Maundy Thursday, 9 Apr 2020
Holy Week this year is particularly unusual in that God` Faithful People are not allowed to worship in their Churches because of the scourge of COVID-19 – our invisible enemy. Even so we are united in worship and prayer and in the possibility of making a Spiritual Communion. Many of the ceremonies with which we are familiar will be omitted just as Palm Sunday was simplified and much of the Easter Ceremonies will be omitted. No matter we can put our hearts and minds at the service of our Blessed Lord and, indeed, imbibe Christ`s Life as we make our spiritual communion with Him and with one another conscious of the fact that we are His Body and He is our Head as we reaffirmed on Palm Sunday.
By many it has been assumed that the Birthday of the Church was on the first Whit-Sunday or Pentecost, some theologians have expressed the birthday of the Church as taking place at the moment of the Annunciation as the Christ Child was planted by the Holy spirit in the Womb of The Blessed Virgin Mary, yet others have seen Holy Thursday as the Birthday of the Church because of the two great signs that Jesus gives on this Holy Night – the Gift of Himself for all time in the Holy Eucharist and the example of service that He gives as he washes the feet of his disciples.
Coupled with Our Lord`s command, at His Ascension, when he told the apostles: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 10& 21) It is in St. Matthew`s Gospel 26: 26 – 29 that we read, `While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my Body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father`s kingdom.” St. Mark, in his gospel at 14: 22-25 records the event in a similar way and St. Luke, in his gospel at 22: 19 – 20 a similar writing though, after Jesus broke the bread and gave it to his disciples he says, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” It is a command and it is specific. With the bread Jesus says, “This is my body, which is given for you.” and “This cup is that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
St. John, in his gospel, Chapter 13 points to that other act of eternal significance that took place at the Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples after which he said these words: `Do you understand what I have done to you ? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other`s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.` St. John, in his gospel, does not refer to Our Lord`s institution of the Holy Eucharist – the Great thanksgiving – but having wash the disciples feet then sits with the 12, later 11 for Judas was to go out, and delivers his final discourse to them which we find in chapters 13 – 16 and his High Priestly Prayer which we find in chapter 17.
We need perhaps to remember that in Jewish Society of the day the rich would employ slaves known as bondservants, who were regarded as the lowest of the low, to wash the filthy dusty feet of guests. Jesus early on the night on which he was to be betrayed by one of his own took off his over garments and taking water and a towel assumes the position of a slave and tells those closes to him to do the same. Initially this would have seemed quite shocking to the disciples – and thus Simon Peter`s reaction! Later on, in the farewell discourse that follows and which you might want to consider in the time that follows this Mass up until midnight we find Jesus giving another command: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one`s life for one`s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father…..” Jn. 15, 12 – 15.
Three of the strongest commandments of Our Blessed Lord are those which I have already referred to in this sermon and there is, of course, his use of the Summary of the Law: `You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength….and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.`
Some of us will have been using the Lent edition of “Walk with Me” as a devotional extra and concerning Jesus washing the feet of his disciples the writer has this to say: `Pray and ponder on this action of Jesus because through it we are taught many things about love, humility and service. Through this gesture Jesus shows us how we are to serve one another. Jesus lays bare the principal at the heart of Christian service: the greater you are, the more humbly you are called to serve.
There is too, a short prayer that each one of us might use frequently:
Heavenly Father, every day presents opportunities for humble service. Help me to embrace them, actively seek them and rejoice in them and so follow in the steps of our Lord and Master. Amen.