On this sacred night we have heard God’s Word announce the two most life changing moments in God’s plan of salvation. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt…With these words, God reveals His plan for His Chosen People, a plan that will unfold in the days and years that follow and will endure so long as there are pious Jews to live by the Old Covenant. And then this night in the Upper Room, Jesus calls together his closest disciples, his friends, his chosen ones. He opens his heart to them and reveals that God’s plan for the salvation of all peoples, is to be accomplished by His death, death on a cross.
We here, in union with the Church around the world, come together as His Church on Long Island to celebrate spiritually what He did in that Upper Room. We do more than celebrate. We experience it. We re-live it. The One who gathered his friends is the One who calls us here to be together with Him, to hear his voice, to see what he does and to let him reveal what this means. In all the mysterious beauty of this night, Jesus readies us – as he did his first apostles – to enter into the saving moments of His passion, death and resurrection.
Our Gospel opens with the solemn words which unite the old covenant to that night in which Jesus reveals the final revelation of the Father’s plan: the plan entrusted to His divine Son made man with us and for us.. Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in this world and he loved them to the end. TO THE END! EIS TELOS! His love to the end of his life, his love fulfilling the will of the Father. His love by which gives his all to those whom he loves. His love to the final most majestic expression of love: death on the cross!
Jesus knew and feely accepted what God the Father asked of him, The Beloved Son. United to the Father in the bond of divine love, He expressed that for us with a human heart that embraced all of humankind deeply and completely. SO much did he love us that he had to offer himself totally to the Father, totally for us: even unto death, death on a cross!
What Jesus then does on this holy night is all of a piece, all of it an expression of what his death means for us and all that he invites us to recognize and embrace. First he washes the feet of the disciples. Peter objects because he does not understand. But Jesus washes them and us as an act that makes his humble action a way pointing to the cross where he makes us his heirs, sharing his death to be one with him in his life. This is an act of love to the end which he enjoins on his friends then and now. You call me teacher and Master and rightly so, for that I am. If I have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow so that, as I have done for you, you should also do.
Recently there has been some confusion about the meaning of the washing of the feet. Some seem to see it as an act of social and political significance as if the aim is to wash the feet of as many different categories of persons. This is not an act of social reform or egalitarian correctness. If that is all it is, it is just another banal act that is self absorbed and self referential. The Washing of the feet is the concrete example Jesus makes to call us to commit ourselves, as He did, to a life of serving our brothers and sisters and all humankind. He calls us to do as He did, offer ourselves to the very end, an act of total love even to the cross.
That example of servant love flows into and is sustained by what Jesus does next. We turn to Paul. A scant fifteen years after this night Paul already knows that the Supper we call Last is given to and made integral to the Church as a tradition, a tradition that comes directly from the Lord himself. As Paul says, I have passed on what I have received from the Lord…What we do tonight is what the Church has done from the very beginning, because this She received from the Lord himself that holy night.
As Jesus takes the bread and the cup and blesses them, he transforms them into His Body, His Blood as the food to nourish the disciples. This gift joins them to Him in the most intimate way possible. The disciples share sacramentally in the Body that soon will be stretched on the altar of the cross. They drink from the cup which is the blood that Christ sheds as expiation for our sins and the sins of the world. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes!
This night Jesus designates these disciples as the first apostles. They and their successors are to do for the Church after the Resurrection what He did for them in the Upper Room. Gathered with Mary after the resurrection, they will receive the Holy Spirit, the internal bond of unity of the Church with the Triune God. Every time they and we celebrate the Eucharist, the Church proclaims the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Every time we gather here in this Cathedral, all of us, bishop, priest, religious and lay faithful, we witness to his death and resurrection as His Body, the Church! Here we are nourished by the gift he alone could give us, His Body, His blood for our pilgrim journey.
Is there any gift greater than this! Can we ask for anything more than what the Son of God did to save us: save us by this act of love even to the end; this gift of his body and blood so that we can always be one with him; and this guiding of His Church to be His faithful witness to the world!
On the cross, Christ and only Christ is the priest of the New Covenant. By his Resurrection, he calls us, bishop and faithful, to be the visible sign of his love in the world. Our unity is that of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our inner life of the Spirit is nourished outwardly by the sacramental body of the Lord. The Eucharist makes the Church that celebrates the Eucharist. And on that night Jesus charged his apostles and they in turn passed this charge to us bishops to be the visible sign of the Church’s unity in Christ Jesus. We rejoice this night in the gift of the Eucharist. We rejoice in the bond of love that is served by Bishop and priest for the unity of Christ’s Church. And as we share in the Body and Blood of Him who loved us to the end, as we proclaim:
WE ADORE YOU O CHRIST AND WE BLESS YOU
BECAUSE BY YOUR HOLY CROSS YOU HAVE REDEEMED THE WORLD!