Holy Thursday 2019

Jesus asks His disciples tonight, “Do you know what I have done for you?”

Let’s dwell on that question for these next few minutes. Did they know what He had done for them? Do we? No. We hardly know at all. What could we know of the depth of love and service and gift revealed tonight, and over these next few days? What could we understand of the divine charity that took flesh, taught, healed, suffered and died, rose from the grave, and feeds us with His body and blood, all He is, His own love and life and being? How could we wrap our minds around the idea of a God who washes our feet?

We might say we know almost nothing and be close to the truth… but almost nothing is not nothing, and the great depth and joy of these most sacred liturgies is to perhaps understand just a little more. To be open to the Father revealing to us His Son, giving us through Him the Holy Spirit… In a word, God giving us Himself.

We can think of salvation in terms of being saved from the punishment deserved by sin. That’s absolutely true and something for which we will be (literally) eternally grateful, but it goes so far beyond that. The will of the Father and the mission of Jesus is so much more, and that ‘more’ shines so clearly tonight. It is about God giving us Himself.

Look at the focus on relationship that shines in everything Jesus is doing. The very act of gathering His best friends the night before He died… think of what they’ve experienced together over the last few years. Before He goes to the garden to pray and begin His Passion, He wants time with His friends. When He does go to prayer, He asks them to be with Him.

How does He spend this time? He shows them service, humility, love. God washes feet. It’s not a big show, like 'look how humble I am,' which is just pride wearing a very poor disguise. Neither is it extraordinary. It’s not gross. It’s not great either. It’s just part of living cleanly when you wear sandals and walk around on streets shared with lots of people and animals. Of all the ways He could show service, why choose this? Maybe because it’s so daily and ordinary. To serve like Jesus we aren’t looking around for something extreme and attention-getting. We aren’t looking around for some grand statement to impress everyone and make them cry and applaud and invent viral hashtags about us. We’re looking for what people actually need. Our question isn’t “How can I be a fantastically humble servant?” because that’s a question focused on myself. To serve like Jesus is to focus on the neighbor: “How can I help?” “What can I do that might bring them closer to God?” “What can I do that will make this day a little bit easier for them?” “What can I do that will make them not feel alone?” The choice of service is Jesus telling us, “this is about you. What I’m doing, Who I am, it’s about you.” His being for us is what gives us the ability to be for Him. Relationship.

So: Jesus gathers His friends, a gathering that says you are important to me. He shows them an example of service, an example that says I’m here not for what I want but for what you need. And to crown and complete our relationship, He institutes the Eucharist. He wants so much more than to save us from Hell. He gives Himself to us as food. Daily bread, daily bodily nourishment, it strikes a deep harmony with the washing of feet in how ordinary and human it is.

There is nothing more natural than to eat daily bread… so that’s where He joins Heaven and earth, because there’s nothing more supernatural than to receive God Himself. He could have done something spectacular and flashy; in my silly smallness, I suppose that’s what I would sort of expect. But what He does is the opposite of spectacular and flashy. The Eucharist has got to be very nearly the least flashy thing on the face of the earth. Or, for that matter, He could have made it hard. It’s the opposite of hard. You can just show up on any given day, go to confession if you need it, and He’s here for you. Sunday after Sunday.

But that humble simplicity is all the more reason to ask the question: do we know what He has done for us? How much do we really appreciate the relationship He draws us into tonight, a relationship expressed most completely in the sacramental life of the Church? How much do we perceive in our daily lives how God is actually serving us, washing our feet, gathering us to be with Him just because… because He wants us with Him? How much do we appreciate just what — no, scratch that — Who we are given in the Eucharist, the absolute totality of Jesus’ gift of Himself?

There’s no question of every appreciating ‘enough.’ ‘Enough’ is not a possible measure here. It’s rather a question of appreciating more and more, of spending our lives growing in this relationship for which He saves us. Jesus Christ suffered and died to save us from Hell. He rose from the dead and gives us Himself in Sacrament to save us for Heaven. He wants us here with Him, gathered around Him, He wants to be with us just for the sake of being with us. He wants to serve us, to give us what we need — which is so often not what we think we want, but what He knows we actually need.

He wants to give us Himself, more completely and simply and humbly than we can possibly understand, except for the glimpse we get when He says, look, it’s like this, and grabs a towel, the glimpse we get when He speaks to us at this table a word that comes also from the waiting Cross: "This is my Body, take and eat."


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