Homily for Maundy Thursday (14/4/22)

posted 19 Apr 2022, 01:50 by Parish Office

There is something truly wonderful and moving about these four days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, and indeed Holy Week. Working with Christians of other traditions in the hospital, it has led me to a deeper appreciation of the fact that we, as Catholics, have a rich and detailed liturgical year – rather than every day being the same, we live out the different events in the life of the Lord over the course of twelve months. And that kind of idea goes back to the Jewish celebration of the Passover.

For the Jews, when they celebrated the Passover once a year, they were not just remembering an event from many years ago, but they were actually taking part in the original event. And that’s what we do over the next few days. We liturgically enact and take part in the original event – today Christ washes the disciples’ feet, celebrates the Eucharist for the first time, and then goes to the garden of Gethsemane, where He asks his disciples to stay awake and pray not to be put to the test, before He is then arrested in the middle of the night and taken away to the High Priest. Tonight is a most special night as we build up to the most important part of the whole of the Church’s year.

Firstly, we have the example of service, with Christ washing the disciples’ feet. Peter was scandalised initially that the Lord would attempt to wash his feet. But Christ turns things on their head. In the Church, leadership should not mean the pagan model, where the leaders lord it over others and make their authority felt. The leader has to serve, and Jesus doesn’t just tell them what to do, but He takes the initiative by serving them Himself, with an example that they would never forget. There was someone on the radio this morning saying that he collapsed recently on a flight as the plane returned to England, and that he would never forget the kindness shown by the airline staff, and then the doctors and nurses at A+E afterwards. In one sense, you could say it was just their job, but actually, there’s what you do and how you do it. The nurse who slams the pills down on the table and says, “’Ere, you, take these pills now and shut up” isn’t perhaps the best model. She too will be remembered, but for the wrong reasons. What does it say of the love of the Lord, that He would actually stoop down to wash the disciples’ feet?

Tonight, we relive that experience, but also remember what He said afterwards:

“If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

In a very wonderful way, He makes it clear, without hurting those who didn’t get the hint the first time round. All Christians are called to service, but especially the clergy – service is at the heart of what it means to be ordained.

Jesus knew that He had come from the Father and was returning to the Father. His plan was not to leave us alone like orphans. He made preparations for when He would no longer be walking on the earth. He gave us a sacrament, the sacrament of all sacraments, to be at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian: “Do this in memory of me.” When Christ celebrated the Eucharist during the Passover, it must have caught their attention: what is He doing now? Someone could have said, “That’s not in the book!” His sacrifice on the Cross and Resurrection were going to bring all of the prophecies and rituals of the Jewish religion to their fulfilment: “this is … the blood of the new and eternal covenant.” Just as the Israelites had manna in the desert to sustain them on the way to the Promised Land, now the Eucharist is to be our food for the journey through life to the next, nourished not just with any ordinary food, but with God Himself. Just think of how much God must think of us to want to feed us with Himself! He didn’t say, “ungrateful lot, here, share a few scraps of food – it might help you remember me once in a while”. Instead, He entrusted His very self to us – a Gift that is open to abuse, but also one that can lead people to deep holiness when they have the right dispositions. As the sequence for Corpus Christi states:

“The good, the guilty share therein,

With sure increase of grace or sin,

The ghostly life, or ghostly death:

Death to the guilty; to the good

Immortal life. See how one food

Man’s joy or woe accomplisheth.”

And lastly, of course, there needs to be a way for the Eucharist to come about. Christ institutes the priesthood for that very purpose. The Christians religion is not to be a religion just of lay preachers, but of men who are themselves icons of Christ, who speak in His name, and who have that power from the Lord to cause bread and wine to become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to make His sacrifice on the Cross sacramentally present and His risen presence present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist contains in itself, each time it is celebrated, the mysteries we are going to take part in over the next few days. Great is the Gift that the Lord has given us.

Tonight, then, we spend quality time with the Lord. We marvel at His great love for us, in His example of service, and His gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Love is at the heart of it all. And we commit ourselves to be that love for others, too.