April 17, 2014 –– Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Dying and Serving
In these three days of the Triduum we follow Jesus to the cross and his death. On this Holy Thursday we are drawn to the sacred Supper when Jesus, on the night before his death, gave the Church the Mystery of his own Body and Blood. He instituted the Eucharist and Holy Orders. He also instituted the ultimate commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
But first, Jesus is going to his death. Whatever expectations and hopes the disciples had regarding Jesus, imminent death was not included. Peter’s shock at Jesus coming to wash his feet speaks for the disdain and avoidance we all usually feel for whatever seems distasteful and even demeaning to our own preferences and opinions of ourselves.
Jesus is going to his death, and on this evening with his disciples he shows how totally he embraced the role of humbling himself. Jesus “dies” in so many ways: to others’ expectations.... to the honor he had with the disciples as master and teacher.... to any way of promoting himself by plainly explaining what he was doing. The mystery of the greatness of God is made visible in humility of our Lord embracing a slave’s role of feet-washing. As Jesus prepares for his physical death, he is also revealing a “dying” to himself. This is how Jesus loves.
In our self-centered culture, anything that implies death-to-self is ridiculed, despised and even vehemently hated. All we need to do is listen to the mainstream response when the Church will not condone the If it feels good, do it mentality that is rampant in our society. Even among many confessing Christian Faith we find people wanting to feel good about self without first of all submitting that self to the death of the cross. We prefer to try to “heal ourselves” (or excuse ourselves!) instead of accepting God's verdict on our sins.
In this holy Triduum, as we follow Jesus to his death, we can choose truly to follow Jesus in his death by denying ourselves in order to invite the life of Christ to rule our own lives. It is out of this that we love others. The command to love––to lay down our lives for the good of others–– extends beyond Lent and into all areas of life.
Christian husbands and wives are challenged to deny their own desires and pleasures in order to love and serve their spouses. Christian parents sometimes need to deny their own desires and pleasures in order to love and teach and protect their children. Christian young people may have to die to the opinions of their peers in order be faithful to the Lord. Christians in business may need to put to death the desire to succeed at any cost. All Christians need to put to death any attitudes and values from social and cultural influences that are ungodly. It can be the greed of materialism that promises happiness with just one more "thing." It can be the lust of bodily appetites gone berserk so that physical gratification is the ultimate goal (whether it’s eating or sleeping or exercising or sexual promiscuity). It can be the “normal” response of always wanting one's "rights." Selfishness is always hovering over our shoulder.
There’s a story of a husband who often spoke of his great love for his wife. He would take her into his arms and tell her, “You are the love of my life; I would die for you.” But the story doesn’t stop there. One day the wife finally responded, “Well, while you’re waiting to die for me, I’d appreciate some help around the house!” It’s easy to say “I love you.” Choosing inconvenience and unpleasantness and even personal pain for the good of another is something else.
Jesus says, I [the master and teacher] have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Jesus wants his disciples to know that love means denying one’s own desires and pleasures in order to serve others. How do we know that we are committed to Jesus Christ? Is our faith just a good habit we have kept? Do we serve when it’s not convenient? Is our commitment to Jesus modeled by our love?
As Jesus goes to die, he asks us to follow him even there. On the same night that Jesus commanded us to remember his broken body and shed blood that rescues us from sin, he commanded us to demonstrate the new life he gives by loving and serving others. Every time we want our own way––to be selfish––we need to ask the Holy Spirit to let us see Jesus humbling himself before his disciples on this night before his death on the cross. This is the love of Christ. This is our Faith.