The Holy Thursday we commemorate the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his passion, death and resurrection. On this day when Jesus gave the great commandment of love we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and of the priesthood.
Bible readings Exodus 12: 1–14 Psalm 116: 12–13, 15–18 1 Corinthians 11: 23–26 John 13: 1–15
Holy Thursday, the last act
Last words of a dying person have an important weight. In them is an important heritage communicated to those who remain behind. Somehow, such words remain engraved in the hearts and memories of the surviving members of the family. Isn’t it that true also for the last act and words of Jesus that we commemorate today?
Jesus approaches the end of his earthly life. In this last moment he transmits to his disciples the gem of what he’s done and taught during his ministry; it’s service with love to its extreme. Let’s dip ourselves into this act of love with all our imagination.
Jesus’s at table with his disciples. It’s not an ordinary meal but a pascal meal. You can imagine the festive ambience in the room; Jesus and the disciples are also dressed for the occasion. It’s in the midst of such well-ordered setting something happens, completely out of place.
Jesus, occupying the place of the master, descends from his seat. And removing his outer garment, he ties a tower around his waist, pours water into the basin and starts to wash the feet of the disciples. Not only do the disciples wonder what’s happening but they are also embarrassed. How can a master descend so low as doing a job for slaves? Never! “You will never wash my feet!” Peter protests. However, Jesus’ response is decisive and non-negotiable: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Indeed, if Peter remains fixated in protocol and fail to immerse himself in humble, loving service for others he certainly has nothing to do with Jesus.
When he finishes washing their feet, Jesus puts on his outer robe and ascends to his place of presidency and says to his disciples: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” That’s his last will for his disciples and for us too.
We partake in the life of Jesus
In baptism we share in the ministry of Jesus as prophet, priest and king. Jesus gives us an example what it means to be king –to serve.
Let’s take a bit of distance and observe ourselves honestly: am I that kind of master that knows to descend from the high table in order to take care of the little ones? Am I that kind of king that knows to take off ceremonial clothes and soil my hand in serving others? It’s not just about serving my family members, friends or those towards whom I have some attraction but rather the readiness to serve whoever is there without looking at their face, their name, their title, or their history. It’s a kind of service thoroughly permeated by love which no obstacle can stop it. Only when you are inhabited by deep love can you have audacity like Jesus who lowers himself to wash even the feet of Judas, his betrayer.
In one way or another we too may have been wounded, offended, betrayed by a friend, a family member or a co-worker. We all have a Judas of some kind (and we too may have been Judas to others). This act of Jesus puts me face to face with my Judas: do I have any energy left in me to lower myself and clean his feet? Can I manage to contain myself and arrive at addressing him a kind word, even simple a good morning? That’s how far the commandment of love can bring us –to do things beyond sentiments and human logic.
Happy anniversary to our priests
The Holy Thursday we celebrate also the institution of priesthood. It’s a feast day for priests. On this day, during Chrism Mass, though sometimes anticipated, priests renew their commitment. They re-entrust themselves to the grace of God that they may live their ministry in love, joy and fidelity. Think of a little gift for them. But what best gift can you offer your priest on this occasion?
There’s an image I find so deep in the Old Testament. Israel is fighting against the Amalekites but the pattern of the war is simply captivating. When Moses lifts his hands Israel dominates but when he lowers them it’s the enemy that takes an upper hand. Even though Moses knows what he should do in order for Israel triumph, nevertheless, there comes a time when he just can’t hold his arms up anymore. So, two men place themselves on his side to sustain him in the service of his people (cf. Exodus 17:11-13). What an image!
We have the habit of asking priests to pray for us. Perhaps, this image helps us to appreciate that they too need us on their side to sustain them in their service. Hence, here’s a gift you can offer to your priest –a little prayer for him.
Do this in memory of me
On Holy Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist. The gospels of Mathew, Luc and Mark give the institution narrative: “this is my body” and “this is my blood”. There’s nothing of the kind in John’s gospel but only the narrative of the washing of the feet –that’s the Eucharist. What does that mean?
This difference opens us to a double meaning of do this in memory of me. Often we reduce it to participating at mass and taking part in communion. We become mere consumers. In the Eucharist Jesus gives up his life for others, and so doing memory of him is not just receiving Eucharist piously but rather getting to action. We keep the memorial of Jesus when we offer ourselves for others. Hence, after communion at mass I should think also: how am I going to live out this act of love? In the Eucharist we are not passive receivers; we are sent to act.
Eucharist, food for travellers
And finally, what place does the Eucharist occupy in our life as Christians? In first reading we have the people of Israel eating the pascal lamb just before beginning the long journey. The description leaves no doubt, here we are talking of the food for travellers. Isn’t the Eucharist also a meal for pilgrims? Let’s get back a bit.
The Palestine of the time of Jesus there wasn’t the means of transport like today. People travelled mostly by foot. Imagine walking kilometres in the hot sand of the desert! No wonder, when travellers made a night stop, as gesture of hospitality, besides offering them food the host made sure they had their feet washed in warm water, massaged and had oil applied on them in order to relieve them from pain. That was meant to help travellers regain the strength and be able to continue the journey the following day. Don’t we receive similar grace in the Eucharist?
Our journey can be rough. Sometime we travel across a rocky ground that leaves us with sore feet. It’s hard for us to move ahead. In the Eucharist, Jesus himself treats and bandages our wounds; he nourishes us with body and blood. And so, healed and strengthened, we are able to pick ourselves up and continue our journey.
Thank you, Jesus, for this Holy Thursday. Your love heals the sores of my feet and enables me to walk again. You love nourishes me and replenishes my energy. Help me to use this energy to hold out a helping hand especially to those in need.
If you are interested in receiving homilies in your email box just sign up. It’s free!