Next year!

As we all know, the Last Supper was probably, possibly, and certainly according to Mark’s Gospel, a Passover meal. In later times than Jesus the traditional thing to say at the end of a Passover meal became ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’…

And it’s become a kind of phrase or saying that people use more generally to say something like ‘Next year it will be better..’ And I think we can recognise now – after the year we’ve had –  something more of what that phrase can mean and what weight it can bear… Next year.. next year… Next year we shall have a proper birthday party! Next year we shall be able to sing in church for Easter! Next year we shall be able to travel. Next year we shall no longer be afraid of the virus…. Next year…

And Jesus said something rather similar at the end of the last supper according to Mark. He said, ‘I won’t drink this again until I drink it in the Kingdom of God’. Next year… or whenever God wills… the Kingdom of God! And the wonder is he could give voice to this kind of hope in the promise of the Kingdom of God in just the same breath as he was saying that his blood was going to be poured out.

Jesus is typical of many of so many in his Jewish tradition – he had this deep and miraculous ability to look forward in hope, to find joy and possibility even when all seemed lost. He talked openly of betrayal and blood and death – but he also looked ahead with absolute faith and conviction – to the time when God’s Kingdom will come.

I came across an article recently that was published in the New York Times – last Passover, in 2020. It was written by a Jew and it said that, if you think about it, most Jews in history have not been free – BUT – they have always been devoted to the idea that they should be free – and absolutely committed to the hope that they will be. This is why they’ve celebrated Passover – the feast of freedom – at times when they weren’t free but knowing they would be free one day. Jews have celebrated Passover while they were in exile in Babylon. They celebrated Passover when they were living under Roman rule – that’s what Jesus and his disciples were doing. They celebrated Passover during the Spanish inquisition when they had to hide in the basements of friendly Christians. They celebrated Passover when Christian crusaders were taking over their land in the Middle Ages. And they celebrated Passover in the ghettoes that the Nazis confined them to and even in the concentration camps.

The photo you had on the order of service and that I’m sharing now is from that article in the New York Times and it’s of Jews in a ghetto in Lodz in Poland in 1943. They have made a secret oven in a basement and they are baking matzos -unleavened bread for Passover. Look at the smile on the face of one of the women! This is a smile of defiant and irrepressible hope! The Nazis had made the Jews into slaves again – but they celebrated freedom nonetheless.

Jesus celebrated Passover in a time when Jews had been turned into slaves of the empire and he kept Passover the night before he was to die the death of a slave. He kept the festival of freedom and he looked ahead to the time when the Kingdom of God would come – to the time when wine would be drunk for joy and not because it is the colour of blood.

Of course – the confinements of a pandemic that we have endured are as nothing compared to being in a ghetto. But they are something – and they have been hard. The sweetest freedoms have been denied us now for a long time. And there may be some pretty deep scars from all this that we cannot yet express or even know right now. The very fact that we are keeping this day separated from each other in our homes, rather than gathered at church, is itself really hard. And the reality that the Kingdom of God is not yet with us – is even harder.

But we do just what the Jews do – we devote ourselves to an astonishing hope!  We know that Jesus died the day after the meal we are remembering now. But we also cling to the faith that he is not dead – but is with us. And we believe that he is with us – he is really present – as we share bread and wine at our tables this night. Though we could weep for all the suffering that we know (even among our small community we know so much of suffering….) we insist on smiling with joy and hoping and believing that God is with us and that freedom is coming… To some this might seem foolish – but it has a long and noble history – this defiant and irrepressible hope.

The events of this week – when we put them together – are one powerful story of a community refusing to be defeated by anything, even by death. That’s who we are. That’s what eating bread and wine tonight will mean. That’s who we are. Even while the struggles and problems of today are tough, we look forward to the future… to the Kingdom of God. It will come…

Next year in church!

Next year in the Kingdom of God!

Next year in Jerusalem! Amen.