St Mary and St Chad Longton
The Triduum I Maundy Thursday
If someone asked me what was the real difference about the Christian Faith, what separates it from the 20th Century secular mind on the one hand or, say, Buddhism or Islam on the other, I think I would invite them to attend the services at a church like Saint Mary and St Chad on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week.
Not that they would necessarily understand, or even like, what they would hear and see. But it would answer is clearly as anything else the question "what's the difference?"
For the Liturgy of these Three Days or Triduum proclaims more clearly and distinctly what Christians believe than could be expressed in thousands and thousands of words.
Remember, thousands and thousands of words have been, and still are being, written about the central mystery of our faith so that our understanding of it is constantly changing and growing. But the actions, the things we do, remain very much the same over the years which suggests that the Truth which they express does not change.
To help you remember the ideas which each of these days express I have chosen to make them begin with one letter of the alphabet. And today Maundy Thursday I have decided to call 'S-day'
S-day, because it is about Sacrifice. Sacrifice is a word almost unknown to modern man, or if he knows it, he associates it with the idea are of suffering some irreplaceable loss. "Fireman Jones sacrificed his life to save a child from a burning house". "Mary Smith sacrificed her career at the Bank in order to care for her young family."
Now I don't say that's altogether a wrong use of the word sacrifice, but it's a misleading one. For to sacrifice is to make something holy by Surrendering it to God – there's another S-word). There's no reason to suppose that God will never give it back to us. Just like when we Submit ourselves or our property into the hands of someone who knows how to make it better (whether it's a surgeon or a mender of sewing machines) we do so in the belief that what will give them will be given back to us and will be something far better than we gave.
Jesus sacrificed himself, "Submitting himself to the power of him or who could save him". As part of this Submission process he took it upon himself the form of a Servant. He showed forth his love by stripping off his glory and taking a basin and washing the feet and his disciples. "By doing this", he said, "I am giving you an example to follow, a sign of how you should behave towards one another. Let him and who would be foremost among you become your servant".
Then he took bread and wine showing in Sacramental form the manner in which he was going to Sacrifice himself for their sakes. And later still are in the Garden of Gethsemane he Submitted himself perfectly to the will of his heavenly father, and (because that proved indeed to be what his Father's will consisted in) into the hands of his enemies to do with him as they would.
Now I would put it to you that most, if not all those s-words of very very foreign to modern secular man.
Sacrifice, Submitting, Servant, Subjection, Surrender, Sanctified, Sacrament, a Sign and Symbol lie right outside most people's thinking.
Modern man is taught on the contrary to think in terms of the Satisfaction, Security, Self-fulfilment, Stability and Success not exactly what Jesus Christ had to offer his followers on Maundy Thursday.
The Way of the Cross which we are trying to follow appears to offer modern man none of the things he is seeking. It's hardly surprising then that so few modern men want look any closer at it than the very superficial view that can be gained at a distance. From a safe distance it looks as if Christianity has something to do with Social Concern and Saving The World for future generations.
Well it does have to do with Saving the World – but not in the sense that most people understand that phrase; and it does have to do with Social Concern – but not as an end in itself.
Christianity is about the way in which God, through Jesus Christ, Saved and Saves individual men and women from their own Sinful nature. In the process it saves the world; it also incidentally provides a social framework in which that salvation can take place namely the Church.
But neither the Church nor the World is an end in itself. The people whom Jesus died to save were called Peter, and James, John, Philip and Andrew; and of course he died no less to save the people of St Mary and St Chad's Longton.
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