Homily for Maundy Thursday, Evening Mass of the
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the liturgies of the coming days help us digest and assimilate each year what we know from a story that we know very well indeed. All of us here know the story of the last twenty four hours of the life of our Saviour – and all of us know that on the third day after His death on the cross He rose again to new life. We do not come to the liturgies of these days suspending this knowledge, rather we come asking the Holy Spirit to enable us to tune in once more to the events of these days so that we may grow in love of our Saviour and in understanding of what He is asking of each one of us in our life on this earth.
In the second reading and in the Gospel we have just heard that Jesus and his disciples met together for a festive meal on the evening of his last day of freedom before his crucifixion. Scholars today engage in earnest debate as to whether this was a Passover meal or not – but from the liturgical point of view I suggest this is missing the point. From its earliest days the Church has understood the Eucharist as the Christian fulfilment of the Passover. For the Jewish people the Passover is a moment of intense communion with the God who delivered them out of the land of bondage and brought them to their own promised land. The same is true for us. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ which we celebrate in these days released us from our bondage to sin and sustains us in our journey, our Exodus, through this life to the promised land of heaven. It is important for us that this meal actually took place. It is important for us that our Saviour took humble elements, bread and wine; that he blessed them telling his disciples that the blessed bread and wine were His Body and Blood given to sustain us during this exodus life. Finally it is important for us that Jesus told us to celebrate this meal in memory of Him. So every time we meet together to listen to the sacred scriptures and to receive His Body and Blood He is present in our midst to speak with us, to nourish us, and to lead us towards the kingdom of his Father.
However, if we are to be faithful to Scriptures laid before us tonight we must note one further element which is crucial for our self-understanding. In the Gospel we see Jesus taking the place of a servant, of the household slave. He took off his outer garment, took a basin of water and a towel, and began one of the most menial household tasks: he washed the feet of his disciples. He, the Lord and Master, washed the feet of the brethren he lived with, worked with, and loved – all of them, even the one who was to betray him. It seems to me that Jesus’ example makes a very simple point for you and for me. Our life of Christian discipleship will be empty, will be a sham, if it is not connected with practical service of our fellow human beings. Being a follower of Christ cannot be limited to an hour in Church on Sunday; it cannot be limited to a time in Church or in prayer day by day: being a follower of Christ means that we must both pray and serve others.
On this first evening, this vigil if you will of Good Friday, Holy Mother Church lays before us two elements of our life as disciples. She reminds us of the importance of worship: of listening to the sacred scriptures, of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord which sustains us in this life, and of praising the God who has given us everything that we have; and then she reminds us of the importance of following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord by attending in a practical way to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Tomorrow we will read further in the Gospel of St John. If you have an opportunity I encourage to prepare the readings from the prophet Isaiah, the letter to the Hebrews and most especially the 18th and 19th chapters of Gospel of St John.