In his homily for Holy Thursday, Year C, Father Hanly talks about the extent of God’s love for us.
Readings for Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year C
- First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18
- Second Reading: First Corinthians 11:23-26
- Gospel: John 13:1-15
My brothers and sisters,
Holy Thursday, as you know, is a celebration of the Passover, when Moses led the children of Israel out of the deepest darkest slavery of Egypt and into new hopes, a new beginning, a new covenant with God, and a new way of living out their lives.
This ragged bunch of slaves, after forty years of wandering in desert places, led by Moses the Law Maker, in time became a community of people, the people of God, who ultimately changed the world.
And so, from that day on, as Moses taught them to, they would faithfully celebrate the Feast of the Passover on the day of their entrance into the Promised Land. It was an annual celebration of the covenant of love they made with God.
Tonight, we come together, many, many centuries later, to sing songs, ancient and new, to Our Lord and Saviour, the “the Lamb of God” who has freed us from bondage.
And in tonight’s Mass, we shall pray together with him with the words “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us peace.”
Tonight, we remember our history, and thank our Jewish brethren. They are our roots, “they are the tree and we are the branches.”
Jesus, our Lord as the Lamb of God, has offered himself so that the whole world might understand that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Moses, and the God of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, is and will forever be, the true God for all peoples.
It is very important that we take note of today’s Gospel and the little ritual described there … the foot washing … which, to some, it may seem as strange today as it did to our ancestors so long ago.
In days past, at the Passover celebration, the host would greet his guests at the door, sit them down and wash their feet. An Act of Courtesy for guests who had walked the long distance on dusty paths to arrive at the banquet.
The washing, of course, was done by the household slave and not by the Master.
After the washing the host would anoint the guest with a fragrant and expensive ointment, a sure sign of his great respect and welcome.
At the Last Supper of Jesus, however, Jesus, without saying a word, rose up from the table, removes his outer garment and begins to wash the feet of his disciples.
The disciples are shocked into silence.
Peter, seeing his Master approaching him holding the basin and pitcher in his hands like a slave, was enraged. He says to Jesus: “Master, you will never wash my feet.”
Jesus responds: “Unless I wash your feet, you will have no part with me!”
And then Peter, who loves Jesus more than life itself, falls on his knees and cries: “Not only my feet, Lord, but my hands and my head as well!”
And so it happened that Peter begins to realize what it means to be a follower of Christ, a disciple of the Lord, who must learn to serve others in the way Jesus serves them, and to love as Jesus loves.
But why is Jesus so demanding, so uncompromising. Where has all his compassion gone?
Peter, too, must learn to probe the mysteries of God, the mysteries that we as children learned by heart: The Gospel of John says: “God so loves the world that He gives up his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
When Jesus kneels to wash his disciples’ feet, he’s not putting on a show, he’s not kneeling as to slaves. Jesus loves his disciples and respects them as God Himself, who has created them, loves and respects them.
They, as we, are the “beloved children of God His Father, heirs of heaven, and worthy of his love and all his affection. Jesus loves us so much that he lays down his own life for their salvation.”
Dom Helder Camara, who was a bishop in South America for many years, and something of a mystic as well, used to say: “The problem with human beings is that God is more humble than we are.”
God’s humility is revealed in so many ways.
He comes to us as a weak and needy child. As weak and needy as we are ourselves.
He worries over us, he weeps over us, he forgives before we ask and heals the sick without a noisy fanfare that would draw attention to Himself.
God’s a giver and not a taker, who asks of us nothing for Himself but only for our forgiveness, our understanding, and most of all our love.
Because God has no alternative. God is love, and love forgives … full stop.
And because of this, we take His love for granted and insist that He answer all our prayers, our petitions, and all our constant demands.
Indeed, the words of Psalm 23 come to me whenever I begin to doubt God’s presence in my life and His concern for my well-being. But when I pray, I also bring along a basket full of favors and demands. And I know He will be patient and I know He will be kind.
For as the words of the Psalm goes:
The Lord is truly my Good Shepherd
And there is nothing I shall want.
“Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
Forever and ever.”
If you do not believe me, come back tomorrow, on Friday afternoon, Good Friday, and you shall see and hear and wonder at why we call it Good.