Homily Holy Thursday Yr C 18.04.2019
C/W Exodus 12:1-14.Ps 116.1 Cor 11:23-26. Jn 13:1-17,31b-35
Tonight the mission of Jesus is proceeding inexorably to its climax. Several crucial things are going on here. A few days before, Jesus had been anointed at Bethany.
Tonight, Jesus washes his disciples feet; He creates the Ministerial Priesthood; He institutes the Eucharist of his Body and Blood; He is betrayed and He agonises in the garden to the point of sweating blood as his callous murder is about to commence.
On the following day as He is dying on the Cross, blood and water flow from his side – the beginning of the Sacramental life of the Church – as a soldier thrusts the spear int His side.
This evidences Christ’s humanity and divinity as we proclaim by comixing wine and water at the offertory in the eucharist – the divine and the human. There are sacramental beginnings all over the place.
Blood lies at the heart of these events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In preparation for their liberation from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel are commanded by God to slaughter an animal – such as a lamb – and then eat it in a hurried meal, in preparation for their escape into freedom.
They are to smear the lamb’s blood around their doorposts and lintels, to identify their houses, so that the angel of death will pass over them and do them no harm.
The blood of the lamb becomes a very powerful symbol of being saved from death and liberated from slavery. The Passover Feast brings the Exodus into the present day of the Hebrews. Their ‘anamnesis’ doesn’t just ‘remember it, it makes it present – like our Eucharist does.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that Jesus’ last meal with his disciples was a Passover meal – eaten as a memorial of that escape into freedom. St John’s Gospel offers us a different timescale.
John tells us that Jesus’ final meal takes place before the festival of the Passover. So in St John’s Gospel, the moment that Jesus dies on the cross – spilling his blood for humanity – is the very moment when the priests are sacrificing the lambs in the Temple, in preparation for the Passover meal.
John’s meaning is clear. Jesus is the real Lamb of God – the one whose blood truly sets his people free. This helps explain why, in St John’s Gospel, we get no account of the Passover meal, with the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup.
John so clearly and unequivocally sets out his eucharistic teaching in Chapter 6 of his Gospel.
In John 6:54, He records Jesus introducing a different Greek verb for eating His Body that emphasizes the physical chewing or gnawing: Even rationalist scholars recognize the implications of this verb.
It is a matter of real eating and not simply of some sort of spiritual participation. Thus v. 55 should also be taken in this way. It is really SO! Jesus’ flesh is real food and his blood is real drink!
Jesus heightens the realism and shock of this consumption by adding the drinking of His blood, which would have seemed especially abhorrent to His listeners, for the blood of animal sacrifice was reserved by the Law of Moses to God alone.
Imagine how disturbing this teaching must have been to people who had never heard of the Eucharist! Only at the Last Supper could the Apostles understand that Christ was giving His Body and His Blood to them to be consumed.
This is not in their ordinary and “raw” state so as to be divided up as in a meat market, but under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine to accommodate the sensibilities of human nature.
It is the WHOLE Christ in His Human and Divine state we receive under the sacramental forms of bread and wine. His body and blood becomes OUR body and blood!
In the context of approaching Passover Sacrifice, John shows Jesus using a different and powerful, more than simply symbolic action, to explain the meaning of his sacrifice on the cross the next day.
Jesus washes his disciples’ feet – the act of a slave. Jesus shows that his death will be an act of service, for all people. He serves by pouring out his lifeblood – a supreme act of self-giving, selfless love, so that God’s people might be set free.
And he says to his apostles, and to us – Go and do the same! That is why tonight is also a celebration of priesthood. Jesus is and continues to be our great High Priest.
By His authority to forgive sins in God’s name, by the authority of the keys of the Kingdom, by the authority of ‘Do this as a memorial act of me in the eucharist’ and by the Washing of His disciples feet – the nature of servanthood, He passes on His earthly functions to His Apostles and their successors.
Indeed, at the Last Supper as He teaches His Apostles, He says “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father”.
So Jesus entrusts His priesthood to His church. By our Baptism through which we receive the indelible mark of our union with Christ as His body, as his brothers and sisters, we become a priestly people.
As Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church His bride, His Apostles and their successors acting In persona Christi, in the person of Christ, carry on His Apostolic sacrifice and servanthood in the ministerial priesthood of the Church.
Two days ago in this Holy Week, the Chrism Mass or Chrism Eucharist was celebrated in our Cathedral. During that Eucharist, the Bishop blessed and consecrated the Holy Oils which will later be presented at this Eucharist.
The Oil of New Life; the Oil of Healing; and the Oil of Consecration. These are not symbolic signs; they are the vessels of God’s sacramental grace to us.
The Chrism Eucharist should be the embodiment, the reality, of the union between the Bishop and his Priests, the Priests with each other; and the people with their priests, deacons and Bishop. The Oneness of the Body of Christ, the Bridegroom and the Bride, His Church.
In the presentation of the Holy Oils tonight, they bring in a sense, Our Bishop among us. They show that we all have a share in the unity of Christ’s Body, the Church.
Because we all have a share in the priestly nature of the Church. Ordained and Lay, we all offer the Sacrifice of Praise in our Eucharistic lives. We all sacrificially proclaim the Gospel and through that, bring forgiveness to God’s people. And we all metaphorically wash their feet in diaconal service.
Death does not have the final word. The blood of the Son of God is poured out so that we might have life, life to the full. So tonight we celebrate the Eucharist – We are joined to Jesus in that first Maundy Thursday. We walk with Jesus to that Garden of Gethsamane.
But as we celebrate the Eucharist together, the love that is at the heart of the Eucharist calls out to us and forms us. Christ’s generous pouring out of himself – of his lifeblood – in service of others invites and empowers us to do likewise.
Love calls forth love. The only way to true freedom is the way of foot-washing, the way of service, and the way of costly love.
Whether we serve as a priest, a parent, a carer, a friend, or a good neighbour, we try generously to pour out who we are, what we have, in lives of loving service, so that through us Christ may continue to wash the feet of all humanity.
As we eat his body and drink his blood, he empowers us here and now with his life, enabling us to love with his love, serve with his compassion, so that others might be freed.
Jesus is flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, bone of our bone – ‘Glue of our glue’. Yet He is perfectly God and perfectly man. We are not just ‘glued’ to Him; we are bonded with Him as in marriage, One Flesh.
As we walk and agonise with Him to Gethsemane, as we watch through His Passion and through the Sacred Triduum, so we will rejoice with Him at the Resurrection.
In His great High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says to His Father, “The Glory which thou hast given me I have given to them that they may be one, even as we are one’.
So now we proceed to the servitude of the footwashing in the ministerial priesthood, and by association, the priestly work of all Christians.