Your basket
Your basket
0 items - £0.00

Personal tools

Home News Chrism Eucharist 2022

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Chrism Eucharist 2022

by Michael Ford last modified 20 Apr, 2022 01:06 PM

Bishop Andrew gave the sermon at this year's Maundy Thursday Chrism service.

‘Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.’ 

Some years ago, as part of an imaginative ministerial development programme, I attended a self-defence class for clergy in our diocese. Naturally, there were good, common-sense reasons for my doing so (a few minor scuffles during after-church coffee, nothing too serious…) but I confess I also went along because I thought the comic potential of such an occasion was limitless. Surely watching some of the mildest-mannered people on God’s earth, collars askew, grappling with one another was too good to miss. I pictured us, stripped down to the lowliness that was our inner clothing, staggering around a church hall in half-nelsons and headlocks, yet still nodding in a kindly manner, keen to understand the deeper meaning of the experience. I would be a fool to miss it, surely. Happily, I was not disappointed (though time prevents me from expanding further...) and came away with a renewed sense of pride in - and affection for - my fellow clergy. 

The main lesson from that session was learning how martial arts will turn the power of the attacking blow against one’s assailant. As they lunge towards you, that very force can be drawn further, throwing them off balance. It reminded me not only of St Paul’s understanding of God’s wrath, as letting sinful humanity see the ends of their actions, but also of death’s duel with Christ at the cross. In the martial art of Calvary, our Lord allows the last enemy to overreach and exhaust himself, the force of sin’s offensive becoming the very means of its downfall. Christ’s divine capacity to receive the ills of the world (as the Father does daily with our prayers), soaks up the wrong, until it is finished. 

We see this prefigured, I think, in Jacob’s mysterious encounter in the ring at Peniel with a figure who is, we read, human and yet, somehow, possibly also God: in which the most striking thing is not Jacob’s strength, or injury, but the angel’s vulnerability. That haunting verse: ‘When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob’ – carries the sense we often find in the Old Testament – of it being an open question how God will respond: that he may change his mind or be prevailed upon. A God who allows us to make of him what we will - indeed, to assault or insult him, to pin him down and pound him with our need. 

Likewise, the mysterious crucified figure is both us and not us: God and one Godforsaken. And the reversed thunder of his Calvary cry still echoes down the centuries with mournful, resounding tremors, like the rumble of guns on Salisbury Plain. Replayed again in Ukraine’s brutal passion play and every slaughter of innocents. In Mariupol, ‘the city of Mary’, the mother of Our Lord stands close to the cross once more. 

For none who draw close to it emerge unscathed, I think. There is a cost to discipleship that many of you know only too well. We can be weakened as well as empowered by agreeing to follow where Christ has gone. And though it’s a vital lesson of Christian ministry not to mistake the church for God, the life of one is inevitably bound up with the other and plenty of you will come limping to the altar this day, wearied by all that your vocation has asked of you since we last gathered for this service, three long years ago. But come we must - and come we do - to hear this: 

‘During supper Jesus … got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to 

wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him… After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’ 

Do you know what I have done to you? It’s a question that the Lord might have asked a few days later when appearing to his disciples in the new light of Easter. Do you know what I have done to you, and for you – that you could never have done for yourself? Allowed you to begin again, like infants; washed clean from all that you have done and that has been done to you; given you a new (hip, a new) heart to replace that aching pump inside – and, from the deserted rubble of your common life, I am building a temple of praise, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Do you know what I have done to you? You are not what you were: “but a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 

Thank you for your faithful, irrepressible ministry: for being defiantly good news in a so prolonged a season of fearful headlines; for being such a steadying presence when there is so much to unsettle our churches and communities; for resolutely renewing hope when the future can appear so uncertain. And while you needn’t (unless you wish) grapple with your colleagues, please take care for your self-defence, all the while remaining radically open. Those who are fortified within can be undefended without. 

If we are to minister to others in his name, Jesus teaches, we need first to know how he has ministered to us. And it is a lesson we must learn again and again. 

So, dear friends and colleagues, as we gather again so gladly to reaffirm our calling to love and serve in the pattern of Christ, as we commit to making our churches rehearsal rooms for the coming Kingdom (springs in the dry ground), let us allow ourselves to be cleansed and restored at his table, to have our wounds dressed and blessed with a grace beyond our own. Let us receive his heavenly transfusion and find it pulsing through our body, to bring renewal with every thump of our heart. 

May it be so, for the Glory of God. Amen. 

Document Actions