HOLY THURSDAY 2010 AND THE WASHING OF FEET
Homily for the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Is there any pain, any tragedy in life, to equal the sense of loss and betrayal of someone we love rejecting us, ending a relationship, telling us after a close and sometimes intimate relationship that we are no longer needed and should just leave their lives? When a spouse suddenly tells their partner that their marriage is over? When a boyfriend or girlfriend with whom one is serious suddenly announces that they are leaving for someone else? When a trusted colleague at work approaches a common supervisor for the purpose of more money or greater position and “sells us out” for personal gain? Almost all of us have some experience of the pain and suffering caused by the betrayal of a friend. It is a common tragedy of life on planet earth and it can take one a long time to recover.
Two people leave the table of the “Last Supper” in tonight’s liturgy. For Judas, betrayal leads to the tragedy of suicide, all for thirty pieces of silver. For Jesus, betrayal leads not to resentment, emotional paralysis, an over-abundance of self-pity but rather to one more astounding moment of triumph, of victory, of a final lesson to be taught to His closest friends. Before His death, one more time He demonstrates that as He had proclaimed in better times, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” and that He would never leave the world of believers alone but would be with us all days.
Judas served his own self-interests. Jesus served the interest of all of us. Judas cuts a deal with those who would wish the death of Jesus. Jesus allows for His continuing presence even after His death in the gift of the Eucharist. And as Paul says in the second reading, the Eucharist, bread and wine taken in hand, blessed, broken, and shared “proclaims the death of the Lord until He comes.” For Judas, the moment of betrayal is transitory. For Jesus, the moment prior to His death is eternal.
The first reading recalls the moment of Passover when the angel of death spares the faithful people of Israel in bondage in Egypt. For the many who will not be spared it is a moment of tragedy but for the believer, the Passover is a moment of triumph – triumph of God’s power, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness. They are spared to live and believe another day.
Faith allows us to overcome the lower moments of our human existence because faith tells us that in time, God’s plan for us is one of love. If the Father would not spare even His own Son from the events which would follow upon this last Passover meal with the Son’s disciples, but rather would await the right moment to demonstrate to the believers the triumph of life over death, of good over evil, then we too must endure the challenges of life knowing that in the end, God will spare us further suffering. God and only God has the power to ultimately make something good come from something awful.
To get from here to there we have the Eucharist. To have the Eucharist, Jesus chose twelve to serve as priests and they in turn chose others to make Christ present in the breaking of the bread. The Eucharist is our food for the journey. And during this journey we serve one another, soon beautifully portrayed for us by the washing of the feet, reenacting the final lesson of the Lord prior to His passion. All of this occurred “on the night he was handed over.”
If the script we have written for our life sometimes veers from what we expect or wish for, then think of Jesus this night.
If a friend betrays the love and trust we have long invested in him or her, then think of Jesus this night.
If we are starved for spiritual help and seem to be roaming in the desert of our individual Egypts, then think of Jesus this night.
With trust in the Father’s presence, Jesus now begins His journey to Calvary and to the tomb and to the Father. He was a man like us in all things save sin and we would do well to embrace His faith, accept the consequences of things sometimes going badly in our lives, and await the moment of ultimate triumph by serving others, not being served.
Update: You can also download a PDF of this homily.
Update 2: You can listen to this homily on our podcast.