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A Sermon from Sherborne
It’s all in the preparation
A sermon at Evensong, preached in Sherborne Abbey on Sunday 7th April 2019 by the Revd Lesley McCreadie, Team Vicar
A few weeks after Easter, 14 of us from this benefice are going to walk part of the Camino to Santiago de Compostella. We will walk an average of 20kms a day or 14 miles. I am sure all of us at the moment are in the throes of doing some preparation walks for our journey; trying to get a bit fitter so that we can walk this sort of distance on 6 consecutive days. Not to prepare might lead to pulled muscles, blisters or worse!
The New Testament reading from Luke also shows us something of the preparation Jesus had put in place for the last evening of his life. How carefully he had prepared for this important final meal with his friends.
The Festival of Passover was of course the great pilgrim festival when as many people as possible tried to celebrate in Jerusalem. If you were to attend a Passover meal with Jewish friends this year you would hear them say ‘next year in Jerusalem’, for the desire to be in Jerusalem for the celebration still exists. The preparation needed for the Passover in the time of Jesus was immense; roads were repaired; bridges made safe; wayside tombs whitewashed. In every family home everything containing any raising agent like yeast was removed from the house because of course only unleavened bread was to be eaten during the festival.
For a month beforehand every synagogue taught the story of the first Passover when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and Moses pleaded with the pharaoh to let his people go. Nine plagues were sent to persuade him and still he refused until finally the final plague made him change his mind. God would send an angel of death to kill every firstborn male child. The Hebrews had to kill a lamb and paint blood from the lamb on their doorposts and lintels so that the angel would ‘pass over’ their homes. This final terrible plague caused pharaoh to release the slaves and they made their way to the Promised Land with Moses at their head.
At the time of Jesus, Jerusalem would have been absolutely teeming with pilgrims. People who offered hospitality in their homes were forbidden from taking any payment, except for the skin of the lamb that had been slaughtered. It is easy to see how into this chaos and heat and with crowds and crowds of people it was easy to whip up trouble and so the Roman authorities always made sure that there were more than the usual number of troops on the ground to stop any trouble.
It is clear that Jesus wanted nothing more than to spend a quiet evening with his closest friends as they celebrated this special festival. He did not want to leave things until the last minute and so he had taken steps to find a suitable room for the feast. An upper room was often the place a rabbi might meet with his disciples and discuss ideas and teaching and so this was a particularly fitting place.
I wonder what Peter and John must have thought when Jesus directed them to find a man carrying a jar of water. Of course this was not as normal as it might first have seemed because men just wouldn’t go to the well and collect water that was a job for women. So a man carrying a jar of water would have stood out like a sore thumb. Jesus had obviously organised this in advance. So Peter and John had the room now they had to make ready for the Passover. This would require a visit to the Temple with a lamb to have it ritually slaughtered and the blood drained from the carcass before being passed to a priest and offered as a sacrifice. The entrails would be removed and then the lamb would have been returned to its owner. Back at the upper room they would need to prepare the other food associated with Passover; amongst them, charoseth, a mixture of apples, nuts and cinnamon, bitter herbs, salt water and of course unleavened bread. Wine would be ready for various parts of the meal.
Finally by the end of the day, sunset all was ready for Jesus and the other disciples to make their way into Jerusalem and to the upper room. And for tonight that is where our reading finished.
In the middle of all these preparations we have the warning about the Jewish authorities wanting to find a way to arrest Jesus without causing a riot. They too were making preparations but of an evil kind. It was solved for them by the treachery of Judas who found a way to discuss with the chief priests and temple police how they might best achieve their aim. Luke explains Judas’ betrayal with the words ‘then Satan entered Judas’. At that moment Judas chose a dark path. People have of course speculated why Judas did this. Did he hope it would force Jesus’ hand? Would he encourage his followers take up arms against the Romans and establish a new kingdom for Israel? That Judas was paid for his betrayal seems to make it all the worse. Could riches really compensate for the love of Christ in his life? Was he just trying to save his own skin because he thought it was all going to end badly for Jesus and all the disciples? We know from the New Testament that of course Judas did show remorse. In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us that he used the money to buy some land where he killed himself.
On this Passion Sunday with our hearts and minds now firmly turned towards Jerusalem our preparation for the next two weeks is the key to how we receive and respond to the message of Holy Week and Easter Day. We could just let it take us unawares because we know the story so well but I believe that it can mean so much more if we prepare through study and prayer; giving thought to how the risen Christ might make us feel this year if we have truly walked with him through his suffering. Lent is not just about giving up something it is about giving ourselves space just to ‘be’. If we haven’t managed this yet in Lent let us try to get the preparation right in these next two weeks.