Holy Thursday – 2017
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy 4-13-2017
Right Here on this Holy Thursday afternoon we find ourselves knee-deep in the final section of a very intense Gospel. The Passion Narrative of St. John: with all the swirling themes (layer upon layer) of Light & Darkness; Love & Betrayal; Fear & Courage; Truth & Deception; Violence & Forgiveness;
Right HERE in this Gospel: level upon level of political intrigue: Judas; Pilot; Herod; Caiphus; AND what Happens? In the midst of all these swirling Life & Death tensions & political intrigue, Jesus becomes simplicity itself.
He got up from the table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; He then poured water into a basin & began to wash the disciples’ feet & to wipe them with the towel around his waist.
It seems to me that Real life is like that … isn’t it? I mean those rare times … those tender or hard times … those confusing; painful; or ecstatically joyful times … when all the exhausting levels of my often sub-conscious strategies, or self-defenses, or avoidances, are suddenly broken through … At these very important times in our lives (the death or birth of a loved one; a diagnosis of terminal illness; the ending or the beginning of a friendship; a sudden gracious moment of healing) At these very important times in our lives … even times we don’t immediately recognize as very important … Suddenly life gets very simple … suddenly we can be – if you will – “washed” in meaning. AND SO JESUS…
And so Jesus, during supper, fully aware that…he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. 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.
Day after day after day, underneath all our defensive & ultimately self-serving structures of security & even our self-conscious programs for holiness… moment by moment we are being washed again in the love of Jesus (that is, humanly speaking, we are being washed clean- forgiven – in the life & death of Jesus of Nazareth.) This is the Gospel of Holy Week.
Peter said to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master than not only my feet, but my hands & head as well.”
My sisters & brothers, God needs only a lodging point in you, an infinitesimal point of truth on which to build your conversion, with his Love. Only the Love of Jesus (His Life – Death – Resurrection) can recreate you, but He needs a point, just one point of truth in you & me … God cannot build on a self-protective structure … on a lie, and this infinitesimal point of truth in you lies in your willingness to approach Him in your raw & naked need of Him … like Peter finally does in this Passion Narrative. The only difference between Peter & Judas Iscariot in these final days is that Peter loved enough … was desperate enough … to let his self-protective structure collapse … “He went out & wept bitterly”.
In the words of the contemporary theologian, Jurgen Moltmann,
As Peter when he denies Jesus will say: “I do not know this man”, so His disciples must no longer know themselves… (in this sense). They must forget “I” with its many anxieties & its petty pretensions; indeed, they must reject “I”. Rather they must regard Jesus and him alone, all their self-experience must be wholly in Him and no longer in themselves. Then they will realize in themselves Jesus & his Humanity.”
The entire Paschal Mystery (the passion – death & Resurrection) of Jesus is at heart always this invitation to COMMUNION to Radical Intimacy with HIM. And this is why this afternoon we celebrate the Institution of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is about being washed clean (with Peter) in the forgiving love (the Life Blood) of Jesus of Nazareth; being cleansed over & over again in God’s Passionate love & therefore having the capacity to wash my brothers & sisters in that same forgiving Love that I have allowed to cleanse my life.
Tonight, on this night He was Betrayed, Jesus gave us Communion. He gave us Eucharist – the center of Christian Community – The Simple Truth, the only real meaning at the center of us all.
If I then, the Lord & Master, have washed your feet, you should was each other’s feet. I have given you an example, so that you may imitate what I have done to you.”
+Abbot Peter McCarthy