Maundy Thursday 2020

posted 11 Apr 2020, 08:32 by Parish Priest   [ updated 11 Apr 2020, 08:34 ]
Homily for Maundy Thursday (9/4/20)

The times we are living through are unusual times, and they can bring out the worst in people, and also the best in people. I heard only today of two people who were attacked outside, and when another man stepped in to help, he was attacked as well. I also was told today that the grass on the hill over Carmountside Cemetery was set fire to recently. I’ve also had some good news about the parish which is embargoed until after the Coronavirus situation is over, and I have also seen the dedication of the staff at the Royal Stoke. They haven’t all run away from their jobs and abandoned the hospital; they keep things in proportion, they have the correct PPE and know how to use it to keep everyone safe.

I grew up in the parish of St Thomas of Canterbury in Walsall, and when you’re in the pews, if you look up at the two stained glass windows, the one on the right depicts the Last Supper. The Twelve are gathered around the table, although Judas is sneaking out, and Christ is holding a chalice, with the words “Do this in memory of me” on the window. The thing I found strange about the window as a child was that Christ is not smiling. In fact He looks worried. It was only later on I realised that the reason for that was because He knew what was coming up later that night and tomorrow. In the Gospel tonight, St John tells us, “Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God”. Jesus knew that everything was in control. He wasn’t blasé about it – in the Garden of Gethsemane we see how His humanity struggled with the suffering that He was already undergoing and would have to undergo. He knew in the Upper Room as He celebrated the first Mass that as He consecrated the bread and wine and they became His Body and Blood, that His sacrifice on the Cross was there in front of Him, sacramentally present on the altar. But also sacramentally present was His risen, glorified humanity – with this sacrifice sin would be paid for, the devil would be defeated, and He would rise victorious: the devil doesn’t stand a chance! There is hope.

We don’t know with 100% accuracy how the coronavirus situation will progress in our society, and indeed across the world. Fear of the unknown can be worse than the thing to fear itself. But what we do know, is that God is in control, and that God is with us. The trouble we find, is that we can’t just do things the same as in the past. Christ gives us an example today of humble service, of washing the disciples’ feet. The challenge is to carry that out in the light of our medical knowledge. I was reading an article earlier this week of priests who ministered to plague victims in London, and also St Charles Borromeo’s ministry at the time of the plague in Milan back in the sixteenth century – they visited both the clean and the infected, administering the sacraments. Interestingly, the advice in the sixteenth century was that after giving Holy Communion you should sanitise your fingers by holding them in a candle flame immediately afterwards – there was no alcohol gel in those days. Furthermore, with their more limited medical understanding, there was no awareness that by visiting the sick they could actually be passing disease around from place to place.

New times call for new approaches. If you put new wine into old skins, the skins burst and the wine is lost. New wine, fresh skins. We ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. For the time being, the internet is a hygienic way of participating in the Mass, and it’s even possible to receive a spiritual communion – in the silence after Holy Communion, you can say to the Lord, that although you are unable to receive Him in the normal way, please enter into my heart as if I had received you in Holy Communion, and He will answer your prayer. Of course, it’s still not the same as actually being here and receiving the Lord directly, but it is a valid way to receive the Lord.

Charles Dickens began his A Tale of Two Cities in the following way. It could have been written about today:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”

Our times are truly challenging, but the Lord is with us; everything is in His hands. As we celebrate the Eucharist tonight, and recall the first Mass, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to pour Himself out upon us, upon our nation and on our world, that like Christ, we may give ourselves in appropriate, generous, service of others.