This is my 1st Holy Thursday homily from a year ago. I reprint here tonight on the eve of Holy Thursday, 2010.
Homily for Holy Thursday
Gospel of John 13:1-15
Every year, when Christmas rolls around, I summon all the courage I can muster and venture to the mall. My mission: to find a great gift for my wife Wendy. After I find the perfect gift, I make a stop at the perfume counter and find one of her favorite fragrances. But I always look for the one that offers a free bonus gift. Yes, the Deacon is cheap. I have learned that at Christmas, you can get a free gift set, a travel case, or an extra bottle of perfume. Extra! Lagniappe!
We all like a little lagniappe; buy 1 get 1 free, 2 for 1, half price. We use coupons, gift certificates, sales flyers and newspaper ads all to get something extra or to add value.
As people of faith, tonight on this Holy Thursday, are we aware of the many gifts Jesus unwraps for us on this solemn night?
Tonight we gather to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We refer to this night as Holy Thursday, The Last Supper, and the first night of the Easter Tridiuum. For Jesus and His followers, they gathered in an upper room to celebrate the Passover. Now, tonight we read the Gospel account from St. John which does not present the Passover details. We should note, however, that the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this night is indeed presented as the Passover meal. Tonight, we read from Exodus of the Passover and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Freed from slavery, they are saved from the angel of death by the blood of the lambs.
Matthew, Mark and Luke go on to give us the Eucharistic institution, where Jesus becomes the new Passover Lamb. It is by His blood that we too are saved from eternal death and freed from the slavery to sin.
The words that St. Paul repeats tonight in the 2nd reading from his first letter to the Corinthians are from these three Gospels. Paul stresses the handing on of this remembrance and says the words Jesus said at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me”.
So every time we come to Mass, we hear these words: “This is my body; this is my blood. Do this in memory of me”. The Eucharist; handed on to Paul; handed on to us. How is this accomplished? It is accomplished because Jesus instructed the Apostles to do this in remembrance. Did Jesus intend for this remembrance to die with the death of the last Apostle? No. Their successors are the Bishops, and Bishops ordain helpers, Priests. And Bishops and Priests, functioning in persona Christi, say words and perform actions that change bread and wine into the Body & Blood of Jesus!
So here on Holy Thursday we unwrap three gifts: The Eucharist, the Priesthood, and the Mass.
But there is more; a little lagniappe; one more gift. Return to tonight’s Gospel from St. John. We read of the incredible, loving example of service as Jesus washes the feet of His Apostles. We must know that keeping the feet clean was a big job back in the days when Jesus walked the Earth. The roads are dirty, dusty; muddy when it rains. The men wear sandals, thin soles held together by straps. It was customary when visiting a neighbor’s home or attending a dinner party for the host to have a jar of water, a ladle and towel outside the door. Your clean feet was your ticket inside.
So Jesus here goes beyond the customary. He removes his outer garment, takes a towel and stoops low and humbly washes the feet of His guests. He goes on to tell them that just as He has done for them, they must wash each others feet. Put another way: we who receives Eucharist are to be Eucharist to one another! How? In humble service to each other.
This water also reminds us of our Baptism. Clean feet is the ticket into the home of the host; our Baptism is a ticket that opens the door to all the other Sacraments and service to our Lord; that can lead to the open door of our host in Heaven: our Father.
One night; one liturgy; at least four gifts for us to embrace: The Eucharist, The Priesthood, The Mass and humble service to the Lord and each other.
So we ask, how can I repay the Lord for His goodness to me?
Here are a few suggestions: after Mass tonight, Jesus is removed from the tabernacle and reposed in a special place here in the church until midnight. Spend time after Mass with Him; perhaps for one hour. Tomorrow the church is at its emptiest, it’s loneliness. Why? The tabernacle is empty; Jesus is not here in the Blessed Sacrament. The sanctuary candle is unlit. Come and sit in church and feel the emptiness, the aloneness, the lack of His real presence.
But know it is temporary for Easter awaits. Yes, the empty tabernacle can remind us of the empty tomb. Sorrow and sadness will give way to Resurrection joy.
Remember this: when I shop for gifts, looking for extras, I may get a good deal but it still costs me some money. And the gift, one day, will fade away.
The gifts of this beautiful night, this Holy Thursday liturgy, coupled with our observance of Good Friday and the Easter resurrection are given to us by our Lord, free of charge and lasting forever and ever. Amen.