Friday, April 18, 2014

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for
Holy Thursday
April 17, 2014
Wartburg Home, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“O God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper…” (Collect).

With this evening’s liturgy, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we’ve completed the Lenten season.  Now we enter the Sacred Triduum of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, the high holy days of our Christian faith.

Today’s Collect 1st brings out that we’re here to celebrate these mysteries because God has called us.  The initiative is his.  The gift of being here, of being among his chosen ones, is his.  How fortunate we are, how blessed we are, to be called to participate in the mysteries—“mysteries” meaning, 1st of all, the sacraments, the liturgical rites, and then also the truths of our faith.

God has called us tonite “to participate in this most sacred Supper.”  It’s the Last Supper, and we’re in the upper room with Jesus and the 12.  It’s no past event, no historical remembrance.  It’s a present reality.  At every Eucharist we participate in the Last Supper, in Calvary, and in an encounter with the Risen Lord; but especially so this evening.  We’re not re-enacting the Supper.  We’re at the Supper.
Jesus washing the apostles' feet
from the Bible of Tbilisi
Next, the Collect centers the Supper’s activity on Jesus, the “Only Begotten Son.”  1st, he’s “about to hand himself over to death.”  Usually we speak of Judas as the one who “handed him over,” and of course that’s true.  But the prayer as well as various gospel texts make it clear that Jesus is in command of the situation.  He surrenders himself to death, freely chooses what’s about to happen—because it’s the Father’s will, because Jesus is joined with his Father in willing our redemption.  He knows what’s about to happen and embraces it out of his love for his Father and his love for us.  “Greater love than this no one has, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Then, the Collect notes, he “entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity.”  This sacrifice is given to the Church in the persons of the 12, whom Jesus commanded, “Do this in memory of me.”  It’s given as a trust, which bespeaks both confidence—Jesus is confident of the 12, however unworthy they’ve proven themselves up till this point, and indeed however unworthily they’ll act on this nite; and it bespeaks something to be handled with care and respect because it belongs to another as a kind of legacy—in this case, belonging to Jesus and to be cared for as his legacy to us.

The sacrifice is new in that it’s the offering of his own body and blood, supplanting the animal offerings, the grain offerings, and the wine offerings of the Jewish Temple, and inaugurating a new priesthood and a new covenant.  It’s “for all eternity” because this one sacrifice is offered continually by the One who offers it, viz., by Jesus.  He offers it forever, till the end of time while creation lasts, and without end in the temple of heaven.  We are participants in that sacrifice, with the 12, with every Catholic who has ever lived, with even the saints in heaven who continue to present Jesus and themselves to the Father as an offering of love and praise and atonement.

The Collect calls this eternally new sacrifice “the banquet of his love,” i.e., of Jesus’ love.  It expresses his love for his Father and his love for us, for it is his body given for us, his blood poured out for us, that we might be washed clean, be nourished, be given a share in his new and eternal life.  “Whoever eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (cf. John 6:53-54).  The sacrifice is also a sacred meal, with all that a banquet implies:  festivity, joy, a great occasion such as the giving of awards or a wedding.  And don’t we say at every Communion, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” echoing (and editing) the words of the Book of Revelation, “Blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9)?  At this banquet, don’t we anticipate an award:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Come and share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21)?

All that tells us something of what we’re celebrating tonite.  Then the Collect gets to our humble prayer:  “Grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life.”  The fullness of charity, i.e., of love, is already here:  “Greater love than this,” etc.; and as we read in tonite’s gospel, “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1), which may also be rendered as “to the utmost” to “to the nth degree.”  The mystery is this fullness of charity and of life, and—a kind of double meaning—we pray to be drawn into this fullness, to share in it, to be empowered to practice such full charity toward God and neighbor, empowered to live this charity.  Altho we’re not going to carry out the rite of footwashing tonite, we need to recall its meaning, which is that we should love and serve one another—not by washing others’ feet literally but, more expansively, by caring for one another, seeing what others’ needs are and doing what we can to meet those needs:  physical, emotional, spiritual.  Such service day in and day out, for everyone in our lives, is more than most of us are capable of, given our human weaknesses.  And that’s why we need the spiritual power of “so great a mystery,” of God’s love and God’s life, to help us.

May God indeed help us to live as Christ has shown us here below, and to live with him “for all eternity” at the great “banquet of his love,” at the “wedding feast of the Lamb.”

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