For non-Christians, it is the eve of the Bank Holiday – for us it is a switch-blade ride of joy, and exultation and agony. Today we remember the last supper Jesus ever eat, and his creation of a pass-over between one world and another, and his agony in the garden and arrest. Tonight we begin glorying in him, and end in the long consideration of our weakness and the sheer damage we do in our lives.
Through it runs the theme of love, giving, cost and service. And the new commandment – the Maundy of this Thursday – to love one another whatever the cost. And all of that is so beautiful and noble. Until it is four pm and we are still hoovering somebody else’s stairs. Or mopping up somebody’s vomit at 2am. Or whatever. Whatever is actually hardest for us.
Christian maturity seems to me to consist in two things. One is in being real about ourselves. Knowing what we can do, what we find hard, where we fail, where we hurt others, where we do and do not give the support others need. Part of this is the being real before God which is part of prayer.
The other thing is in being real about others. Seeing where they are, and what their struggles are. Allowing their pain to be vivid to us. Understanding what they can and cannot do, where we need to help, where we need to let them struggle. Understanding their motivations, and allowing they to be far better at some things than we are, and far worse at others. Never, every, putting anybody into a category and imagining it tells us anything about them – gay, straight, male, female, rich, poor, clergy, lay. None of these tell us anything. Only the person can tell us.
Real service is tough and terminally boring. Most of the people I know like what is seen as the morally superior position of not needing help, but instead offering it. Which is of course an illusion, as we all need help. But equally most of us get fed up with offering service. The people who ignore advice, who do foolish things, who are drunk and disorderly at 2am, and the endless, endless stairs, and hot Hoovers, and stained floors. What we want is the chance to offer service to appreciative people and then to sit back and feel better.
But Christian life is about seeing it through. About finding the real person, and dealing directly with them. It is about offering ourselves, and about receiving the other, themself. And this is the essence of that last supper, which we experience as the Eucharist. It is about God’s offering of himself, and our response, in offering ourselves. It is his service, and our service. It is about each of us, each Christian, and God himself, being as real as we can possibly be.
And isn’t this, too, beautiful and noble – oh yes. Until a young man is alone and terrified at midnight. Until the stairs need hoovered again. And until the clergy are difficult, and the laity uncommitted. And so we fail in our attempts at reality, and come back, full circle. We come back to the hope that, this year, living through the young man’s gift, and joy and terror, we ourselves will come to a deeper understanding, see ourselves, see others, serve better. Commandment Thursday. Love one another.