Text prepared for the Holy Thursday Homily in St. Paul’s Church, Thursday April 13th, 2017.
This special Mass of the Lord’s Supper brings us into the unique experience of encountering Jesus among the settings and experiences which he went through, 2000 years ago. On the day he celebrated the Last Supper, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. On the day he died – that will be tomorrow – we will enter into the experience of his passion by fasting and venerating the cross. On the “day” he rose from the dead (really, “the night,” since he rose before sunrise) we will begin the greatest celebratory season in the Church: the Church which is the greatest witness to the fact that he rose and lives even today.
We know that in the course of the Last Supper Jesus did several things. First, he transformed the Passover meal into the Mass, by making the bread become his body and the wine become his blood – mysteriously, miraculously, but really, and truly. This miracle is forever connected with the fact that he died in our place, and this we will explain in just a minute. But we also observe that Jesus told his Apostles to celebrate his body and blood, as the memorial of his death and resurrection, in the same way. So Jesus also made the 12 Apostles priests, and he set up his Church so that priests could always bring these mysteries to the world. And one more thing he did; he gave a picture of service, the most dramatic that he could. He washed the feet of the Apostles, which was a job only laid upon the lowest and most useless of servants.
With all of these things in mind – and we just heard about each of these elements in our scripture readings – let us contemplate a most significant aspect of each.
First: when we celebrate the Eucharist with a priest, we are always reminded of how Jesus died for us. Without Jesus we would all suffer two kinds of “death.” We would suffer both physical death, and spiritual death. Spiritual death is the worst kind. But Jesus knew that if he suffered physical death, it would save us from spiritual death. This is the great message that we should remember tonight in remembering the Last Supper. It connects us to our Lord’s saving death. Without this, the rest of our life would really have no meaning.
With that said, I invite everyone for a moment, to close their eyes, and say this prayer with me.
“Jesus, you are my lord and my savior. I thank you for dying on the cross for me. Forgive all of my sins, and bring me to eternal life. Amen.”
Now, one saying of Jesus I want to focus on specifically, since I have asked middle school students from our school to help represent the washing of the feet. As we just heard, when Jesus was done washing the feet of the Apostles he said “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you should also do.”
This commandment has a specific meaning for priests, and that meaning can be brought out when there are 12 men of the parish who display the washing of feet. But it has a meaning for all Christians, and I invite you to think about the very specific word that Jesus used: that of an example. He said “I have given you an example.” The washing of the feet should give an example of some particular point. And the point I wish to emphasize to night is that examples of Jesus’s example should be reinforced constantly between each generation of believers. Who has the greater responsibility to give an example, and who has the responsibility to take heed of the example? We, the adults, must give that example of faith to our youth. They do not have the responsibility to give the example to the adults. They have the responsibility to receive that example, and put it into practice.
I hope it makes sense that if I ceremoniously wash the feet of our young students here tonight, the point is not whether they are getting the example of Jesus from me. The point is whether everyone else here is getting the example of Jesus from the Church.
I want our students here to help me give an example to our parishioners, to remind our parishioners that we must give an example to our youth. May I say also that this same pattern should exist when we have our young people participating in the Liturgy each on any given Sunday. I hope that more and more of them can serve, sing, usher, and read at our weekend Masses. But let us not think that they will hold onto ANY of the messages that we receive every Sunday, unless they have a strong example of many other people who step forward in faith, and provide that example of trusting discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we display the washing of feet tonight, I invite you to think and to pray about the best ways that we should be passing on to our youth the examples of faithfully loving and following our Lord Jesus Christ.
After that, as we celebrate the Eucharist, and receive our Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts – and then spend some silent time with him at the end of this Mass – I invite you to offer him everything. Not for our youth, but for love of his love alone.