Homily for Mass on Holy Thursday 2018
When I read the second reading this morning in preparing this homily I was struck by something for the first time. Even though I had read this passage numerous times only today did I notice that Paul was not at the last supper. When you read what he tells the Corinthians you, at least I, got the distinct impression that he was there: ‘This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night he was betrayed , the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’. And in a sense he was there.
I have forgotten much of what I was taught in seminary, but one thing I remember and have never forgotten was the Jewish meaning of the word ‘memorial’. For us a memorial is something that commemorates the past; and so we have many monuments or memorials to the first and second world war. However, memorial has a much deeper meaning for the Jewish people, and is the one we christians have inherited when we celebrate the eucharist. For the Jewish people memorial is not simply something of the past, recalling past events, like the passover, for example. It is not simply a question of remembering the past, but of being present. For them memorial brings the past into the present they don’t commemorate the passover as history they are present at the Passover. And this is the same for us. You recall Jesus famous words, “this is my body which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’. We are not just recalling an historic event; we are actually present, in a strange but real way, at the Last Supper. When we celebrate the eucharist in a few minutes we sit down around the table with Christ and his disciples; it is not then history we are really there. On this very night Christ instituted the eucharist, and He instituted the priesthood, so that we could continue to celebrate the eucharist.
St Paul was probably Christ’s greatest disciple, even though he never met him during Christ’s lifetime. He too pondered on Christ’s words ‘this is my body given for you’. He was told by others of Christ’s gesture of washing the disciples’ feet. And he understood as only Paul could what Christ was saying to them but also to us all: as I have done, who am your Lord and Master, do you also to others. Paul did give his body for others; Paul did wash the feet of others. And in doing this he gave us an example, that we should do likewise.
Like St Paul we too have not seen Christ but he still speaks to us today as if we were living with him. His message to us is eternal; it wasn’t just for his generation, but was meant to be passed on down through all the generations. Christ challenges us today to give up our lives for others. At the same time to wash each others feet, not literally, but in a metaphorical sense. We are here to serve, not to be served.
The Lord instituted the Eucharist this night so that we can have the strength to do what he asks of us. You must have had the experience already in life of overcoming difficulties, of being very unselfish, of enduring great pain and anxiety. And maybe people have said to you: “I don’t know how you did it. I couldn’t have done it”. But they could, just as you did. Christ, in the Eucharist, gives us the grace to do the most difficult things, things we couldn’t image doing. Christ in the Eucharist is our strength, our life, our joy and our only hope. How blessed we are to have the Eucharist; to have Christ in our midst, food for our souls and bodies. Tonight we are not just celebrating an historical event that took place two thousand years ago. No, we are in a real way present at the Last Supper, and that is surely awesome.