Holy Thursday – Homily

Holy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-13
March 24, 2016

Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, recalling the royal welcome He received.  Jesus had probably been to Jerusalem numerous times in his live but this was not just a random trip into the city.  Jesus, along with many others, was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration at the Temple.

The Passover is one of the key feasts for the Jews.  God had given instructions that this should stand at the head of their calendar.  They are told to celebrate it as a “memorial feast” and “perpetual institution.”

As such, it was celebrated each year beginning when the Israelites entered the Promised Land.  As a “memorial” it was a celebration of the first Passover when God lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  One of the key images of that first Passover are the lambs that were sacrificed.  The lamb was so important that not just any lamb would do.  It had to be a lamb without blemish.

Raised as a Jew, Jesus would have celebrated Passover each and every year.  Now He takes the Passover and builds upon it.  Jesus takes the unleavened bread and wine and transubstantiates them into his Body and Blood.

We know this from the accounts of the Last Supper as told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as what Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  Jesus’ words are clear in scripture, “This is my body….This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

It is the Eucharist, a powerful gift to us.

Jesus also says “Do this in remembrance of me.”  The Eucharist was never meant to be celebrated just once.  We are to do it over and over.  Why?  Because we need to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to strengthen to become what we receive.

What does it take to celebrate the Eucharist?

Well, we need bread and wine.  The bread must be unleavened because the bread had not had time to rise at the first Passover.

We need an altar to celebrate the Eucharist on.  The altar is a table around which we celebrate a meal but not just any meal, but the Eucharistic meal.  It is not just any table.  As an altar, it is a place of sacrifice but not a new sacrifice.  What we celebrate at the altar is the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  Jesus becomes the unblemished lamb.

Of course, we need people.  What would a meal be without people to receive the meal?  We need people in the pews.  We need readers and servers.  We need ushers and musicians.

And if we are to celebrate the Eucharist, we need a priest.

This is the role I am here for, to serve as your priest.  As the priest, I am uniquely dressed in robes.  The vestments I wear do not make me better than anyone else.  I say this because in Jesus’ day many people dressed in robes claimed special status as priests but also as secular rulers.

Jesus was not concerned with status.  In fact, he tears down barriers of status.  The etiquette of the time say people of high status were to be served by slaves of lower status.  Jesus turns that around to serve the needs of the people.

We see this as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples when society would have said it should be the other way around.  As Jesus does this, He takes off his robe.  In doing so He removes the most visible sign of status.

In a few minutes I will wash the feet of twelve of our parishioners.  I used to think of the washing of the feet as a nice reminder of what Jesus did.  Since becoming a pastor, I have come to realize it is much more than a simple model to follow…

After He had finished washing their feet, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do you realize what I have done for you?”  Of course they would have known Jesus washed their feet.  In the custom of the day, the foot washing was done as a person entered your house to clean the dirt and sand from their feet.  They would have known that too.  Jesus is trying to show them something more.  Jesus is showing them a “model” of service.

As a priest I am called to serve the needs of all of the parishioners of our parish.  The twelve who come up for the foot washing represent everyone in our parish.

In much of what I do as a priest, I try to make eye contact with the people before me.  The foot washing is one exception to this.  I didn’t start this intentionally.  As first, as I moved from person to person, it just seemed easier to keep moving along without looking up at each person.  If I looked up to make eye contact, I would see one person.  In looking at their feet, I see the parish I serve.

This idea of service is very important to me.  It is why I believe all priests all priests need to be celibate.  I could not serve the way I do as a priest and be a good husband and a good father.  It is a sacrifice.  It helps me to serve as Jesus has called me, to celebrate the sacraments and to lead according to Jesus’ example and not my own desires.

One Comment

  1. On Holy Thursday when we celebrate the institution of the priesthood, I think of you and the other priests who have blessed my life with their spiritual goodness, and continue to do so.

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