By the Rt Revd Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, Suffragan Bishop of Grantham

‘“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him”’.  John 13.31

1. Today, with – courage – hope – joy (?), we enter the great three days, a single act of worship that begins this evening and continues until Easter morning. With God’s people, across the diocese, throughout the nation, indeed, across time itself, we enter into the mystery that is the annual celebration of the Paschal festival, a mystery that draws us into the remembrance of Jesus’ last days, but that also opens for us new perspectives on life, the creation, and on the Godhead itself. And it is on this last aspect of the celebration that I would like to focus a little this evening – and, indeed, in the days ahead.

2. The cathedral becomes the upper room, and we commemorate the events of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. With him, with them, we break bread and share wine, remembering that the first Lord’s Supper was a foretaste of many Lord’s Suppers yet to come, including this one tonight.

There is an edge to our eating, an eschatological quality to our meal, that draws us forward through time, just as there is the echo of shared meals past, including of that hasty meal that presaged the road out of Egypt. Our eating, tonight, is multi-dimensional, multi-temporal, and we are in Jerusalem as we are in Lincoln, and in places yet to come.

And in this upper room, we not only eat and drink, and are invited to contemplate both love and betrayal, we also receive a teaching that is to be the pattern of how we should live our lives:

“Do you know what I have done for you?” Jesus says, and tells us: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

In many ways, then, the focus is on Jesus and on us, and quite simply, we are given instruction about how to love, which we do by imitating him.

– If only we did.

3. But as we are drawn into this drama, invited to imitate and participate, I also invite us to step back a little, as it were, and to look up and out. For the events of the Upper Room do not occur without onlookers, participant onlookers, and the greatest of these is the Father himself.

I will say something tomorrow, in the short spaces between the hymns of the three hours, that I hope might help us to explore something of the extraordinary mystery and reality of Jesus’ death from the perspective of the Father, but I simply want to comment now that Jesus is clearly aware of the Father’s presence when he remarks:

‘“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”’

As John recounts in the passages of the Gospel that follow, Jesus sets out the new relationship that he seeks for his friends with his Father, touching on the role of the Holy Spirit, and thus helping to set the Last Supper even more firmly within both an eternal timescale and the timescale of the church that is to come. And in some churches this so-called Farewell Discourse is read during the watch of the passion that follows the stripping of the altar, filling the time to Jesus’ arrest with his description of his hopes for his followers, as expressed to his Father:

‘“that they may be one … as we are one …

so that the world may know that you have

sent me and have loved them even as

you have loved me.”’ (John 17.23)

4. Here, then, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus, the Son of Man, speaks out of the relationship of love that is the Triune Godhead, to reassure and to teach his followers. This is a point in time, and yet relates to all time.

How might God the Creator and Father have heard his Son’s words at this point in time?

Even to ask this question is to speculate, and perhaps to go towards territory that no human being will ever understand, certainly not this side of eternity. But I do think it worth wondering, as the clock ticks through the betrayal, towards the agony in the garden and the arrest, and all that would come thereafter, I think it worth wondering, what is the coming impact of the coming cross on God himself? Jesus is to be tried and condemned, and to respond to his trial, condemnation, even abandonment, with perfect love. He is no prodigal, on the path home from his exile, he is the faithful one, who is yet to have to go into the darkest of places. And his Father has to watch and wait and witness. His Father has to watch and wait and witness and welcome, welcome him into the arms of his love, even at the point that he can no longer feel that they are there.

And so, the Father waits behind the door that is yet to be opened, hovering at the threshold, ready to greet his Son.

And that is the Good News for a weary world: that God waits for us as first he waited for his Son, and that he is ready to greet us. But first the cross must be unveiled, the key be turned, the door opened.

5. ‘“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him”’.

Let us, then, break bread and share wine, as we have already washed feet, and let us follow the Lord and listen to the Lord. And as we do so, again, this Maundy Thursday, let us enter into the mystery that transcends time and that unlocks time, that destroys death, because it faces death, and that assures a sad world of love,  because it is itself the embodiment of love. And let us let ourselves be remade, so that we can help with the remaking of others. Amen.