Maundy Thursday 17.4.14

Maundy Thursday the Mass of the Lord’s Supper

17.04.2014 St. Chad’s Cathedral

 ‘At the moment you do not understand what I am doing, but later you will understand….If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ John 13:7-8

In his homily this evening, Canon Breen pose us with a question: ‘As we gather with the Lord this evening. What does he see as he looks at each one of us?’ And gave us the answer, ‘Our declaration of love? Yes for sure! But he also knows of our times of failure – when through thought, word and deed we too will betray and also deny.’

And posing another question he said, ‘But how did Jesus respond to the disciples in that Upper Room, and what is his response to us this evening?’ And providing the answer he added,  ‘The Gospel gives us the answer. He assumes the condition of a servant, “gets up from the table, removes his outer garment, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the feet of his disciples”. (Jn13:4)’ This act of selfless love is completed in his act of love upon the Cross. And we are invited into this mystery of faith, a faith ‘which both nourishes and empowers the Mission of the Church’.

Homily of Canon Gerry Breen

‘At the moment you do not understand what I am doing, but later you will understand….If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ John 13:7-8

In two weeks’ time, Pope Francis will preside at the canonisation of two Popes: Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

In the Jubilee Year of 2000, Pope John Paul made an historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was an emotional journey for him for many reasons.

An iconic image of that visit is Blessed John Paul standing in quiet isolation deep in prayer before the ‘Wailing Wall’ in Jerusalem.

In his reflections after the pilgrimage, he took us back to Jerusalem and to the Cenacle, revered by Christians as the ‘Upper Room’ – both the setting and culmination of all our Scripture for this evening.

When in that Upper Room, Blessed John Paul let his mind drift back almost 2000 years to when the Lord sat down with his disciples to celebrate the Passover Meal (the Last Supper) and when he would Institute the Eucharist which we will celebrate shortly.

At the time of Jesus, the atmosphere in Jerusalem was both tense and exciting. Crowds thronged the City for the Festival. There was an undercurrent of uneasiness with an occupying army who didn’t want to be there – and civil unrest that led to the imprisonment of insurgents – including a man named Barabbas.

Blessed John Paul tried to imagine what the thoughts of Jesus may have been as he looked at those sitting with him in the Upper Room. He pictured the faces of those who declared their love for Jesus – the same faces that very soon would desert him and deny him – and, of course, the face of the one who would betray him to death.

As we gather with the Lord this evening. What does he see as he looks at each one of us? – Our declaration of love? Yes for sure! But he also knows of our times of failure – when through thought, word and deed we too will betray and also deny.

But how did Jesus respond to the disciples in that Upper Room, and what is his response to us this evening?

The Gospel gives us the answer. He assumes the condition of a servant, ‘gets up from the table, removes his outer garment, pours water into a basin and begins to wash the feet of his disciples’. (Jn13:4)

In that washing, what thoughts filled his mind and heart as he moved from one disciple to the next?

Perhaps when he came to Judas his gaze and touch was that more prolonged, that more gentle and compassionate?

I am sure he ‘looked steadily at him and loved him’ just as he had done to the rich young man (Mk 10:21), to the woman at the well (Jn 4); and as he did to Simon Peter when he asked him three times ‘Simon son of John, do you love me? (Jn 21:15)

This outpouring of steadfast love (hesed) symbolised by the washing of the feet will reach its fulfilment in the self-emptying of Jesus (his kenosis) on the Cross when his body is broken and his life poured out as the Blood of the Sacrificial Lamb of God to wash away our sins.

As Saint Paul reminded us in our Second Reading (words we hear in every Mass): ‘This is my body, which is for you…this cup is the new covenant in my blood…do this as a memorial of me.’ (Cor 11:23-26)

Therefore, what we are invited to have in common with Jesus is nothing less than Communion itself. An invite to enter into that mystery of faith – the death and resurrection of Christ – which we celebrate in every Eucharist.

It is this mysterium fidei which both nourishes and empowers the Mission of the Church – enabling us to be those ‘Spirit Filled Evangelisers’ Archbishop Bernard spoke of during his homily for the Mass of Chrism yesterday. A phrase taken from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. (EG:5, 262)

So from this encounter with the person of Christ and his words to us: ‘I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you’ (Jn 13:15) comes our mandate for Mission in the world.

When speaking of ‘evangelisation and the proclamation of the Gospel message (kerygma) – Pope Francis reminds us:

‘In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze’ (EG 169) This also applies to the young men from Oscott College who are in formation for the priesthood and are with us in our cathedral.

I must admit, that the ‘fragrance of Christ’ sounds more appealing than ‘the smell of the sheep!’(EG 24) (And, by the way that’s not a reference to our students!)

If we are to take on the ‘fragrance of Christ and his personal gaze’ we must take care to look at others without exclusion – for that is how Christ looks at us – in spite of our times of denial and betrayal.

Pope Francis puts it quite beautifully: ‘Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their failings’ (EG 44)

‘If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.’ (Jn 13:14)

Dare we have the courage to go and do likewise? Or do we still not understand?!

For more images please see the Gallery.

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