Homily – Holy Thursday

My homily from last evening–

Friends, this evening we begin the holy time of Triduum—a period of three days that more than any other time in our Church year, tells us in no uncertain terms, how much we are loved by our God, in Jesus.  As always, our God does this by working through our human experiences, our rituals, and our understandings, to bring us further along on our journey to God.  As this is true for us, it has been true through time.  Because the readings for this feast speak of rituals that aren’t part of our practice, much of this homily is exegesis on these past rituals of our Hebrew sisters and brothers, which I’ve shared with you before, but for our awareness, it is good to look at again.

In that light, we recall that the Exodus account relating how God repeated a practice that the Israelite people would have understood—that of a ritual killing of one of the flock to offer protection for the others, raised up that experience as a sign and symbol of God’s desire to protect and save them—giving them new life.  The placing of blood on the doorposts to signal those who should be protected from “the angel of death passing over” sounds strange to us, but the Israelite people did the same thing when they yearly moved their flocks, being a nomadic people.  One animal was sacrificed (a scapegoat, as it were) and its blood was sprinkled around the edges of the camp to protect the rest of the flock.  To this people, the practice made sense; but they were amazed by the realization that their God would do this for them as well—would in fact bring them out of slavery with such power and graciousness. Their only response could be—thankfulness.

The readings tonight bring us full circle showing all the connections, past to present to future.  God intervened in time—in the past, to make the Israelites a people and once again, in time, giving us Jesus, the perfect, unblemished one, who would show us the way, save us, as it were, from our humanity and raise us up with him, in time, to perfection with God.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a simple recitation of what was given to him about Jesus’ saving action for each of us.  Jesus would always be with us in the bread and the wine—as often as we remember his action among us.  Holy Thursday is traditionally the night we remember this great gift of love Jesus gave us.  During the Triduum each year, people are received into the Church through baptism, the Eucharist and confirmation. This actually takes place at the Easter Vigil and it is good for us to think about the joy these new ones feel upon being received into the Church—a partaking of these initial sacraments—a reminder to each of us, I think, to never take lightly what we do here. For most of us, these initiating sacraments took place at a tender age and only at our confirmations, were we mature enough so as to make a strong commitment to live as a Christian. The Church is wise, I believe, to challenge us during the Triduum each year to renew our baptismal promises and our commitment to our brother Jesus in our lives.

Our gospel reading tonight is profound in many ways as it opens up all that will happen in the next days.  The washing of the feet comes at a strange place in the gospel account—ordinarily the washing of feet happens when people first arrive at another’s home, as a point of hospitality, walking the dusty streets of Galilee in sandals, not after they were already at dinner.  But, as is always the case with Jesus— he was about a teachable moment.

Jesus was demonstrating in a lovely way the humility with which we should meet and greet all who we encounter in our lives as Christians.  At first, Peter didn’t get it—he saw this action as Jesus’ self-abasement and he wouldn’t be part of it.  Of course the importance of Jesus’ action wasn’t in its physical, but its spiritual nature.  Peter needed to get beyond himself—this is what Jesus was saying—it is about service to others and if,  like Peter, we want to be one with Jesus, we must do just that, serve others.

Peter finally realizes the true significance of Jesus washing his feet, just as we did a bit ago—it is not about personal self-abasement, either for Jesus or for Peter—this is something much bigger. Jesus wanted him and us to know in no uncertain terms that following him is about service, so he was making the point in choosing to serve them!

It is good for us tonight to reflect on the Last Supper of Jesus from a purely human standpoint, pondering just what this had to have meant to him emotionally. Sometimes, we “stay up” in the spiritual-theological realm and forget Jesus’ humanity, laden with emotions, at a time like this.

He had spent three years with this group of disciples and friends, grooming them, showing them the way to go, to be in this world—in his footsteps. No doubt he grew to love them dearly. He knew all their strengths and weaknesses and loved them into all that they could be, for themselves, and the world that was waiting for the message that they had to share. This was his last time to be with them in a meaningful way—his last time to teach them all he wanted them to know. No doubt this was his last time with his mother—we can only imagine what a profound experience this was for him! We miss a big part of who Jesus was if we don’t allow him to be human so as to give us comfort in our humanity—to show us the way.

The Triduum friends, calls us to reflect on three themes:  First is God’s Passover which basically says to us that for no other reason than love, our God offers us salvation, nourishment and service.  In other words, our God is always with us—Creator, Savior, Spirit—One God, living and loving us forever and ever.

The second theme that should be ever before us during these days is our response to such a loving action on God’s part.  When we contemplate that we have been saved and uplifted in Jesus through his life, death and resurrection to then carry on the gift of his body and blood at the Last Supper and on Calvary by ourselves becoming his body and blood for our world, we should so totally be opened up to God graciousness that our only response can be that of thanksgiving too, just as the Israelites, so long ago.

The final theme that is offered to us during these days follows these first two very well—and that is, wonder at God’s love for us!  It has been said, “The wonder is not ….that God could do this, but that God would!”

Holy Thursday has traditionally been a day to give thanks for the gift of Holy Orders and it is with great thanks that I reflect on my own ordination almost 8 years ago, and the privilege of pastoring this fine community.

As the season of Lent comes to an end; I think it is good to reflect on the love each of us has for our families—spouses, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all our extended family members.  We remember too those who have gone on to their eternal reward from this community over the past year: Cathy Bartleson, Warren Galbus and Giles Schmid. As we love all those dear to us and would do anything for them; we must realize that Our God loves us in this same way, only more so.  So when things go awry in our lives, let us remember that our God is close—crying with us in our sorrows, celebrating with us in our joys.  If it were any other way, we as humans, as God’s creation, could not love our families as we do—the love comes first from God, and it will show itself in the love we give to others.

So, if we ever wonder about God’s love, let us remember his final command to his first followers:  “As I have done, so you must do!”  This is a time, a night of great thankfulness, but also a time of challenge—our call is to now be Jesus’ body and blood for our world. We do that by reaching out in love to all that we meet each and every day. May we be blessed in that endeavor.