Clergy and Licensed Lay Ministers gather for annual Maundy Thursday renewal of vows

First published 15th April 2022

On Thursday 14 April, Clergy and Licensed Lay Ministers gathered at Bristol Cathedral for the annual Maundy Thursday renewal of vows.

The sense of joy in simply being together was tangible after the enforced pandemic separation and writ large on people's faces.

Bishop Lee acknowledged in his address that some of us have faced dark times in the last few years and he challenged us to find strength in reminding ourselves of our calling in the sharing of stories of faith and to renew ourselves by remembering who we are within the body of Christ.

Bishop Lee's full Maundy Thursday address is below.

Bishop Lee’s Sermon at Bristol Cathedral, Maundy Thursday 2022

Readings: Isaiah 61 versus 1-9; James 5:13-16 a; Luke 4:16-21

Remembering, Reminding, Reviving, Renewing

Many of you will know that in January 2020 I came off my bike on black ice and after five hours of rebuilding surgery I needed several months to recover and wake-up muscles which had completely gone to sleep.

During that period I listened to the radio, and watched television as the horrendous news of the pandemic unfolded and its impact on every person in every place across the world.

As I learned of Bishop Viv’s contracting Covid-19 and began to listen to what God might want me to say today, I found myself reminded of two surprising occasions during my convalescence when I found myself in tears, both of them happening late in the evening.

The first was when watching the film The Darkest Hour; a retelling of Churchill’s leadership during what became the Second World War. The part of the film which triggered my reaction was when, rather than taking a taxi, he decided to go on the London Underground to his destination, and spent the journey talking and listening to people on the train who were somewhat shocked to find their prime minister in the carriage with them.

I cannot say what caused me to tear up, but it touched something deep inside particularly seeing him seeing him listening and sharing with the people he had been elected to serve. Meeting them on their ground. In the film it was this interaction which gave him courage to deliver his famed “we shall fight them…” speech and moved me greatly.

The second tearful episode again occurred in the evening, this time when a news reporter who was about to return from the Antarctic, described how, in the day before he was to travel home, he had watched as a colossal section of ice broke away from the coastline to enter the sea. It had made him cry too. I was surprised at how such very different scenarios had affected me but in essence they were triggers for grief, and expressions of lament.

Two years on we now find ourselves in a better place in relation to the coronavirus, at least in the UK, but the challenges we are experiencing at home and around the globe seem to multiply. Across and within the communities we serve and our churches, there will be many whose resilience is still strong and who feel energised by the challenges. But others, including some of us here today, will be feeling fragile and weighed down in the face of them. Let’s take a moment to be aware of where you might place yourself on the resilience/energy scale; or perhaps those that know you best, would place you.

At the centre of our journey through Lent and now through Passiontide and into Easter is the theme of Remembering; not only recalling and refreshing our memory of all that the God we meet in Jesus Christ experienced, but discerning and recognising what that means for demonstrating and revealing God’s kingdom in this day and time – this season in the life of the Diocese of Bristol.

Today, in our scripture readings and the blessing of the oils, we are reminded of the message, the way of life, and the practices we have been called into living out in the name of Jesus and the power of the same Spirit which anointed him.

Standing together in the renewal of commitment we reaffirm and embrace who we know that in Christ we have become, and are still becoming despite our awareness of our frailty and the magnitude of some of the challenges. It is an act of remembering; declaring that we are part of the same body of Christ, as brothers and sisters – family – being witnesses, agents, heralds and bearers of the gospel through our baptism into Christ, and the work of the Spirit. Wherever we are placed each of us has a vocation to fulfil.

Remembering is vital for our belonging together in a world where fragmentation and othering is commonplace and seemingly the norm. We are members of Christ’s body, sisters and brothers who have heard Jesus’ command to love one another as we ourselves are loved by God.

On this Maundy Thursday morning, I want to share with you two insights of which I’ve been made aware in the past two years. The first is the importance of remembering, with others, the journey you have made with God over what might be many years. Last year I had the privilege of attending a Thanksgiving service for one of our priests who had retired 10 years ago. Sadly, she passed away at a time during the pandemic when it was impossible for her friends and family to come together. When the Covid measures were lifted people gathered from all around the country, as well as those from the church which she and her husband, also an ordained priest, had made their home.

During the service people shared their memories of working with Val, so many of which reflected on how they had sought to support students and others who may have had little appreciation of the Christian faith, and to provide settings in which they might meet the God who comes to us in Christ.

As one person after another shared their experiences, the remembering became less about a reflection on the past, and something that came alive in the present. There was a clear sense that those who came to the Thanksgiving with their lamps low on oil, went away with them brimming and ready to light up in fresh ways that they perhaps had lost touch with over the years.

For those here today who are very conscious that their oil has felt low, I wonder whether getting together with others in small groups to share the stories of your journey over the years might be act of remembering and reviving, through which the Spirit of God might do more than we can ask or imagine, as long as it didn’t become competitive…

The second insight around remembering comes from something that a priest I know well shared with me last year. The priest, a man, told me how he had been contacted out of the blue by a woman who was endeavouring to make contact with a priest who had prayed for her shortly before she was due to receive brain surgery. This was an operation that she and her husband had been told she may not come through.

The surgery was taking place at a major hospital in London, and the priest had a parishioner he was visiting who had gone into the same hospital because his back had been broken. The husband of the woman asked the priest whether he would come over and pray for his wife, which he did.

The contact came many years later, and at first the priest struggled to remember the occasion, though he did remember going to that particular hospital. He had an unusual name, and that was how the woman had tracked him down. What she wanted was to meet him and to say thanks to him. When he had prayed for her she had had a profound sense of God’s presence and reassurance. She came through the surgery and had become very committed Christian. They met up in London, and I understand it was a very special meeting. Why do I tell this? To re-mind us that only our Lord knows how many lives have been touched and changed by the work of the Holy Spirit in which we have played a crucial part. It may be that we will discover things in the future, when the new creation is revealed. Possibly we will never know, and it will not matter. What matters now, particularly for those who are feeling low and wondering whether the ministry entrusted to them has made any difference, is to thank God for the many times and ways in which unbeknown to you, you have been a conduit of grace, wisdom and the encouraging of faith which has made a difference for the kingdom.

So with this in mind, when we look back in several years to all God has done among us as together we have committed ourselves to being transformed, may we recognise and rejoice in those things which we never imagined seeing, but which only God could have done among us.


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