In the middle of all the drama, violence and passion of the Easter story there is an episode involving a group of friends eating a simple meal at a simple table. Jesus's betrayal, arrest, unfair trial, brutal torture and agonising death are about to unfold. The dramatic conclusion when God defeated death and Jesus rose to life was still a few days away. But for now there's this small group of people having a meal round a table.
The table that is the Church is simple, but it's well-made because the man who made it was a carpenter. It has many uses. A table for meeting, talking around, thumping, signing treaties, debating, arguing, voting. But mostly a table for eating. You can't sit alone at this table, you can't buy a meal here, or a ticket here, everything is freely given. You can sit here with people you don't know and be bound together by one simple fact. That at the centre of the meal, at the centre of the story is Jesus. A poor man who feeds you in a way that means you never go hungry again.
In the Bible we see the first disciples sitting round the first table, learning from the poor Jesus how they are to behave, how they are to share the faith in him which will come to transform the world. And the lesson he gives is one of service. He washes the feet of his friends, he breaks the bread and shares the wine. He shows them quite clearly that to follow him is to lose any idea of self-importance and to serve others. It's a great lesson. If we remember it.
And people in positions of authority can so easily forget to serve others. Bishops are not exempt from this. We're constantly in danger of becoming self-important because of the position we hold, insulated from things, disconnected from the reality of other people's lives. And sadly the church has had a history of being too close to the privileged, thinking we have a right to be there.
I don't believe that's true any more. The church is no longer deferred to, no longer in the middle and at the top of society. Instead like Jesus we are once again on the edge. And this is a good thing. It is producing a new style of church leadership - demonstrated so well by both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. A model that goes right back to the first table, the towel, the bread, the wine, the example of Jesus shown there. A model of humility and service. If we remember it.
As I go round the Diocese of Liverpool I see that the churches, and individual Christians, have caught that vision and understanding as a response to the Easter story. I see that in the thousands of hours of voluntary service given to foodbanks, children's clubs, luncheon clubs, befriending services and the wide range of social care that - week in, week out - is offered by the churches to their communities. Modelling the type of service that Jesus offered at the first table, at the last supper.
But it is not good enough simply to work to alleviate symptoms. Causes, too, need to be addressed. So the church is rightly finding its voice again, calling for example at this election time for a "fresh moral vision". A vision where people are paid a decent living wage for the work they do, where the vulnerable are cared for and respected. Where government institutions treat people as people not numbers on a balance sheet. Where humanity and human dignity is placed at the centre of all our lives. A vision to which almost all our politicians would sign up. If they remember. If we remind them.
For these reasons I want to see the church grow. I want to see a bigger church that makes a bigger difference. I'm glad and proud to be a bishop in the midst of a people who know Jesus and who proclaim justice. I don't want a pure, disdainful church, but a church that extends the table of the poor Christ into every street and into every home. The table that invites, welcomes, feeds everybody. As Jesus does. If we remember him.
Every week across the world the story of the table, the story of Easter, is relived in the act Christians call Holy Communion, or the Mass, or the Eucharist. We come together again around the table. We follow Jesus' instruction. We think of the service Jesus offered, we extend his invitation to those around us. I would like to welcome you too to this table, in your local church, so you too can meet Jesus and hear him say, "Do this to remember me".Suggest a correction