Holy Thursday ~ 1 April 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper: I: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Responsorial: Psalm 116; II: I Corinthians 11:23-26; Gospel: John 13:1-15
With the Holy Thursday liturgy we begin the Paschal Triduum, the three days preparing for and leading to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter. Even if we are unable to fully attend or participate in the glorious liturgies we are invited by the Holy Spirit to enter in with our prayers, readings, reflections and service to God and each other. In so many ways the amount of anticipation and spiritual preparation we enter into will determine the degree of true celebration and realization of our risen Lord at Easter.
The Holy Thursday liturgy is very distinct from other Masses. It focuses upon and solemnly celebrates that sacred night when Jesus instituted the sharing of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is also, traditionally, the time when the Holy Oils of the Church are consecrated and blessed for the coming year at the Chrism Mass and when priests renewed their sacred vows. After the Mass, the Sanctuary and altar are all stripped of the liturgical linens, candles, and vessels. and the Real Presence, the consecrated Hosts, are placed in a separate Altar of Repose commemorating our Lord’s burial. And this sacred night also includes a rite practiced at no other time of the year, the Washing of Feet.
It is really quite extraordinary and vital that the Spirit of God led the Church, as the liturgy grew, to include this part of the Holy Thursday celebration.This distinction is also seen in the Gospel of John. The account of the washing of the disciple’s feet is not included in the three synoptic Gospels. It is only in the fourth Gospel written almost 90 years after our Lord’s Ascension that we see it. This brings us to wonder, Why? And why is this rite a part of the very significant Mass commemorating the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Why didn’t Matthew, Mark and Luke mention the event? And why did the Holy Spirit do so in John’s Gospel?
Much like the disciples that night in the Upper Room we gather at this time with many questions. It is a time of uncertainty with so much in life uncertain and seemingly in flux. And for many in the world there are real dangers of body, soul and spirit.
These difficult realities were being experienced by the disciples. They were being shared by the Hebrew people spoken of in our first reading at the institution of the Passover. They were shared by the young, struggling church St Paul wrote to in the second reading. Life is full of perils, uncertainties, and questions. The longing for normalcy, for control, stability is so very strong. And it also can be very elusive. Jesus on that first Holy Thursday night gave to his followers, then and now, the answers, the graces, we need to prevail and grow in His Kingdom.
We asked earlier why was the washing of the disciples feet only mentioned in John’s Gospel. Why is it a part of the Holy Thursday Liturgy? What does it have to do with the Eucharist?
With this Gospel coming decades after the others, it comes with the insights gained by those years of watching and ministering in the early church. The fact that this fourth Gospel has the most in-depth account of the actual thoughts and message of Jesus just before He goes out to the Garden of Gethsemane is significant. I believe that the Beloved Disciple, in caring for and watching the beloved church grow through those early decades brought the realization that there were some important aspects missing. John in leaning upon the breast of Jesus at that first Eucharist knew, very powerfully, the importance of the Body of Jesus. But he also knew the Words of Jesus were equally needed. There would be no Eucharist without the Living Word of God. It would have been just another Passover. But he who learned to listen to the heartbeat of God knew the necessity of LISTENING to the WORDS and ACTIONS of JESUS. The REAL PRESENCE of the EUCHARIST would not be without the Living REAL PROMISE of the Christ. And the Washing of the Feet of the followers of Jesus spoke in word and action of the Eucharist becoming the Body of Christ in the world. Holy Thursday is a solemn celebration of Jesus the Word, Jesus the Servant and Jesus the Savior. They cannot be separated one from another.
This Holy Thursday with the challenges of a pandemic and sickness still very present we are called to be followers of Jesus who seek to listen to the Word of God. We are called, like John to allow ourselves to learn to listen for the very heartbeat of Jesus. As we dismiss the hate and doubts of the world, the noise of fear, worry, and judgments we draw close to hear and heed the voice of Him who would promise to the sinful criminal, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” These Holy three days, let us each take time to listen to Christ.
As we seek God’s Word we realize that He would remind us we all have shared a very difficult year in passing. Our steps have known uncertainty, worry, major detours from our normal paths of work, family, and worship. We have encountered a nation that has had bitter battles of politics, race, and even of our faith among the believers. Our feet, our steps, like the disciples in the Upper Room have been wearied, bruised, and wounded. And often like those disciples, we want to forget or ignore some of those places and pains. But Jesus takes off His robes of privilege and welcomes the towel of a servant. He knowingly blesses and washes the feet of each disciple. All but one would flee at His arrest. One would betray Him. One would deny Him repeatedly. But Jesus blessed and washed them all. We are each reminded of Christ the King, that night, fully aware that His Father had given all power to Him, choose to rule…with a towel. And He calls us to do the same.
As we listen to and serve our crucified and risen King we are brought to share in the bread and sacred cup of our Savior. In the breaking of the bread, the breaking of His Body and in the sharing of the cup, His Holy Blood we share in the Real Presence, the Body of Christ. It is in the Holy Communion, in this Holy Common-Union we share in and become the hands, the feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus. And it is that sacred grace that calls us to reach out, to welcome, to bless those God brings us to encounter. It is also where we realize that Jesus truly Present in the Eucharist is also truly Present in our neighbor.