Homily: Holy Thursday, 2013

28TH March, 2013

Remembrance is at the very heart of what we celebrate this evening.

A memento is a very precious gift to help us remember something of the person we love which has outlasted them, but will stay with us.  We have different ways of trying to remember people who have gone before us - sometimes lots of photos in a box!

But this evening we come together knowing that Jesus left us something better. He left us Himself. It is this very thing we remember in this Evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

St Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth is the earliest account ever written of the Last Supper.  It pre-dates, even the gospels.  It is so close to the original event, that its words are part of our Eucharistic prayer, spoken at every Mass, at every altar, around the world.  The words that created the Eucharist are the beating heart of our Catholic belief.  And through it all, one word leaps out at us: Remembrance: Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus is saying: This is how I want to be remembered.

In the gospel, John doesn’t even mention the meal, or the institution of the Eucharist. But he finds something else for us to remember: Christ, the servant. Even as the anguish of the ‘hour’ draws near, Christ’s extraordinary act of service, the washing of his disciples’ feet, is a reminder that we are called to serve – to wash one another’s feet, in humility and in love, just as Jesus did.

But it is not just the ordained who are called to this. It is all of Christ’s disciples. All who gather at His table and share in His body and blood.  Every single one of us! ‘You ought to wash one another’s feet,’ Jesus says. ‘I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.’ In other words: remember what I have done.  And do this, too, in remembrance of me.

We are people of remembrance.  So were the Jews.  It’s there in the first reading, from Exodus, describing the institution of the Passover meal – the very meal that Christ was celebrating when He gave us the Eucharist. One of the interesting aspects of this reading is that the entire passage is, really, a monologue.  And the one who speaks…is God.

And He tells His people: ‘This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.’ It is an occasion for calling to mind all that God has done for his people. And He is calling on them, in a very particular way: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’: Do not forget!

It is no secret that the older you get, the more you do forget. For some of us every day is a battle to try and recall where we put our keys, or our glasses. It is easier to forget than to remember. This is what makes tonight’s remembrance all the more remarkable.

For four thousand years humankind has re-enacted somehow the great Passover feast of Jesus and all those who came before Him. The memorial feast we read of in Exodus has continued.

For two thousand years we have gathered around this table and repeated St Paul’s beautiful words – the words the Corinthians heard and took to heart.

For uncounted generations we have knelt and watched as the body and blood of Christ have been raised – and watched as we, too, have been raised with them, as offerings to God.  And down through history, we have knelt and washed one another’s feet with a profound charity and sense of purpose that made Christian love the most powerful force on the planet. Even unbelievers were moved to say, ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ See what we have done in remembrance of Him.

This night, our journey toward Calvary begins in earnest. But so does our journey toward Easter. Holy Communion is often referred to as ‘viaticum ’or food for the journey.  Let us prepare to receive that food, so we can begin that journey: a journey of struggle and of faith. It is a journey that a billion others around the world are also undertaking with us on this sacred night.

We share it with them for one beautiful and hopeful reason: we do this in remembrance of Him. St John tells us that ‘Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to pass from this world to the Father ‘and so Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Do we desire to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, and busy about other things or are we afraid like Peter? Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love. Otherwise, even as faith, it is dead.

With the Eucharist, the Church is born.  All of us eat the one bread and receive the one body of the Lord; this means that he opens each of us up to something above and beyond us.  Jesus makes all of us one.  The Eucharist is the mystery of the profound closeness and communion of each individual with the Lord.  All of us need the conversion which enables us to accept Jesus in his reality as God and man. We need the humility of the disciple who follows the will of his Master.

Lord, you desire us, you desire me.  You eagerly desire to share yourself with us in the Holy Eucharist, to be one with us.  Lord, awaken in us the desire for you. Help us to understand and to walk with you.  Strengthen us in unity with you and with one another. Grant unity to your Church under the leadership of Francis, our Pope, so that the world may believe. Amen.