This is the text of the homily (more or less) I gave at our parish’s celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening. It is based on the scripture assigned by the Church to the liturgy
HOLY THURSDAY 2011
St. Stephen Catholic Church, Caseyville IL
April 21, 2011
author: Rev. Joseph C. Rascher © 2011
There is a “big box” hardware store (I can’t recall if it’s Lowes or Home Depot) currently running an advertisement on T.V. showing a young married couple getting instructions from a store “associate” on how to do basic repair jobs around their new home. Next they are shown fixing a leaking water line to the sink and such stuff. Returning to the store they raise their hands joined with the store employee that taught them their new-found skills in triumph! The message: follow our instructions and you can be proud of yourself, no longer an inadequate home owner! Anyone can become skilled at home repair.
All three readings tonight are instructions on “how to do something,” too. All 3 readings are the “How To Manual” for creating a sense that we live in the house of the Lord. Want to know how to come to know God is present in power taking care of his household, his people? Want to know the power of God that fixes the mess people have made of humanity through their selfishness that leads to death? It’s as easy as three simple steps:
1. Gather the folks together and share a meal
2. Let yourselves be the honored guest for once
3. Be a servant if you’re thankful
One, “get the folks together and share a meal.” It should be a meal with lots of storytelling, by the way, and where something gave its life to become the food. This meal that folks share to come to know the presence of God bringing them to a new life is it the Passover Seder of Exodus or the Christian Eucharist of St. Paul is all about remembering. Each meal tells the story of what God did for his people.
In Exodus, Jews remember the flight from Egypt that brings home the point God still frees them from a life of slavery, even now. Whenever people recall the story of Moses, plagues and unleavened bread it’s as if it’s happening all over, again. No longer victims of despots and the human condition if we let God lead us to a new existence. God is with us.
In St. Paul, remembering makes us aware Christ is not dead but among us even now – giving us a food and drink (his body and blood) that sustains our life here and forever. The food is Christ because we remember the mighty deeds of God around a table of simple food shared in a meal.
Like any good family meal, Passover and Eucharist strengthen the bonds of family. More aware of our connectedness we instruct each other that we are the Body of Christ, freed from the bonds of death.
Want to experience the presence of Jesus Christ? Then remember instruction number 2. Let yourself be served by him. Be the guest, the humble guest who let’s God serve humanity. We don’t have to do all the work in the house that Christ builds us up into.
People who get their feet washed in this Holy Thursday rite often feel a variety of emotions. Those who get their feet washed tell of having many differing thoughts.
– They speak of how awkward it is, or how embarrassing it is to have a priest kneel before them – either because they don’t like how their feet look or because it seems wrong to let another person, especially the priest who I hold in high esteem touch my feet in such an intimate way!
– Those who let a priest wash their feet this night sometimes say how humbled and honored they are, too.
– So often the thought comes to mind “I could do this myself!” I don’t need help to take a bath! It’s my responsibility to make sure I’m clean enough to go out in public. I’m not a child!” Such thoughts point to the human’s sense of independence or point out how hard it is for any of us to accept help from another because of a false pride.
Yet to meet the presence of Christ in this world, the instruction of foot washing is meant to help us learn that we must let Jesus serve us! We must acknowledge we need help beyond what we can do for ourselves. In other words “Get over yourself!” Get some true humility and let God save you by being your servant on the cross of self offering. This is the lesson Peter (who is a symbol of the church) had to learn. I can do it myself, the mantra of a child, must give way to the mature adult disciple who accepts the gift of the servant of humanity who washes away our sins like dust on our feet, like the servant of the church who feeds us a meal of his body and blood that sustains us to life.
Part of the instructions for being a disciple of Christ is very simple…”get over yourself” Don’t hold onto pride and let the Lord Jesus serve you the banquet of life.
Step 3 to fixing the broken parts of the human household so that Christ may be encountered flows from step 2. If you’re grateful for the service, no tip required…but be a servant to others so they meet Christ. What did Jesus say? “You call me teacher (i.e. instructor) and so I am. As I have done then you must do for each other” Be servant!
Jesus Christ is present in acts of selflessness as much as he is present under the forms of bread and wine.
– Jesus Christ is really present in the servant parent…
the parent who works all day, cooks the meals, keeps the house, spends the income of the child’s welfare before they spend it on themselves, the parent who answers the call of the sick child at 2:00 AM – Here is the self-sacrifice, the bread that makes life possible for another person, the paschal mystery of Jesus really present in the servant parent.
– Jesus Christ is really present in the gift of priesthood…
the priest who forgoes the companionship and pleasure of marriage to be available to all his parishioners whenever they are in need of the healing touch of a sacrament or word of hope.
– Jesus Christ is really present in people who sacrifice to fill Rice Bowls to feed the hungry of the world or bring canned goods to feed the hungry of Caseyville: people who sacrifice personal lives to work for peace and justice and who strive to help the immigrant feel welcome in a new land and provide catholic schools and…well you get the picture, I think.
There is Christ; really present because the baptized who become members of his Body, residents of his household follow his instructions “As I have served you must serve!”
There is one last thing that I always marvel at this evening. And that is the diversity of the people who are invited to sit with Jesus at this Eucharistic table and experience their unity in him. Where ever the sun sets this night through out the world, Catholics will gather like us. We all do the same thing, in all the languages of the earth, in all the various cultural customs. But we do the same one thing – we gather the folks and tell the same story, we let Jesus serve us salvation and are inspired in thanksgiving to serve the world the same meal. There is a unity in Christ in our diversity. Whether we speak English or Spanish or Polish or any other language…Whether we are Brown or White or Black or male or female we can not choose who is invited to this table of remembrance and service. The Master who is servant and servant who is master of the house decides who he will wash clean of sin. We can only rejoice that the Lord Jesus desires to gather people from “East to West,” “from every race, language and way of life” to wash our feet and feed us eternity. Excitedly, with a sense of what Jesus has accomplished, let us join our hands as one household in Christ and raise them in praise of his triumph.