April 14, 2022
As I began to reflect about our Holy Thursday mass this evening, I was thinking about my mother who died 19 years ago. When diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we were told that she had about a month to live. So, I decided for the next four weeks to invite family members and friends to weekly dinners, with her sitting at the head of the table. I am not sure that she understood what was happening because of her dementia, but I thought it was important for her to be surrounded by family and friends for the last time. She said very little, smiled often, and was there to receive our love and affection.
I think that Jesus was arranging something like that when he gathered with his closest family and friends on an evening like tonight centuries ago. It would be the last time they would all be together.
Who was there? We do not know for sure. John, who was a close friend of Jesus, remembered what Jesus did after the supper with his friends. There seems to have been something like a Passover ritual where Jesus shared the traditional bread and wine… [H]e focused not [on] a past tradition but rather on a new tradition. (The word “tradition” means “the passing on of ‘something.’”) The “something” was the person and presence of Jesus. As his friends gathered around him, he gathered his spirit and arms around them.
Not only did he tell them that he would never leave them; but he also spoke about how they were to live in his memory.
As Jesus called his disciples to a new intimacy and a personal righteousness, he encouraged them to be good examples to each other and to support each one. He said that was the way to be whole and good in the sight of his father.
The Jewish faith tradition encouraged washing- keeping ritually clean- as a sign of their desire to be humble and simple and to walk in a righteous way before God.
So, we remember tonight, what perhaps could be described as the first celebration of the Sacrament of Penance — Jesus washing their feet and Jesus’ invitations to wash the feet of each another – to be forgiving, reconciling, serving the best interests of each other.
More importantly than the confession of sins is the manifestation of love and that goodness that repairs them.
“The washing of feet” is an icon. It is a symbol that speaks a thousand words and hopes, – that all will be well, that each moment is a new beginning, that we can be free from what pulls us backward or apart, that we can accept the new role that Jesus gives to us again tonight– to be the model of the best way to live.
We also remember Jesus’ good friend Judas, who got so tangled up in himself, in intrigue, corrupted: Something more than 30 pieces of silver must have gotten into him, that he would scheme a betrayal. “The devil had already induced Judas… to hand him over,” is the way the gospel story puts it.
We can only imagine what Jesus must have been thinking, knowing beforehand and then waiting for it all to happen. Tonight, we have a glimpse into the soul and spirit of Jesus as he begins to climb the hill to Calvary.
For Jesus, it was always about His Father, His Father’s love for us. Jesus wanted to show his Father to us, but there is a very simple catch here: Jesus’ Father does not appear to us in a surprise moment. The Father appears as we show up to the services of love.
Our first reading remembers the First Passover which the good Jewish faith remembers every year on Passover – (this year tomorrow evening). For seven evenings, they spotted the doorways of their homes in Egypt with the blood of the Passover lambs, a sign of protection. It would be a night of reckoning for the Egyptians and a lesson for those who enslave others. The night that proclaimed their freedom became their memorial feast. God would deliver them from the slavery of hundreds of years. Tomorrow night begins the Passover for the Jewish people.
St. Paul gives to us the principal words of the evening. The early church began to remember what happened to Jesus in his death and resurrection, and so do we tonight. In our second reading, St. Paul wrote briefly what was handed on to him: “Do this in remembrance of me.” But it is more than just a memory. For us, it is bringing the past to the present.
Tonight, we are going to remember. Our miracle this evening is to gather with Jesus – always again as if for the first time. He wants our eyes to pierce his. He wants us to hear his voice. As we breathe, he breathes. He is here somewhere alongside us. He washes. We wash. “This is my body that is for you,” rings in our hearts and ears.
In Jesus’ day, only slaves washed the feet of free people. Slaves were owned and considered property. Tonight, Jesus insists once again that we are more than property, that we are more than anonymous strangers. We are the children of his Father, called to live in a child-like spirit and invited to serve and not be served.
In a few moments, we will begin to re-enact Jesus’ example of service for all time. Jesus invites us to do the same, in the many and different moments of our lives and to do it willingly and tenderly and effectively.