In this holiest time of the year, we are exiled from our churches. That’s a new one! Who would have expected that?
Well, it is as unexpected as the Washing of the Feet – a turning-upside-down of custom and expectation. And out of it has come a startlingly clear reminder that, if we are to lead and encourage and inspire people, then we must also serve them.
It is as unexpected as the Institution of the Eucharist. This is a new language of the Passover, in which the simple words ‘this is my body’ reveal the Eucharist as the means by which we live in the presence of the God who liberates and sustains us. They are simple words indeed, and they are sacrificial. Again, faith and love are spelled out as sacrifice. St John writes later than the other evangelists and is surely aware of their texts, so how interesting it is that he does not describe the Institution of the Eucharist in his account of the Last Supper, although he clearly references it elsewhere: by replacing it with the Washing of the Feet, he tells us that the Eucharistic community is also the serving community, the Church that lives through Christ and expresses itself in service and humility.
This Lent and Holy Week and Easter, we have become the Church of the Fourth Gospel, as we have had to become a serving community separated from the sacrament. As in the Fourth Gospel, our essence and being in the Eucharist remains fundamental, but has not been explicitly present. That is very difficult for us all, but that time will pass. We will come back together again around the altar. The Eucharistic community is not gathered at the moment, but it will come back together again, strengthened in prayer and in faithfulness – and in deepened knowledge and appreciation of itself. We will have learned much from the resourcefulness and effort with which our parishes have been sustained through this time – and for this I can only congratulate and commend everyone: wardens, clergy, Readers, Liturgical Assistants, everyone.
For now, where God’s faithful people are, there is the Lord. It is not the only model for the Church, but it is a compelling and authentic one – and today it is the one we need to hold onto. That is Mary and John standing at the cross, and entrusted by the Lord to be His own presence in the world, and then standing at the empty tomb and encountering the risen Christ. The Church is fully present in the smallest of its communities, where that community is faithful. And that community is modelled on the relationship of Lord to Disciple and Mother to Son, with all the care and grace and love and compassion and trustfulness that such a relationship shows to the world.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Easter Day 2020