Here is the text of Fr Ian’s sermon given at the Mass of the Last Supper at St Chrysostom’s on Maundy Thursday 2019
As far as I know, people in Our Lord’s day didn’t leave wills as we tend to today. But even if wills had been in vogue, I doubt if Jesus would have left one. He’d no money to bequeath, no property. But what he did leave us tonight, the same night in which he was betrayed, was a set of instructions, a set of commandments.
The first, which gives this day its special name, is the commandment to love. As we’ve just heard in the gospel, he performs for the disciples the menial task – which they aren’t willing to perform for each other – of washing their feet. He says, ‘I have set you an example’. And then he goes on to say, ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’. And ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’.
The Latin for commandment is ‘mandatum’, and it’s because Our Lord’s commandment to love was given on this day that we call it Maundy Thursday – ‘commandment to love Thursday’. And so on this day we wash feet as Our Lord did, – an expression of charity, of love, of service.
The second commandment, which gives this service its special character, is the commandment ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. Jesus has shared many a meal with his disciples, and the meal he shares today is probably a special meal – the annual meal when the Jews ate – and still eat – the Passover lamb to celebrate the deliverance of their forbears from their slavery in Egypt. The ritual of this meal includes the sharing of bread and wine. But as Jesus shares the bread, he says ‘This is my body’, and as he shares the wine, he says ‘This is my blood’. In other words, I am the one whom God has appointed to deliver you. I am the one on whom you’re to feed, and from whom you’re to draw your strength’.
Now every Sunday is special because it’s the first day of the week, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. But Easter, our annual festival, is a sort of super-special celebration of his resurrection. And in the same way every Mass is special because it’s a doing this in remembrance of him. But our Maundy Thursday Mass is super-special because it’s today that he gives us this command, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
Now the two commandments I’ve mentioned so far are given during the Supper. The third comes later. When supper is ended, Jesus goes out with the twelve – or rather the eleven as they now are, for Judas has already gone off to betray him. And he leads them to the Garden of Gethsemane. And the three who are closest to him he takes further into the garden, and there he gives them tonight’s third commandment, ‘Watch and pray’. And their prayer, if I read the story aright, is to be twofold – for themselves, because he knows that that night they’ll face great temptation, and also for himself because he knows that he himself is to be betrayed and almost certainly killed.
And so as the Mass ends here in church, we make our way with Our Lord in his sacramental presence to the Anson Chapel. There tonight the altar and its surrounds are like a garden. It’s as if we’re in Gethsemane with Jesus, and we watch and pray with him.
We pray for ourselves. None of us is immune to temptation. Temptations and trials can come very suddenly. And how we respond to them usually depends on how we’ve prepared for them – not in a sudden moment of panic, but in our lives as a whole. It depends on the kind of people we’ve grown – and are still growing – to be. So we pray for ourselves.
But we also pray for other people. In the garden of Gethsemane, we’re told, Jesus begins to be sorrowful and very heavy. He wants the support of his friends, and he bids them pray for him and with him. And so when we’re facing great trials, I can think of few greater blessings than the knowledge that other people are praying for us.
Three commandments given us on this night – to love one another, to do this in remembrance of him, and to watch and pray with him.