to love abundantly, dangerously, unceasingly. A command to hope when hope is lost, to serve when it isn’t deserved, to go where no one else will all in the name of love. Love is the only thing that can cure all ills. Yet to allow us to follow His commandment, Jesus knew that He would have to die in our place to break the curse of sin that enslaves us so completely, that clings to us and cannot be washed away except in His blood.

To allow us to free from sin, Jesus made a contract with us, a promise, a covenant. Instead of signing a piece of paper, Jesus took bread, He broke it and said, “this is my body broken for you” and “this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins.” It was a one-sided covenant where we receive everything and He receives death on a cross. Where He takes our deadly sins to the cross to die and in exchange we gain His life. I wonder if the disciples knew what they were receiving. I wonder if we do. All for the love He preached, a love so deep that He agreed willingly to give His life so that we may live. As we will hear when the Exultet is sung on Easter Eve: ‘this is the night that gave us back what we had lost; beyond our deepest dreams you made even our sin a happy fault’.

As Jesus leaves the table and walks to Gethsemane, I said I did one extra thing before leaving the Cathedral today. At the end of the service there are wise brothers and sisters in Christ who are prepared to hear confessions and I take the opportunity to give mine. Can I encourage you? Tonight give up all that holds you back however you need to. Give up all the sin that binds us and leave it on the altar, allow His blood to clean the sooty sin away. Take the communion offered by our Lord and as we walk with Him to the cruel cross tomorrow commit ourselves to learn to love as He loves us. Amen .

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