Holy Thursday 2023 - Deacon Gunther
This evening ends the forty days of Lent, and Easter Triduum begins with tonight’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Triduum ... Latin for “three days” is the centre of the entire year for us Christians. These three days mark the mystery around which our entire lives are played out. We gather to pray as we build toward the Easter Vigil that then launches us into Easter Season.
But tonight, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is a very special time in our church history. Because this Mass commemorates the institution of both the Eucharist and the priesthood. As well as the command by Jesus to love and serve one another.
There is a really tight connection between priesthood and the Eucharist. It is the priest who acts “in persona Christi” in the person of Christ at our liturgical assembly. Without the priest, the Eucharist cannot be celebrated.
Our reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians describes how the Eucharist began that evening. The letter portrays the actions of Jesus at the Passover meal, the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup. But then the Gospel of John; focuses on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Up until now Jesus has been portrayed as the shepherd leading his flock. He had been strong, performed miracles, stood his ground, defended himself from religious leaders. But Jesus had read the signs. He knew that his hour was coming. He had brought the good news of love and now he was humbly going to offer himself up to death.
As Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room something extra ordinary happened. Jesus took off his outer garments tied a towel around his waist, poured water in a basin, descended to his knees and washed the feet of the disciples. There are not many incidents in the gospel stories that so perfectly reveal the true character of Jesus. He knew that his time had come to depart from this world. Yet he still had the supreme humility to wash his disciples’ feet.
Have you ever noticed that love is like that? For example, when someone in your family is sick, don’t you automatically perform the most menial tasks of service to help them get better? And happily, do those tasks? That’s because you love the person you are caring for! Just like Jesus loved his disciples.
Perhaps there are times we feel that we are too important or too distinguished to perform menial tasks. But Jesus was not like that. He knew he was “Lord of all” and yet he washed his disciples’ feet. By Jesus washing their feet he was giving them a clear example of how they ought to behave towards each other. This should make us think about how we behave towards others. Now tonight’s ritual of washing feet can be uncomfortable. Not for the one doing the foot washing but for the one having their feet washed. It’s not unusual for people to shy away from volunteering. It’s not part of our culture anymore, it can feel awkward. Bravely volunteering, ignoring counter-cultural, and embracing the sometimes awkward are those not what Christian humility and love are about?
By washing the feet of his disciples Jesus clearly demonstrated to them: This is what I do. I love ... and serve. This is what you are to do. The lesson here is that greatness comes through humility and service.
I’m sure we have all witnessed a sporting event where a player was asked to sit out from the team and then refused to play anymore. Or a co-worker who was passed over for a promotion they thought they were entitled to, and now refuse to accept assignments of a lower position.
Whenever we are tempted to think about our dignity or our pride or our rights, perhaps we should picture the Son of God with a towel, kneeling at his disciples’ feet.
We even heard Peter refusing to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Peter is so human just like we are. He is ingrained in his culture and his own way of doing things. He could not comprehend that Jesus, Lord and Master would wash the feet of his lowly disciples. But Jesus was putting his followers through a sort of initiation rite. Unless they pass this test, unless they begin to see the world in a new way, they will not get into the Kingdom. And this is why Jesus says to Peter that unless he accepts this washing, he will have no share of the Kingdom with him.
So, you can see that the washing of the feet is a powerful symbol. When Jesus calls us to “wash one another’s feet”; he is calling us to love each other, to serve each other, and to forgive each other.
Our Parish Mission statement clearly states this … “Love God, love others, follow Christ.”
On this day when the Church washes feet and celebrates the Lord’s Supper of humble service through the Eucharist, we are all invited to also make of ourselves a living sacrifice.
My friends, these coming days will be emotional. From the wonder and gratitude of tonight, to the sorrow of Good Friday, and then the loneliness of Holy Saturday. But then we look forward to the joy of Easter Sunday.
Take some time to reflect on how you might proclaim the Lord’s Death by offering yourself in humble service.
May God bless you.