Apr 13, 2017

A Holy Thursday: "Jesus says . . . "

"As I have done for you, you should also do."

At one time or another we have all played the game called “Simon says.” The point of the game is simple.  Pay attention to the one calling out “Simon says . . .” and then he/she gives a direction: “touch your nose, raise your hand, sit down, stand up.” If the one calling the commands begins the direction with “Simon says” do such and such, we do it.  If they simply say, “touch your nose” you just hold the previous position.  The key is to obey the command of “Simon” whoever that is.  It would be interesting to research the origin of this simple game but it may indeed also be a way to explain the richness of today and tomorrow, two of the holiest days of the Christian calendar.

Still, we are not here playing a children’s game.  But, we do listen to a command not from “Simon” but from Jesus himself.  This evening at our annual Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we hear: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”(Jn 13:15). The setting is the Last Supper with Jesus and his trusted band of disciples. Judas of course being among them.

Jesus provides for them an indelible example of selfless service – he washes their feet, the task of a slave, to provide an example for them of how they are to conduct their future ministry.
But to what is this connected?  Is it just saying “Jesus says, go wash feet” so we do it? Our lives as Catholic Christians is directly tied to this command which is intimately connected to the Holy Eucharist, given by Jesus to his Church.  In the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we are familiar with the scene of the Last Supper which provides more of what “Jesus says.”

There we hear Jesus say: “Do this in memory of me.” For, “This is my body . . . this cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  As St. Paul teaches his Corinthian Church in our second reading this evening (1 Cor 11 23-26) and therefore us as well: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, given thanks, broke it and said . . . Do this . . .”

The key to understanding Holy Thursday is to see these commands of the Lord as spoken in time but extended to all future time. Paul states: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” 

As we gather in faith, we share in the very life of God who feeds us for our journey to eternal life.  We hear, “Jesus says, do this . . .” and so we do.  We see him wash feet in selfless love.  He lays aside his own glory, lowers himself to a level below the Apostles themselves, and provides for us the meaning of the divine food we consume.  In a true sense, God washes feet and we as well to be truly disciples of the Lord.  

Our lives are centered on the “source and summit of the Christian faith,” as the Church defines the Eucharist but it must be lived out in action to one another.  The Eucharist, the Mass, is not a private devotion but a call to “full, active, and conscious” participation in our faith.

Finally, if that was not enough, that God should wash feet as an example to us, he journeyed to the Cross.  On this Good Friday, as always, we hear from the prophet Isaiah: “Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.” (Is 53: 12).  His life given on the cross is our salvation.  If that was not enough, nothing more would be.

So, we enter these solemn two days to be continued by the glory of the Resurrection marked at the Easter Vigil with birth in the waters of baptism of new members and the next 50 days of resurrection joy.

 Let us, “Do this” because “Jesus says.”

O God, who have called us to participate
in this most sacred Supper, 
in which your Only Begotten Son, 
when about to hand himself over to death, 
entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, 
the banquet of his love, 
grant, we pray,
that we may draw from so great a mystery, 
the fullness of charity and of life. 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)