The Maundy Thursday Service at the Cathedral is perhaps my favourite service of the year – where we renew our commitment to the promises that we made as priests and receive the oils that we will use for the forthcoming year. I enjoyed the sermon from the bishop and the encouragement and the challenge of the service. I came away revitalised for another year in ministry.
Below is the sermon:
Guildford Cathedral, 2016
Luke 7, 36-50
“The whole thing was an outrage. The behaviour of Simon the Pharisee was completely beyond the pail!
The woman – well, she behaved impeccably throughout. True, she was classified as a ‘sinner’ – possibly a euphemism for the town prostitute – but she’d heard Jesus, she’d seen him in action, and she loved him – so what better way to show that love than impulsively buying an expensive pot of perfumed ointment, gate-crashing a private party, wetting Jesus’ feet with her tears, kissing them and wiping them with her hair, then decanting the contents of her pot as lavishly as she possibly could? The whole thing seems perfectly reasonable: I’m sure you and I would have done just the same in the circumstances.
And what of Jesus? Well, he appeared completely untroubled throughout. Having the local prostitute letting down her hair in his presence; allowing her to touch him and anoint him with her ointment and tears in full view of Simon and all his nice Pharisaical friends; even holding up that woman as a role model, as an example of what great love really looks like. Well, that was quite reasonable as well, of course: just the sort of thing that happens to us all the time, in fact, whenever we host a meal for our nice Pharisaical friends.
But Simon: well, he behaved outrageously. He never gave Jesus a proper greeting – a welcome kiss, a little oil on his head, some water for his feet – he quietly seems to have snubbed his guest, doubting whether he was really a prophet at all. His motives in inviting Jesus along in the first place were distinctly mixed. Even the woman had a thing or two to teach him about gratitude, holiness and the love of God.