Holy Thursday – 2014
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 4-17-2014
Reflecting on our readings for this Holy Thursday evening, I am reminded again of a quote I read some time ago from the well-known Catholic (Southern) short story writer Flannery O’Connor. As she was wont to do, both in her writing & in her very few speaking engagements, Flannery was commenting on our own contemporary culture. She said:
“Today stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements,
and statements are considered not quite as satisfying as statistics;
but in the long run, a people and a culture is known, not by its statements or by its statistics,
but by the stories it tells.”
Each & every year I am struck by the ancient stories that surround this night. They are filled with charged, intense, swirling, violent themes of power/weakness; darkness/light; betrayal/love; slavery/liberation.
“For on this same night I will go through Egypt,
striking down every firstborn of the land, both man & beast,
and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt – I, the Lord!”
This evening is filled with dense, hard packed tension; with layer upon layer of political intrigue and violent, tortured men… Pharaoh / Judas/ Caiaphas / Herod / Pontius Pilot… it is in the midst of this swirling darkness, St. Paul reminds us in our second reading, that the Sinless One was betrayed, was handed over, was wrenched from his beloved ones!
“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread…”
And yet…this is a night resonant with ancient cultic hymns of Glorious Divine Intervention. Our 1st reading from Exodus ends with the chant of the great Passover Feast:
“This day shall be a memorial Feast for you,
which all your generations shall celebrate… as a perpetual institution.”
In our 2nd reading we have one of the most ancient Eucharistic hymns of the earliest Christian community:
“On the same night that he was handed over,
the Lord Jesus took bread, and after he had given thanks,
broke it, and said, This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
Yes, there are ancient cultic hymns in the stories of this night AND there is, most surprisingly of all, a gentleness that invades this dark & violent night. An almost maternal tenderness that one would never suspect… like the shadow of Divine Grace. And it surrounds & radiates from the gentle figure of Jesus’ final words:
“ I the light have come into the world
so that whoever believes in me need not stay in the dark anymore.”
I say these words of Jesus should be echoing in our hearts because, in our hearts we too carry the darkness, the violence, the fear, and the betrayal of this night. It is in our world as much as it filled the Kidron Valley of Jerusalem on that first Holy Thursday. It seeps into our own hearts & minds as it once eroded & polluted the trust of the earliest disciples.
Jesus asks us in our Gospel this afternoon:
“ Do you understand what I have done to you?”
Do we understand what Jesus is doing to us this Holy Week? These three most Solemn Holy Days of the Church’s year!
Why do we begin these days in such darkness? Because John writes:
“Jesus has always loved those who were his own in the world,
but now he showed how perfect / total his love was…”
My Brothers & Sisters, God’s Glory – God’s love in Jesus – is revealed most fully in our dark & fearful places. Like the gentle & courageous Jesus allowing himself to be handed over this night – bound & lowered into the dark – fearful dungeon of the condemned, in the House of Caiaphas. Tonight Jesus lowers himself down into the center of the swirling – violent – fearful – darkness that imprisons us – that so limits our minds & our hearts. “And He makes of himself an offering”.
“ He took off his outer garments” John writes
“ He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.”
He approaches each one of us in these holy days…to wash away our blinding & toxic fear of love… of life… of the unknown… that pushes us into self-centered and empty behaviors. Like Caiaphas, like Herod, like Judas, like Pilot, where we can’t allow ourselves to be washed by Love… even though Love Itself is standing in front of us.
Let us hear his words tonight addressed to each of us:
“If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.”
In a few moments we will re-enact Jesus washing the feet of his disciples; let us pray for one another that like Peter we will allow Him to wash us (during these Holy Days) in the power & healing Grace of His Love.
+ Abbot Peter McCarthy