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Diocese of Rockville Centre

HOLY THURSDAY 2015 Print E-mail


My friends, it is night. Dark descends on Jerusalem and the solemn feast of Passover has arrived once more in a city teeming with Jews from everywhere. Rumors fly, about the Rabbi from Galilee. Soldiers are alerted to possible trouble. The air is electric. In an upper room west of the Temple, a small band of friends have gathered with the Rabbi from Galilee. You and I are also there 2000 years later for, spiritually, we are one in heart and mind as we celebrate this Passover Eucharist.
Jesus gets up for the ritual hand washing but instead wraps the towel around his waist and began to wash the feet of the disciples. Shock! Disbelief! Wonder! Master, are you going to wash my feet? What I am doing you do not understand now. But you will understand later. How true! Peter does not understand. These twelve close friends do not understand how, why their Lord and Master would do something so common, so undignified, so unworthy.

Do you realize what I have done for you…If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. Only later will they understand. They think they know him but that comes later. Later they will understand what he has done is not some moral imperative like give to the poor, care for the widow. What Jesus has done is radical, revolutionary. What Jesus is doing is giving himself to them. His is a gift of pure love. The gift is his very self, his total self, offered to the Father for them because of the love he and the Father have for them; the same love Father and Son have for us. And he is telling them and us: you have to do the same if you are to be not just his admirers; if you are to be his followers, his disciples, his own!

Jesus is himself the new norm, the new paradigm, not a theory, not a set of moral precepts. He who is the source of life offers that life as his gift of love to the Father for us. And he shows us not only that HE does it. He calls US to do it as well. He calls us to wash one another’s feet if we wish to be his disciples. This is the new commandment and the new way for the community of his disciples, his own brothers and sisters, you and me, all of us!

And thus this night as we see them gathered at table, we look around and see that we too are gathered at his table and he speaks to us, now, here. He calls us. He offers himself for us. What does he call us to be, to do, to become? First he calls us to see and understand what He, Jesus, has done. Peter did not quite get it that night. But we are on the other side of the drama. He asks us: Now do you understand? Now are you ready to embrace what I have done as the way you will follow, the truth you will live, the life you will make your own? I embrace you as mine. Will you embrace me as more than Lord and Master? Will you embrace me as the way, the truth, the life, the norm for your life, the way you want to live?

At this point you and I might hesitate. Peter did. And later he was so frightened by the reality that he denied the one who loved him. And we can easily be tempted the same way as Peter. And rightly so! Why? Because by ourselves we cannot do it! By ourselves we would never do this on our own. But Jesus never abandons those whom he calls. And that night he showed the depth of his love for us as much as for them. Paul tells it best and he tells it as it was given to Him by the very same Peter and the community he met in Damascus who passed it on to him: On the night before he was handed over, Jesus took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

This is the new covenant, sealed by the blood of the new lamb, Jesus, Son of God who dies as son of man for the salvation of us all. To this day our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Pasch as a memorial of their deliverance from slavery. Now the covenant in the blood of Jesus changes the destiny of humankind. And through the gift of his sacramental body and blood, he makes it possible for us to share in his life and be strengthened by his Spirit to live as the community of life and love, the community that washes one another’s feet, the community of the divine Master, Jesus the Christ.

This night we, you and I, are witnesses to that Last Supper of Jesus with his friends. But more than witnesses, we are participants! What he did that night he does again tonight here in our cathedral and across our Diocese and across the world! In this Eucharist we do what he told us to do in remembrance of Him. We wash the feet of our brothers and sisters because he told us: you ought to wash one another’s feet. We celebrate the Eucharist because he told us: This is my body that is for you.

We know him! Know him in the breaking of the bread. Knowing him, we love Him who first loved us! And loving him who first loved us, we act because, nourished by his Body and Blood, we are changed. Without the Eucharist, we could not live. We could not be who He has made us. But thanks be to God who sent his Son we have been called. We do know him. We do love then one who loved us. And we will be his witnesses! We will act, washing the feet of all our brothers and sisters, praising the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist and belonging more deeply to Christ, to His Church and to one another. For His own words to us resound in our hearts: I HAVE GIVEN YOU A MODEL TO FOLLOW, SO THAT AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU, YOU ALSO SHOULD DO!