A sermon at the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem on Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016.
Our paschal liturgies have commenced.
It is Maundy Thursday, and we stand at the beginning of the three holiest days in the year for Christians.
In the next few hours and during the next two days we shall follow the ancient observances of the paschal liturgies:
Tonight we join Jesus and the disciples in the upper room as they share a final meal, and as Jesus offers them a master class in spiritual leadership.
Later we shall walk to Gethsemane, as Jesus and those first disciples did here in this city on that first Maundy Thursday night so long ago.
Unlike them, we know the outcome of the story. We walk to the garden knowing about the betrayal and the imminent arrest. And we shall walk away from the garden with hearts that are not weighed down with confusion, fear and grief as theirs were on that first Maundy Thursday.
Tomorrow morning, we shall gather in the narrow streets of the Old City to walk and pray the traditional route of the Via dolorosa, the way of the cross.
The indifferent stares of the residents as yet another bunch of Christian pilgrims treads the flagstones of this ancient city will be but a pale echo of the rejection experienced by Jesus as he walked those streets on his way to Calvary.
At noon we shall gather here again for the solemn liturgy of Good Friday.
Our sadness at the cruel and undeserved death does not even begin to touch the depth of the grief of those who watched helpless from the sidelines as Jesus was executed under the noonday sun.
The silence of the following day will eventually surrender to the shouts of joy as the news of Easter spreads like a ripple in a sceptical and distracted world. Who cares what happened to this man? What difference does it make anyway?
Perhaps it makes all the difference in the world. At least, that is our faith!
That is the pathway that stretches out before us tonight, and now we begin that journey.
The eternal dance of love and fear
As I have reflected on these events and liturgies the past few days, I have found myself noting the interplay of love and fear.
Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator has observed as follows in his poem Love and Fear:
There are only two feelings.
Love and fear.
There are only two languages.
Love and fear.
There are only two activities.
Love and fear.
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
Love and fear.
Love and fear.
That poem offers a way to reflect on the significance of the events back then as well as the dynamics around us here and now.
Love and Fear Then
Was the death of Jesus an act of love, or the expression of a deep and deadly Fear?
Do we even need to ask?
Jesus was drawn to Jerusalem, and thus to his death, by love. His love of God. His love for the city of God, over which he wept as he considered what lay ahead. And his love for the people who gathered around him as disciples and fellow pilgrims.
It was love that made the preparations for the last supper in a borrowed upper room.
It was love that put Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his disciples.
It was love that broke the bread and blessed the cup.
It was fear that drove Judas to hand Jesus over to his enemies.
It was fear that persuaded the leaders to seek a way to eliminate Jesus.
It was fear that caused the crowd to call for his crucifixion.
Love and Fear Now
Here in this city these past several months, it has been fear that drives people to stab strangers and run them down with cars.
It is fear that causes armed soldiers to shoot dead attackers who are armed only with knives and scissors.
It is fear that causes extremists to vandalise and burn churches.
It is fear that surrounds illegal settlements on stolen land with barbed wire fences.
It is fear that erects a concrete wall through the heart of the land.
It is fear that attacks civilians in Paris, in Istanbul and in Brussels.
It is fear that turns away refugees seeking asylum.
It is fear that causes children to drown in the ocean in the quest for safety.
It is fear that rains death from the sky on Raqqa, on Homs, or on Damascus.
It is fear that traps 1.8 million people inside the fences that surround Gaza.
It is fear that threatens Christian minorities across the lands held by Daesh.
It is fear that can imagine no way for two peoples to share the one land.
It is fear that prefers the status quo to a just peace.
It is fear that divides, hates, and kills.
It is fear that blinds us so that we can see no partner for peace.
It is fear that distorts our vision so that we project our worst nightmare onto our neighbor, rather than seeing him as a human being just like our selves.
This city, this land, and this world is filled with fear.
Where is the love?
Fear has No Future
Fear seems so much stronger because it is so destructive.
But in the end – in the End – fear has no future, because fear does not sustain life.
Lives, corporations, and societies grounded in fear and defended by violence never last.
As the darkest night is split by a small flicker of light, so the empire of fear is doomed once love takes root and life begins to bloom once more.
This is the message of Easter, and it is the message of this first evening of the sacred triduum.
Fear seems so powerful, and it is indeed destructive. But in the end fear destroys even itself.
Love seems so fragile, and is often the victim of fear, but in the end love wins.
In his famous hymn to love, St Paul writes:
Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. (1 Cor 13:4–8)
As we walk through the Paschal liturgies these next three days, let us never lose sight of the gentle power of love to overcome all obstacles, and of the ultimate impotence of fear. In the end, love prevails. Life wins.
With Mary we affirm:
[God is] casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
And with the author of 1 John we proclaim:
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear … (1 John 4:18)