Holy Thursday 2022

14 April 2022

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Holy Thursday 2022

Homily

[Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116; 1Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15]

 

These days we’ve seen news reports of our neighbours to the East getting hit with a spring blizzard. Stories abound of people getting ready for the storm by stockpiling necessities – food for the family, diapers for the infants, or even generators in case of power outages. More dramatically and tragically, from Ukraine come accounts of people besieged by bombardments suffering shortages of the basics needed for life: food, clothing, shelter and electricity. These situations are reminders to us all that there are things we simply cannot do without if we are to live.

As these circumstances draw our attention to bodily essentials, this Mass of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of that which is fundamental to the spiritual life. It draws our attention to what feeds us with life itself, clothes us with the mercy of God, gives shelter in the love of God, and provides the strength – the energy – we need for our pilgrim journey through this life to the next. I am speaking, of course, of the mystery of the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Without the Eucharist, Christian faith is firmly convinced that we cannot truly live. It is the essential, the basic necessity.

The reason is found in what happened at the Last Supper. There Jesus was gathered with his disciples for the Passover meal. From Exodus we learn that this sacred meal recalled the sacrifice of a lamb, by whose blood the Israelites were protected from the agnel of death as he passed over their homes, and as a result of which they were set free from slavery to the Egyptians. Saint Paul tells us that, during this sacred meal, Jesus took bread and wine and identified them with himself: this is my body, this is my blood. Moreover, he said, this my body for you; this is my blood of the new covenant. He was teaching his disciples, that, by his death on the Cross the following day, he himself would be the sacrificial lamb that sets people free from slavery to sin by restoring them to communion with God in a new and unbreakable covenant. To put it another way, Jesus tells his disciples – and he tells us – that he is the one thing necessary for the fullness of life.

And that he – the world’s basic necessity – might truly dwell within us as source of life, Jesus gives himself to us as food. Here we touch the awesome mystery of the Eucharist, the very heart of Christian existence. At holy mass, we gather in obedience to the command of Jesus, “do this in remembrance of me.” When the priest, ordained to act in the person of Christ, repeats the Lord’s words over the bread and wine, by the power of the Holy Spirit they are so changed as to be bread and wine n longer, but become the true body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. By receiving Holy Communion from the altar, we are given just that – holy communion – union with Jesus Christ, the One who has come that we may have life in full, life in abundance. Because we need Jesus, we need the Eucharist.

As I watch the situation unfold in Ukraine, I am moved by stories of people who are doing everything they possibly can to get basic necessities to people who are desperate for them. These heroic figures are clearly motivated by a deep concern for people in need. Speaking figuratively, we often say that they are “moving heaven and earth” to provide people with the essentials. Well, to speak literally, this is exactly what Jesus did for us. He truly did move heaven and earth to give himself to us that we might live. Heaven opened as he, the Son of God, descended from the bosom of the Father to assume our human nature. The earth shook as he gave his life on the Cross and then rose from the dead. All of this he did out of love for us. Saint John puts it beautifully in the Gospel: “Having loved his own in the world, he loved them to the end.” By his self-sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus manifests unsurpassably his infinite love for us. He has come to a world desperate for him, desperate without him, to be its basic necessity, its one true source of life.

As we stay with the Gospel account, we hear that we, who receive this wondrous gift of his love in the Eucharist, are called to “move heaven and earth” to bring that love to others. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, a gesture of humble service moved by love, and then says to his followers: “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” By “washing feet”, by serving others in charity, we bring to people in need the love with which we have been nourished in the Eucharist, and thereby announce in action the one thing necessary: the love of God, revealed and bestowed in Jesus Christ.

So, as we now witness the symbolic re-enactment of the washing of feet at the Last Supper, let’s ask Jesus to bring to our awareness situations of need around us to which this Lord’s Supper sends us in love. There is much suffering today, we know. Who do we know that could use a listening ear, help getting groceries, or some material assistance? What opportunities are there to give support to the people of Ukraine? How might we walk with the Indigenous Peoples along the path of healing and reconciliation? There are many opportunities to “wash feet” in the name of Christ. May we find the strength and inspiration in this celebration of the Eucharist to go forth in humble service.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
April 14th, 2022