The book of Exodus was written hundreds of years after the events it records, probably after the Exile in Babylon, when the people of the Hebrews were working out what it meant to be a nation and a faith. And the account of the Passover that we heard tonight became a key story that the Jewish people shared: it told them who they were as a people and who they were as a community of faith. It’s a story that says: this is who we are, the people whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt, a people in relationship with the one true God, a people in relationship with each other.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters up the road began their Passover celebrations on Monday night this week. They have been remembering and celebrating this story, the liberation of the people of the Hebrews. For them too, it begins with a meal, though the Seder meal was probably developed after the destruction of the temple in 70AD, so after the time of Jesus.
And we tell that same story tonight. It is a story that is important to us for a number of reasons. Some of the Gospel accounts, though not all, set Jesus’ Last Supper in the context of a Passover meal. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is dying on the cross at the same time as the lambs are being slaughtered for Passover, so the meal was taking place on the Friday night, not the Thursday night. But there is a link between the events of Holy Week and the Passover Festival.
Also, the story of the Passover is important for us because it is a story of liberation from sin and oppression, and we believe that Jesus frees us from sin and oppression. Over the centuries, oppressed Christians have taken this story to heart as a sign of God’s promise of freedom – including the negro slaves in America before the liberation, and the poor of South America.
It is a story that matters.
And it brings us through to the second story of the night, the story of the Last Supper Jesus held with his disciples, when he took bread and gave thanks and shared it. And then took the cup of wine and blessed it and shared it. This is the meal that we share, year in and year out, week in and week out. This is the meal that gives us an identity, it is our Christian meal, the meal of our faith. We do this because Jesus commanded us to do so. It is the meal that holds us together in relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord. It is the meal that holds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Tonight, we take bread and wine. We hold them before God to ask for God’s blessing. And we share them. When we do this, we are remembering: remembering what Jesus himself did; remembering who we are; remembering who Jesus is for us; remembering what we are to each other. When we do this, Jesus is present with us, and so are the disciples, and so are all the saints, and so are all those who celebrate this meal together past, present and future.
And then we have the third story, the account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, a story that we will re-enact in a few moments. It is a parable in action: the Master undertakes the lowliest service. Jesus is saying: this is what it means to follow me – you show love and care, you take on humble service, you serve the little people.
Again, it is an action that says who we are as a church – the people who serve others. And who we are in relation to Jesus – the people who follows the Master who washes dirty feet. And who we are in relation to each other – the people who are not afraid to give loving service to the poor, the unloved, the needy, the often-unwanted.
Today in Blackburn Cathedral, the Queen gave little bags of silver coins to 86 men and 86 women. Except my mum wasn’t there, because she was too frail to get to the Cathedral, and the Dean will bring her Maundy Money to her in the Nursing Home in 2 weeks’ time. The Queen doesn’t wash feet – Maundy Money developed as a substitute for actually getting down and washing feet, but that’s where the tradition comes from.
Tonight is a night of stories, a night of telling tales which remind us about who we are and where we come from, stories that tell us about our relationship with God, stories that define how we relate to each other.
Jesus says: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.
The Last Supper from the Reredos at Bensham St Chad