Sermon delivered by the Rev’d Sydney Maitland
I wonder what your study is like. If is it anything like mine, the then term “study” is essentially a euphemism for organized chaos.
But 3 weeks ago All Saints hosted a talk by a Jewish lady on the significance and practice of the Passover. It would be prepared for meticulously, and heaven help the lady of the house who did not prepare with utmost seriousness. The whole home would be inspected, brushed, cleaned, washed, polished and tidied up within an inch of its life.
But more than that, the Passover was most emphatically a family event: a solemn celebration and remembrance of the events of the Exodus.
And when Jesus was approached by His disciples it was with the expectation that they would celebrate the Passover together. Accordingly He issued His instructions – He had no home but was able to borrow a room from a friend. The disciples would not only source the food but would also clean and sweep the room as thoroughly as they had ever done anything in their lives.
For Jesus the Passover was to be as intimate an event as any sacred family observance: and it was His disciples who were the family.
But more than that, it was during the meal that Jesus took the bread, and broke it and gave it forth. Further, the final cup of the evening (there are 5 cups) – was the cup of salvation and it was this cup that He again endowed with special and particular significance.
Jesus was clear in connecting the Cup of Salvation with His own self-offering, and He expected His disciples to relive the scene whenever they came together.
Yet there is something else within the Passover meal which Jesus had re-invented. He took bread – blessed it – broke it – and gave it forth.
He would also take His disciples – training them, preparing them, teaching by word and example, often quietly and with workaday tasks. But they would be taken in hand. They would learn to pray together, to study, to worship and to fast and give alms. They would become a household, belonging to one another without becoming introverted or precious.
But then they would be blessed. They would know the heights of worship and the depths of fellowship. They would know the consolation of the Holy Spirit. They would live out the phrases of Jesus’ prayer – The Lord’s Prayer – which would become central to their lives. They would find that prayer and worship really did count and really did have a significance beyond words.
But next they would be broken. They would find that they were being challenged in all the most intimate and precious areas of their lives. Possessions, relationships, ambitions, even home and career would be laid at the Lord’s feet for Him to dispose of as He desired. The things that had given security and significance would be placed on the altar and could well be consumed. There would be no going back, for they would be wholly committed to serving their Lord.
Finally they would also be given forth. They would be led into places that they did not even dream about, they would speak forth in His name and with His words. The tired clichés of the media and the empty and superficial views of life would be set aside. For some their reputations may come into question. For others their motives, past actions, present lives and prospects would all be subject to corrosive criticism and scrutiny – such that would never be leveled at those who accepted the conventional wisdom of the time.
Being a disciple of Jesus would mean becoming part of the household of God – and subject to its privileges and constraints.
But there was another aspect, for after supper Jesus stripped off His outer garments and took a towel and began to wash His disciples’ feet. Peter was scandalized and at first refused. This was a crunch time for if he refused Jesus in this then he was on the outside.
Jesus was insisting in this as He had never insisted before, and Peter was on the verge of being expelled from the disciples. It was as close a call as that, and even His denial of Jesus was forgiven, but rejection of Jesus in this menial service would not be.
The lesson was clear: what He had done for them, they must do for one another: and not only do the service but also receive it.
There could be no place for superiority or false modesty; no self-sufficiency; no agendas or ulterior motives. They had to be totally real with one another, and they would have to impress this kind of reality of subsequent disciples.
Perhaps the challenge for us is best put in the form of a question are we church-goers and office-holders, or are we disciples? Are we masters and mistresses of our own fate or have we committed ourselves into the Lord’s hands beyond recall?
Is our faith of the kind that sees the church as a convenience or as a life?
To put in another way, Jesus gave us the parable of the seed and the soil. For some the seed fell and was devoured – even defiled at the roadside. For others, the message was welcome enough, but could not withstand trial and testing, and was scorched by the heat. For others it was also received but allowed itself to be throttled by the pressures of modern life, and was choked by thorns. And yes others had depth of soil and of soul to be fruitful.
The real question is what kind of disciples are we? Are you?