6th April 2021
Sermon for the Eucharist of the Chrism on Maundy Thursday
The Eucharist of the Chrism and Re-affirmation of Vows
Thursday 1 April 2021, 11:00, Maundy Thursday
Preacher: The Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury
Readings: Exodus 12: 1–4, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 11: 23–26; John 13: 1–20
Please scroll to the bottom of this page to follow the recording of this service.
April Fool’s Day, and the clergy and ministers of the Diocese of Salisbury online for the Chrism Eucharist and Renewal of Ordination vows! Even more ironic that it feels so good to be here after last year’s service which came from the chapel at South Canonry. Yet it’s the best we can do in the circumstances and it is marvellous, near miraculous, for us to be here.
Welcome to all of you, especially to those of you online. It’s particularly good to welcome those from the Channel Islands with us for the first time for this this Chrism Eucharist and renewal of ordination vows in Salisbury Cathedral. There are a number of clergy who are seriously ill so it is very good to welcome them as they would not have been able to be here in person. We gather together as lay and ordained ministers at the start of the great Three Days, the heart of the Christian year.
The last year has been really difficult. How we have longed to be together in Communion. As online is the best we can do, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
A small number of us are present in the cathedral, representatives of the diocese who live in or near Salisbury: Bishop and Bishop’s Chaplain, Dean and Precentor, Archdeacon of Sarum, a Deacon, the Associate Warden of LLMs, the Head of the Cathedral School and Chorister Bishop and a few musicians. With you online we gather in spirit and in truth.
Bishops Karen and Andrew are with you online. We hope that the holy oils can be distributed at the clergy day at Bryanston School on 7th July.
This is my 10th Maundy Thursday as Bishop and will be my last in Salisbury. It has been a privilege to serve with you and today I give thanks particularly for our shared ministry.
I hope that in this Eucharist with the renewal of ordination vows and the blessing of holy oils we may find ourselves renewed in the ministry entrusted to us by Christ and His Church. In this dispersed community of priests and people you are all very welcome at this service.
There are, of course, two dominical commands given by Jesus at the Last Supper. In the Synoptic Gospels at a Passover meal Jesus took the bread and wine and told his disciples to do this in memory of him. The other in John is of the Lord taking a towel and washing the disciple’s feet in an act of service by which he tells his disciples: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
In the last year it has been really difficult to fulfil the first of those commands. Before the pandemic I used to go to Communion several times a week. In the last year there have been many weeks when I have not been to Communion at all. Much of our worship moved online with a loss of the habit of Eucharistic practice. That this has been widely felt and generated a lot of discussion about whether or not it is possible to celebrate Communion online in a virtual community. What we are doing in this service is what the Church is able to do with a degree of consensus. Those of us here in the cathedral and receiving Communion are representatives of the wider Church looking in and those looking in will be making what might be described as a spiritual Communion but which is variously described and variously understood. Early in the pandemic Bishop Andrew likened this to the leper’s squint in some of our older churches. It is going to take some effort to re-establish our Eucharistic practice as we follow the Lord’s command to do this in remembrance of him.
For some of us – me included – organising online worship doesn’t come easily. Online sometimes feels ‘worship-lite’ but in truth sometimes it has also been very profound. Actually that’s also true of regular church before lockdown. In whatever circumstances, online is the best we have been able to do for much of the last year and the technology has been the vehicle for a small miracle enabling us to worship God with one another. I know something of ho much effort this has cost and thank you and everyone involved for it.
If Communion has been challenging, since the first lockdown over a year ago foot washing and service have been a lot more evident. Churches have been at the heart of their communities organising networks to ensure people are cared for and no one has been left out. These acts of Christian service have been all the more compelling when they haven’t been entirely on our own terms. All sorts of partnerships have grown up.
The use of the cathedral as a vaccination centre has caught the public eye with stories and images in the media around the world. 25,000 people have been vaccinated here at the rate of 1,000 a day. It has been a powerful experience, not least because of the stories of the people who came here. Full marks to the Dean and Chapter for making it happen but actually it’s just the most prominent example of what has been going on across the diocese with good neighbour schemes and food banks, and schools open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, and churches making sure that people are not left out in these isolating times.
Over quite a bit of the last year there’s been work going on about the new strategy and vision for the Church of England led by the Archbishop of York. To be a Church that is Humbler, Simpler, Bolder has caught the mood and in many ways it’s great, but you can’t claim being humbler for yourself without sounding like Uriah Heep. Humbler is what others say about you, not what you claim for yourself.
In becoming a vaccination centre, the cathedral seemed to find a way through this as an iconic Christian place of worship, safety and healing confident to host and partner with the NHS and to allow those coming in to find for themselves the significance of Jesus Christ in this place. That the organists committed to play every day throughout the day made a huge impact, even more so now there’s a CD of the music raising money not for the cash strapped cathedral and Church of England but for NHS charities.
Humbler, Simpler, Bolder, I think so, and a good example of being the Church of England rather than standing apart on our own terms as would be implied if we were the Church for England. Foot washing requires a relationship and the giving of permission and those we serve have something to teach us.
As a Church we have become very keen to teach discipleship and to help people into the way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we want to be Bolder. Having just filled in the census form, expecting the number who identify as Christians to drop again maybe to under 50% of the population, we have got to try to make disciples. But in teaching discipleship we had better remember the fallibility of those first disciples who included Peter who denied he knew Jesus, Judas who betrayed him, the argumentative brothers James and John, doubting Thomas, questioning Philip and the others who ran away or at best when it came to the crucifixion, stood at a distance. Humbler? If we are like them, we have good reason to be.
Bolder? We had better be modest about our own performance. We’re not here because we are perfect, we are here because we know our need of God and, thank goodness, because God loves us. In this service we come to renew our ordination vows because we know we need to. Bolder about God in Jesus Christ, not about ourselves.
And some of the best in the story of the way of the cross are the bit-part players, the unintentional evangelists like Simon of Cyrene and the good thief on the cross who asked, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Today we come as people who have been called by God to minister in Christ’s Church. We know our fallibility and the difficulties of institutional Church life. And we know God’s love as we travel these three days confident at the centre of the Christian Gospel where we are remade in the love of God in Jesus Christ, to whom be glory now and for ever. Amen