Sunday, April 08, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2012

Geoff Thompson grew up in working class Coventry.  His mum always said that he had inherited her nerves. He was a sensitive kid, and felt the lash of depression from an early age. His first encounter with it was when he moved to senior school. The transition overwhelmed him. In a bid to win some courage I started training in martial arts.

He said: my martial arts instructor was a charismatic man who took me under his wing. I was in awe of him and one night he asked me and some of the other boys to stay over at the club to help fix the aikido mats. That night I awoke to the feeling of a hand on my bare leg. The level of the sexual abuse that followed was not extreme, I was not raped, but the level of betrayal proved to be catastrophic.

What this abuser taught me implicitly with his actions was that no one could be trusted, not even those who loved you. This, of course, had a detrimental effect on my malleable mind. An incident that puts you out by a small degree as a twelve-year-old, is enough to send you completely off the grid by the time you’re thirty. At 14, I was kissing a girl in the farmer’s field and her face contorted in to the face of a man.  As an adult I developed psychotic jealousy, imagining that every girl I dated was cheating on me.

At 28, I became a nightclub bouncer in a bid to mould myself a bit of spine. I was a man with a lot of underlying rage and I displaced my anger on anyone that stepped into my orbit. It took a decade of extreme violence before I realised that I was out of control.
During my violent days, I thought forgiveness was weak and meant letting people off. That changed when I started teaching forgiveness to my martial arts students. Certainly I understood forgiveness intellectually but I didn’t understand it in practice until, one day, I was sitting in a café and saw my abuser sitting on the table opposite. For a split second I was twelve again, quivering with fear.

But then I walked over to him.  I introduced myself and told him what he had done to me as a child and how it had affected me. He was a big man, and he tried to stand up and protest. I put my hand out and told him to sit down.  I told him that despite what he had done I was going to forgive him. He looked totally broken. It was as if my forgiveness shattered him. As I went to walk away, he put his hand out. I wanted to be free from this man’s memory and I knew that the only way to be free was to properly forgive him. So I shook his trembling hand. When I walked away from that café I felt the most powerful man in the world. I had taken all my power back from him.  Forgiveness is the only revenge. You can have your day in court, some people need that, but if you want total freedom, forgiveness is the only way.

Today is a day of unlearning. Instead of defining people by what they do, Jesus encourages us to define people by what we do for them. Don’t define people by what you have already made up your mind they will be.  Don’t seek dehumanizing revenge for those who wrong us, instead love and forgive into life. Tonight Jesus calls us to define all people by what they are - fellow human beings, made in the image of God, precious to Him from all eternity and therefore by the grace of God, forgiveable and loveable by you.

There is a double focus to today - on the one hand the reading from 1 Corinthians designates today as the day Jesus celebrated Passover before he was betrayed, tried and crucified. Through it He instituted what we recognise as the Eucharist. On the other hand in our Gospel reading tonight Jesus emphasizes that his disciples need to continue to unlearn all of the social rules.  Today is Maundy Thursday from the Latin mandatum, from Jesus’ words - a new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you... Jesus says eat bread and drink wine to remember his presence in our lives and in the world, but He also calls us to put others needs before our own and love, forgive and serve them in remembrance of Him.
Tonight we also need to continue to unlearn a way of being church, remembering that church is not something that is done to us but something we are as His body here. As we gather at His table for the family meal in the Eucharist, we do as His brothers and sisters. Here He is re-membered, He is literally present here amongst us - in each other, expressed by the quality of our love.

But we fail as his disciples if our remembrance of Him is forgotten as soon as we step away from His table.  For tonight Jesus gives us a new commandment - yes, listen to what He teaches, yes love God and your neighbour and yourself, but that only has any worth if we are practically showing love to one another as Christ himself has loved us.  Taking off his outer robe, Jesus picks up a bowl and towel and begins to undertake the task of the lowliest of servant. ‘Remember me’ says Jesus, ‘by demonstrating the quality of your love practically to others.’

We love as He loves every time we support a grieving family. We love as He loves every time we visit someone lonely. We love as He loves every time we play a part in encouraging people out of poverty at home or abroad. And we are able to love because he loved us first by touching the leper clean, by raising the dead, by socializing with tax collectors and sinners, & by taking a towel and washing our feet and dying for us.
It is not possible to make sense of all that Jesus does today and what he will do in us from Sunday onwards, without acknowledging what he will do tomorrow. It is Christ’s willingness to accept the Cross that makes sense of this self-giving love which we are offered and are to offer in return.
Today Jesus gives His disciples a new command as we remember Him - unlearning our ways of judging others, and as we follow Him learning new ways in forgiving love.

It is that sort of loving that reveals Christ afresh and through it we are all called into deeper relationship in God. It is that sort of loving that reveals Christ afresh that reaches out and through it, God makes new disciples. It is that sort of loving that reveals Christ afresh and through it, and our changed lives, that whole communities can be transformed as we each unlearn how to be simply human, and learn from Christ’s loving actions how to become children of God. Amen.

No comments: