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Homily for Holy Thursday

I’m sure many people would say that the next three days are some of the most

wonderful in the whole of the Church’s year, as we move from the Upper

Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, then follow Christ to His crucifixion on

Golgotha, His burial, and finally His Resurrection from the tomb. Tonight we

have part one of the trilogy, if you like, and there is the tension and the drama:

the example of service with the Washing of the Feet and the message of service,

the joy of the institution of the Eucharist, and with it, the priesthood, all that is

to come in the Garden and subsequently; and we also have the presence there

of the one who is to betray Him, at present unknown to the other Eleven, but

known to the Lord.


“Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands” - Knowing that

the scene is now set, everything now begins and unfolds. And tonight we not

only celebrate the Eucharist, but also live liturgically the other moments too –

the Washing of the Feet and also the journey from the Upper Room to the

Garden of Gethsemane, where we are asked to watch and pray, lest we fall into

temptation, for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Tonight’s celebration

is how we time travel and take part in those original events. When the Jews

celebrated the Passover, the idea of doing something “in memory” didn’t just

mean remembering in the head what happened all that time ago – they believed

they were actually taking part spiritually in the original event. The Church

teaches something similar: that when we celebrate the Eucharist, we are taken

back to that first celebration, as well as to the Cross and the Empty Tomb – but

more about that later.


First, the Washing of the Feet. To do what Jesus did was normally the job of a

slave. When we celebrate it liturgically in church, people have normally

washed their feet recently, but in days gone by it was a practical thing: after

walking for ages in the dust and dirt, that dust, dirt and sweat needed washing

off, and cool water was a relief. Our Lord tells them, firstly: “You call me

Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am”, so first He affirms His place as the One

in charge, to whom obedience is owed. So now we must do what He tells us:

“If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each

other’s feet”. Not just in the sense of repeat this action once a year on Maundy

Thursday, but to follow His example of service, and not to think that certain

things are beneath you, no matter who you are. I remember one book I read,

although I can’t remember where I read it, that said you are only really fully a

Parish Priest when you are having to clean out the toilets.


Next, the Eucharist. Luke 22:15: “I have longed to eat this Passover with you

before I suffer”, or as another translation puts it: “I have earnestly desired to

eat this passover with you before I suffer”. It was the deep desire of Our Lord’s

Heart to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, that we might be united with Him

in a union that is like a marriage, two hearts united together. How great is His

joy when we respond! And how great is His sorrow when we refuse or put

obstacles in the way, or our hearts are not completely His. In the first reading,

it began with: “This month is to be the first of all the others for you”, in other

words, it was talking about the beginning of something new when the Passover

came into being. Now with the Eucharist, we have a new covenant, and a new

beginning again. All is again made new.


In the Eucharist, Christ gives of Himself. When He says, this is my Body

which is given for you, and this is my Blood which is poured out for you, He

could also be referring to His Crucifixion, and in fact He is. The Eucharist

joins us to His Sacrifice, and that is why the ones that celebrate it are called

priests. So, logically, bringing the Eucharist into being, He had to also bring

the priesthood into being. Being a priest is also a way in which Christ makes

Himself present in the world of today, as men through ordination become

“other Christs”, enabling celebration of the Eucharist and Christ to be present

in the tabernacles across the world.


Tonight, the tabernacle is empty. There was no reserved sacrament when the

first Mass was celebrated. We then process with the Lord to the altar of repose

in the hall, recalling Christ’s journey from the Upper Room to Gethsemane. In

the Middle Ages they also had the practice in this country of setting up what

was called an Easter sepulchre in the church, where the Blessed Sacrament was

“buried”, if you like, and then rose at Morning Prayer on Easter Sunday. If you

go to, or visit via the internet, the Catholic church of St Giles’ in Cheadle,

Staffordshire, they have a part of the church that was designed for that

ceremony.


Tonight, then, we enter deeply, with the eyes of faith, into all that the next three

days will bring. We enter into the hearts of Christ, His Apostles, and His

disciples; and these events from two thousand years ago become real again

once more.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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