(Saint Benedict’s Church, Mudgeeraba – 7:00PM)
28 March 2013
(Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 115; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15)
Pope Francis has been reminding us in recent days that “Holy Week is not so much a time of sorrow, but rather a time to enter into Christ’s way of thinking and acting.” “Holy week challenges us to step outside ourselves so as to attend to the needs of others: those who long for a sympathetic ear, those in need of comfort or help.” The Holy Father said that “[w]e should not simply remain in our own secure world, that of the ninety-nine sheep who never strayed from the fold, but we should go out, with Christ, in search of the one lost sheep, however far it may have wandered.” This is a “time of grace given us by the Lord so that we can move beyond a dull or mechanical way of living our faith, and instead open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes … going out in search of others so as to bring them the light and the joy of our faith in Christ.”(1)
As we listen to the Gospels, we discover that the disciples of Jesus were often struggling to really “get” what Jesus was teaching them. And so Jesus helped them to understand by making it plainly clear. He gets up, takes off his outer garment, and then gets down on his knees and washes the dirty feet of his disciples. When we think of humility and humbling ourselves, we usually think of us – in our littleness – bowing down before the great, for example, we think of humbling ourselves before God. However, when the great bows down before the little, then that is true humility. And that’s what Jesus did (God, the sinless one, bowing down before weak, sinful men). And this is the command that Jesus gave his disciples: go and do as he has done.
Of course, the example of Jesus didn’t end on Holy Thursday night. His simple act of service on the Thursday night pointed to the most dramatic example of service he was going to give the following day: when he would freely hand himself over to death, and willingly accept his passion and cross in obedience to his Father’s will. Jesus proved that he loved us to the end.
This pattern of service and sacrifice – exemplified in the life of Christ – is what our lives as Christians is meant to look like. But Jesus knew that we wouldn’t find it easy, and that – in many ways – it would go against the grain, against the way we’d often like to do things. He knew how quickly his disciples would either forget, or soften the message. And that’s why he instituted the eucharist, as the permanent memorial of him and of his life. He said of the bread and wine: this is my body which will be broken for you and my blood which will be poured out for you. And he literally does that when his body is nailed to the cross and his blood is shed in all that he suffers in his passion and crucifixion.
In instituting the eucharist he instituted the ministerial priesthood, which is to enflesh his own ministry of service to his people, and to celebrate the sacraments of redemption, especially the eucharist. Jesus wanted us never to forget that service and sacrifice are central to his life. And in giving us his very self – his body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine, he wanted to be the very one who helps, sustains and nourishes us as we try to follow him. Such thoughts surely move us tonight to profound gratitude to the Lord, for giving us such gifts so that he can be with us always, and that we will always have the means at our disposal to come to God.
I am reminded also of Jesus’ words when he said: “Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” This highlights that our response to what Jesus offers us is important. Just because Jesus died for the sake of all humankind doesn’t mean that all are automatically saved. We have to respond to God’s call, and receive the grace of redemption and salvation. If we refuse or reject what God offers, God respects our choice. “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
As we recall the institution of the eucharist tonight, let’s resolve to make the eucharist the centre of our life – that we may always have the life of Jesus within us. May Jesus help us to follow in his footsteps, to become more and more like him so that we can step outside of ourselves and attend to the needs of others, to go in search of the one lost sheep, and to go out and bring to others the light and joy of our faith in Christ.
(1) Pope Francis, General Audience 27 March 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130327_udienza-generale_en.html