Homily 2 (Mass -alternate) of the Last Super Year ABC: Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoReadings: Exod 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26 and John 13:1-15
Christ, Eucharist, Love and Service (CELS)
On Tuesday evening here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Bishops, clergy, religious and the entire faithful gathered around the Archbishop at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist to celebrate the Chrism Mass. That evening liturgy was an expression of our faith in Christ, the High Priest, the unity of the Sacred Priesthood and appreciation of Christ’s one redeeming Sacrifice of Love. Oils of Catechumens, the Sick and of the Chrism were blessed. Oils that the Holy Pope Francis during his Chrism Mass in Rome has encouraged every priests to go out and anoint the faithful with, especially the sick, the poor and the needy!
Tonight we begin the Sacred Triduum, three solemn days which encompass the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ and draw each and every one of us into remembering the passion, death and resurrection. You and I know the power of memory, remembrance! Remembering is so powerful. It revitalizes, reactivates and keeps past reality alive in us. Holy Thursday brings to our minds three gifts: the gifts of the Lord’s Super/the Holy Eucharist, the gift of the Sacred Priesthood and the gift of Christ redeeming love, love that is stronger than death, stronger than the fear of the fleeing disciples, stronger than the untruthfulness of the power mongering Pilate and of the few “Jewish elites”; a love stronger than the betrayal of Judas, the denials of Peter, the mockeries of the Roman soldiers and the human selfishness. Christ, the High priest loves his own to the end- all of us, our pastor, our priests, deacons, s sisters, mom, dad, our children, friends, grandpa and grandma (Jn 13:1). Where ever you are located here in this Church tonight or standing out there in the narthex, know that Christ loves you!
The Eucharist of which institution we reenact today is a banquet of love, gratitude and service. It provides us a particular opportunity to remember not only how much God loves and would want to “wash our feet” but His ever living presence in our lives, in our homes and families. It teaches us to cultivate a sense of gratitude.
I remember growing up in a family of six children surrounded with many nieces and nephews. We ate together and served one another from the same plates and drink from the same cup. In sharing and serving I would feel the deep love, the friendship, the nourishment, the strength and the support of my family and a sense of gratitude to my parents. We would laugh, joke and talk with trust about events in life, and some of them very important.
I want to believe that when Christ gathered his disciple in that upper room for that Last Super, a night before his passion he knew the importance of a shared meal, a meal of love and sacrifice; a meal that nourishes and strengthen us in our weaknesses. He wanted this sacred meal, this new Passover to be remembered. He says “Do this in memory of me” (MK14:22ff; Matt 26:26ff, Lk 22:19ff and John 13:1-15), instituting also the Ministerial Priesthood.
In the Second Reading Paul of today Paul says,
“ I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took break, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “this is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” With the cup Christ said, “this is cup is the new Covenant in my blood, do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:23-26).”
Jesus will always remain really and substantially present with us in the Holy Eucharist. After this meal tonight Jesus would walk across to that garden of Gethsemane (in the daily chapel) from there he would be arrested, harshly interrogated by Annas, Caiaphas and brought to Pilates’ Praetorium for trial. Jesus as John will testify will be killed on the cross sacrificially at the same hour the paschal lamb of the Jewish Passover is slaughtered in today’s first reading, (Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14), making Christ, in this new dispensation, the new Passover Lamb, the cup of the new Covenant of love and Service. On the Cross his bones will not be broken and his priestly inner - seamless tunic will not be torn nor shared among soldiers. In this Jesus is protective of each and every one of us, our marriage and religious vows, family values, Christian unity (“May they be one” Jn 17), our priesthood, friendship and faith. He also knew the journey to that cross would be rough but his priestly dignity would remain intact, a tunic of love – challenging even the modern priesthood, in need of your prayers always.
In Exodus chapter 29:4 at the ordination ceremony of Priests, Aaron’s feet and those of his children were washed at the entrance of the tent as stipulated in the old laws (Lev 8:6), for a different reason, external purification. But still in the context of this meal Christ gave us a sign of interior purification (John 13:1-15) by washing the feet of his disciples, something deeper than deeper than external ritual.
By washing the feet of his disciple Jesus shows the depth of his love, a love leading to the cross. He teaches the hesitant Peter and all of us new way of sacrificial Love, a new way of service and friendship. Not a new way of “eye service.” He teaches us a new way of self-transcendence not a new way of self- aggrandizement. He teaches us a new way to serve not a new way to be served; a new way of humble friendship with all including the poor, the prisoners and the marginalized. By washing his disciples feet Jesus overcome by love the inequality that existed by nature between himself and those whom he had chosen as friends. I always believe that how we treat one another publicly or in private is the true measure of the condition of our interior life, especially of our life of prayer.
As we celebrate this Last Super sharing in the bread and wine of new covenant of love, gratitude and selfless service, Christ, and ready to adore him at that Altar of Repose in that garden, let us know that Christ sees us, he loves us and recognizes us. He sees the rich, the poor and the downtrodden. Let us know that having been washed clean, we have been given the spiritual capacity and blessed with the divine strength of his examples (John 13:12-15) to joyfully love and gratefully serve one another as Christ has first loved and served us.