April 19, 1984
Ex 12: 1-14
John 13: 1-15
Don Bosco Tech, Paterson, N.J.
At Holy Cross in Champaign, our pastor, Fr. Dave Sajdak, presided and preached tonite. Here’s the oldest Holy Thursday homily in my digital archive.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord” (Ex 12:14).
This day we keep a memorial day. It’s the day on which the Lord eats his Passover lamb that recalls deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, the day which he becomes for us the Lamb of God who delivers us from the bondage of our sins.
It’s the day on which the Lord gives us his flesh and blood to be our food and instructs us to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him.
It’s the day on which the Eternal High Priest offers himself as a pleasing sacrifice to his Father and establishes a priesthood among his disciples to re-present his sacrifice, as the Jewish people re-present the Passover mysteries, generation after generation.
It’s the day on which the Lord Jesus gives us a new commandment to serve one another as he has served us.
|(by Simon Ushakov, 1685)|
In the Eucharist, the Lord gives us his very self, his transformed and glorified self. This is the body that was beaten and crucified; this is the blood that was shed for us on Good Friday; this is the Lord who is even now at work in us who partake of him, forgiving our sins, planting the seed of immortality, and transforming us so that we may be like him.
All of us who celebrate the Eucharist, who join in offering to the Father this pleasing sacrifice and who eat the victim that has been offered—all of us are priests of the new covenant. All of us are commanded to do what Jesus has done, in memory of him. All of us are commanded to worship the Father in humble obedience, to praise his goodness to us, to eat and drink of the Lord of life. And so Christ this day makes each of his disciples a priest.
The Church that Jesus creates when he says, “Do this in memory of me,” the Church which nourishes on heavenly bread, particularizes the priestly office in certain individuals. The Church chooses and ordains these ministerial priests to take the part of Christ in our common priestly sacrifice: to take his part by re-enacting the sacred meal, by preaching the Good News of salvation, and by leading the community in loving service. This, too, we remember today as we keep our feast to the Lord.
On this day, Jesus says to us, “I give you a new command, that you love one another” (John 13:34). This love is not to be mere affection but real service: “I have given you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
So seriously do some Christian communities take the Lord’s command and example that they count foot-washing as a sacrament. We Catholics come close to that on Holy Thursday, traditionally called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin mandatum, “commandment,” the Lord’s new commandment of loving service. If foot-washing isn’t a sacrament, it certainly is a sacramental, like palm branches or holy water.
If we take Christ seriously, it seems that every disciple is bound by the command of service to his brothers and sisters, for the Lord says, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example…” (John 13:14-15). Those ordained to leadership are to be the first to set the Christian example, as Christ says, “If I, then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should do as I have done” (ibid.). If the servile task of foot-washing is the example, then nothing is excluded from our loving service to one another.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day.” Above all, we remember the love of him who, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He shows his abiding and limitless love on this day by giving us his body and blood to be our living, spiritual food as we journey with him; by consecrating us all as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9); by laying aside his own divine dignity, like his garments, and girding himself with our creaturely flesh, like the servant’s towel, and bathing us in the Father’s mercy.
May this memorial feast to the Lord be our deliverance from the plagues of sin and divisiveness. May we serve the Lord and one another in joy.