Holy Thursday 2015

The idea is to follow Christ through these coming hours. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, culminating in the great Easter Vigil… the idea is to follow Christ.

These liturgies constantly invite us to enter in to the mysteries - not just to reflect on them, not just to remember, but to become participants. We are not here to be spectators. We are here to give living witness to the Paschal Mystery that defines our own lives, a summons to follow Christ. And when we talk about ‘following Christ,’ we mean that quite literally, to place our feet in His footsteps, to go where He goes, to choose as He has chosen. 

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, for Catholics, is not just a re-enactment; it is that, but so much more. We haven’t come here tonight to remember what happened in the Upper Room. We’ve come here because it’s going to happen again. Tonight, the words will be spoken, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, this is my Body.”  The voice that speaks these words will belong to a sinful and unworthy man, but they will not be my words, but Christ’s. And the same Eucharist that fed the Apostles will feed you tonight. He made this clear; He commanded it: “Do this in remembrance of me.” He established this Sacrament for His Church, this Real Presence for all time.

When He put a towel around His waist to wash their feet, He said “as I have done for you, so you must do.” He calls us to follow, to imitate, to pattern our lives after His. To follow Christ is to serve others. And we don’t get to choose only the appealing ways of serving. The call is to serve not according to our desire, but according to our neighbor’s need.  Especially in the most humble tasks.

Later tonight He will go to the garden, and there too we will follow. Pay special attention to this moment in the life of our Lord: “Father, let this cup pass me by.” If you follow Christ in your life, sooner or later you will end up in Gethsemene. Expect it. It is important that you know this so that when it happens, you will know where you are, and you will know that He has been there before you, and that His grace will give you the strength to pray as He did: “Not my will, but Thine be done.” God doesn’t ask us for just whatever sacrifice. He call us specifically, and obeying His will means doing the things He asks of us, not the things we wish He asked of us.  The offering that feels good, the offering that comes naturally to you, may not be the offering God is asking. We do not choose the cup that comes to us. We only choose to accept it or not.

That choice defines our discipleship: Jesus left no doubt. “If you want to be my disciple, take up your Cross and follow me.” What is your Cross? Are you walking with Christ along the Way? 

Christians sometimes make the mistake of thinking that Jesus bore the punishment, paid the debt, endured the Cross, so that we don’t have to. There is much that is true in this line of thinking. When He took up His Cross, He did something for us that we could never have done for ourselves. He took our place, made atonement for a debt we could never repay, offered the sacrifice that we could not offer, that truly takes away the sins of the world. But that doesn’t leave us outside the story, spectators in our salvation. He does it for us, but not without us. “If you want to be my disciple, take up your Cross and follow me.” There is no Christianity without bearing a Cross. Why? Simply because God is Love, and there is no Love without suffering in this fallen world. In Heaven, there will be love without suffering, but here in the vale of tears it is not possible to love without carrying some Cross.

It can sometimes seem, especially from outside, that Catholics are kind of obsessed with suffering. There is an unhealthy kind of spiritual masochism that we do indeed need to avoid. But the life of a disciple must, absolutely must, involve the embrace of the Cross. It means not only accepting the Cross Jesus asks you to carry, but it also means walking with others who carry their own. Was Jesus obsessed with suffering? He always seemed to seek out the most lost and broken people, tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers and and Pharisees. Even during the best of times, He always seemed to be warning His disciples that the Cross was coming. Was He obsessed with suffering? No, He was consumed with love. Love fixed His attention on the people who needed Him most. Love placed His feet on the road to Jerusalem. And when love laid a Cross on His shoulders, He carried it to the very end. That’s the life He is calling us to when He asks us to follow Him.

Each year the Church plunges us into this story. She asks us to fast with Him for forty days in the desert. Over and over she retraces His steps along the Way of the Cross, praying the fourteen Stations. She immerses us tonight into the drama of the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden; we see the washing of feet, we break the same Bread of Heaven that He shared that night, we are asked to watch with Him for awhile, and we depart in the silence demanded by this part of the story. Tomorrow she will call us together again… this time at the foot of the Cross.

It can be an emotional and moving experience, but that’s only the beginning. We are meant to be changed. The Paschal Mysteries are meant to take root in our lives.  The idea is to follow Christ, in a very literal way, to place our feet in His footsteps, to go where He goes, to choose as He has chosen. There is only one road to Resurrection, and it is the road we walk tonight.

And through all of this, we hold before us the promise of Easter. Even in these darkest chapters of our story, the Light of Easter is breaking through, like sunlight coming in around the edges of a closed door, or beaming around the cracks in the curtains. That light lives in us now, and will live in us forever… if we place our feet tonight in the footsteps of Jesus.


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