Homily for Holy Thursday 2010

It is always wonderful watching the children at our School celebrate the events of Holy Week. They usually take part with enthusiasm and sometimes devotion. They particularly enjoy shouting out "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" as they see a classmate take the part of Jesus. Even if they are not all church goers at least they are learning the language and the stories of their Christian heritage. Yet, they do so from the vantage point of childhood. They do not yet know, I hope and pray, the depths of despair, the cruelty of betrayal, the violence, the abuse of power and one's total rejection that can be the reality of an adult world. Sadly, though, there are children in the world who have experienced just those things, as we know. I hope and pray also that our children do come to know the love that prompts us to tell that story each year in Holy Week.

While the depths of the story may be beyond children, it is presented in the Liturgy not as a horror story, nor as a collective throwing up our hands in despair at the state of the world. It is commemorated as a story that promises hope to the world.

The traditional name for this feast in England is "Maundy Thursday". When I was a child sounded like "laundry Thursday" because of the washing of feet that takes place! The word comes from the verse of the Gospel a little later: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (13:24). Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum which means "commandment". And that is what it is all about. Whether we refer to the Eucharist, the priesthood, the foot washing, it is all about loving as Jesus loves.

From our point of view what takes place at the Last Supper seems hopeless. Jesus is aware that his future is bleak. He is aware of Judas' plan to betray him. He is aware that the rest of his disciples will lose heart altogether when the crisis comes. He is aware at this time of the Jewish Passover of the failures of God's people throughout their history. Nevertheless, he says of the cup they share, "This is the new covenant in my blood." God in Jesus is prepared to make a new covenant with this small motley crew and in the face of all that would make us think it is a hopeless enterprise. This is the Eucharist that Jesus gives us. It is within the violence that will take place that hope is born.

To celebrate this is also to celebrate his priesthood. Jesus is like no other priest. He is both the victim offered and the one who offers the gift of that victim to God to establish this covenant. For some time the Church was reluctant to use the term "priest" for its ministers of the Eucharist. They were simply the presbyters, the elders, who presided over the Church. This was because what the Christian minister does is very different from what both the Jewish priest in the Temple and the pagan priests of Rome did in their worship.

The meaning of Jesus' life is spelt out in the Eucharist. Evil is not overcome through violence or the exercise of power. No more the blood of animals or looking for scapegoats. But through a self-sacrificing love evil is transformed into a moment of grace so that Jesus could say on the cross, "Father forgive them". This is the priesthood of Jesus. So often in its history even the Church forgets this fundamental truth of Jesus' life and message. This is the vocation of the priestly people we call the Church, and its ministers whom we now do call priests.

A covenant requires an offer and a response. God's offer of love is clear in Jesus. Our hoped for response is clear, too, in Jesus gift of himself on the cross. How can we measures up? Simply by the way we serve one another. By the way we wash each others feet! Everything may seem hopeless at times. The only hope we have is this way of love.

At Mass we take part is several processions. We enter with one. We bring the gifts with one. We come to the Table for Communion in one. The we leave with a procession. In other words, we are people who know where we are going. We are going some where in our struggles with sin and evil. It does not matter how difficult life might be, we know with whom we belong on this journey. And we know our destination in God.

Fr Graham