Christ the Saviour of the World: Maundy Thursday sermon
This night we remember. We remember Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed and was obedient unto death, gathering his friends around him, washing their feet, and sharing a meal. Bread and wine, such ordinary foods, both made with yeast, leavened with life. He takes the bread and says ‘This is my body’. He takes the wine and says ‘This is my blood’. A meal; fruits of the Spirit which sustain us through the ages.
Simple, so simple an action, and yet it takes us to the profound truth that Jesus is the Saviour of the World. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Jesus: who redeems the world, who offers up himself that we might have life, and have it to all eternity. This is a true story for all creation, that we are redeemed through the life and death of Jesus.
When we consider God’s creation, all is not well. This week we have explored how it suffers as a result of human activity; forests felled; fossil fuels consumed; carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere and into the oceans. We know the polar ice caps are melting; how sea levels are rising; how flooding is now a reality for some; drought and desert, a lack of water, a disaster for others. The world is suffering, and humanity with it. St Paul’s words have a real resonance today:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8: 22-25)
How can we understand this? Someone who can help us was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He died in 1955, a French philosopher and Jesuit who trained as a paleontologist and geologist. Scientists today are reading him anew for his insights as they realise just how mysterious the world is. Teilhard de Chardin believed you could find God in all things. The entire world is the divine milieu, he said.
In the early 1920s, Teilhard wrote The Mass on the World. He was a devout priest and he was miles from any church or altar on which he might celebrate mass. He was in a wild land, far from civilisation. But the whole of creation around him seemed to sing with the presence of God. The body of Christ, the blood of Christ was there, to be discerned in the land which surrounded him.
Since once again, Lord – now in the steppes of Asia – I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world. (p.19)
He imagines everything taken up, with all its immense heartache and suffering, as the bread and wine are lifted. As Teilhard, the priest, holds up the chalice and paten of the world around him, all the pain and joy of the created order is there, as it groans inwardly to be one with God.
This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted – of this I am sure, for I sense it – a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike: ‘Lord, make us one.’ (p.20)
Teilhard believed that there is an underlying unity to all things, sustained by the love of God which spends itself again and again for the creation. That sacrificial love is at the heart of things; it is the Mass on the world.
What might we take from this? Yes, the world is sacramental; infused with the creative love of God. More; it is through suffering and self-sacrifice that this love gives life. God emptied himself, became human, became matter, that matter might be reconciled. Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate, (23) writes Teilhard. The living, dying and rising again of the Christ is an action that is continually repeated within creation, within each of us. There is a larger story going on, a story that tells us that death is never stronger than love. Like the yeast that leavens the bread, that ferments the wine, but which dies in the process, the sacrificial love of God in Christ gives life.
We see life, the fruit of the Spirit, all around us. In 1962 Rachel Carson predicted a silent spring, as humanity continues to exploit the natural world. In fact, nature provides a raucous summer, given half the chance. Forests regenerate; species return; nature recovers. When, we, the human race responds to God in love and respect for the integrity of creation, with a much stronger sense of stewardship and responsibility, we find ourselves not pilgrims through an increasingly barren land. Joyful pilgrims, rather, in a rich and abundant world, the divine milieu, which reflects the love and glory at the heart of God.
Our own lives become richer too: relationships strengthened in peace and love; a sense of purpose and meaning in life; inner joy; a wild patience that lives in hope.
As we receive the cup of salvation, the bread of life tonight, and every time, we participate in a Mass on the world which brings hope to the whole created order. We experience the release from helplessness and despair, we see a glory about to be revealed. Our desire, as those who consume the sacrament of Christ’s body, is for union with God beyond life, beyond death. This union with God belongs to the whole of creation, of which I, you, are but parts.
This is my body. This is my blood. We receive Christ this night, remembering that he goes to his death. His self-sacrifice lies at the heart of the love of God. This is a God in Christ who gives, and gives, and gives again in order that we and all creation might have life. Let us not take, and take, and take, in return, but grow in self-sacrificial love ourselves, for the sake of God’s creation.