Paradigm Shifts

Thursday 9th April 2009
Year B, Maundy Thursday
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
John 13:1-17; 13:31-35

Now, perhaps more than at any time in our lives, we are aware of the catastrophic power of the unexpected. In the early Summer of 2007, all was tranquil; then came the floods and the collapse of the Sub Prime Mortgage market in the United States. A year later, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and Governments accustomed to take measures in millions and then calculate annual budget changes in single figure billions, were suddenly talking in trillions. And when the outrage against bank bonuses here and AIG bonuses in the United States subsides, the painful process of devising new regulations, begun last week at the G20 summit, will occupy the minds of our best economists as the economy slowly recovers. And then, perhaps 50 years from now, it will happen again, just as it has happened 4 times before. [i]

And what we learn from history, is that, at best, people can just about understand the present from the past; but they cannot understand the future from what they know of the present. Some things about this economic recession follow a pattern from previous recessions, some things do not; and then, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb, warns us [ii], there are always the so-called "black swans", small but critical variants on the familiar which completely change a picture.

And the mantra of self reproach always goes something like this: "If only we had known what to look for; if only we had noticed this small, unfamiliar pattern; if only we had listened to the rather unorthodox Perez who said this would all happen; but we all listened to each other's rhetoric and believed each other's paradigms".

I don't suppose that the Disciples, going up to Jerusalem, expected unqualified adulation; but they did not see the signs; in spite of the repeated warnings of Jesus, they did not discern the pattern. And after they arrived, the events speeded up, the stakes got higher, the tension became unbearable; and I suppose they were relieved to be sitting in the upper room, preparing to enjoy a family meal with Jesus. And then, he washed their feet; and then, he turned the familiar act of breaking bread and handing round the cup of wine into a disorienting experience, the well-loved Jewish prayers, said at such ceremonies from their childhood, came out of the gentle mouth of Jesus with a strange twist, something about his body and blood, and the forgiveness of sins; and then they went out, under the full moon, to the Garden of Gethsemane and instead of sitting with them in a prayer circle, he went away with the 'inner cabinet'; and then, the crisis broke over then and he was arrested; and they ran away.

It's a familiar story to us but the Disciples just didn't see the pattern; they were completely disoriented by the breaking of routines and traditions, of rhythms of being and ways of seeing; drowned out by the conventional wisdoms of their upbringing, they could not de-code the radical warnings of their leader; It was only after the crash that they began to put the bits and pieces together.

We, with our blessed hindsight, and with the incarnational perception of the Holy Spirit, can see the pattern of warning, Eucharist and arrest; but we have our own puzzle to de-code, and that is the way that we discern God's will for us in a radical way that means abandoning conventional patterns and ways of seeing and thinking. The Institution of the Eucharist and the knowledge that Jesus is about to die for us surely provokes a more radical response than living a life of conventional piety and milk-and-water charity; it demands that we follow where he led, sustained by his body, in the bread.

[i] Perez, Carlota: TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTIONS AND FINANCIAL CAPITAL; The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages.  Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, 2002 ,

[ii] Taleb, Nassim Nicholas; The Black Swan: Penguin Books 2008.  ISBN 978-0-14110-3459-1