Today the intensity of Holy Week deepens as we enter into the Triduum with the celebration of Holy Thursday. Continuing our series of Holy Week homilies on our blog, we share the powerful homily that Fr. David T. Tyson, C.S.C., the Provincial Superior of the Indiana Province of Priests and Brothers, gave on the connection between the Eucharist and service this evening at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a time of reunion for us. The Church gathers again to observe its most sacred days, the Triduum. Our minds and hearts turn from the intense experience of Lent, a time of penance and conversion, to that of immersion in the Paschal Mystery. We begin this reunion of the faithful with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, when Jesus transforms the Passover meal, by Himself becoming the NEW Passover. Tonight we celebrate Jesus Christ as the New Covenant, a covenant that is rooted in a new Law of Love.
We are reminded in the Holy Thursday Gospel reading that the mandate of service is simply not a choice for those who claim discipleship with Jesus. We, just like Peter and the other Apostles, have already been "washed all over." Thus, the mandate of service, symbolized in the washing of the feet, is a central duty and responsibility that is rooted in our baptisms. Christian discipleship, then, is to be characterized by a service that we choose in fidelity to the Lord. And thus, our service becomes the continued manifestation of His Love in the world.
We humans know that all acts of service don't necessarily come naturally to us, and not at all times. In Luke's account of the Last Supper, we hear that a disagreement broke out among the apostles. Being at odds is not necessarily conducive to acts of service to one another. So, it is even more poignant that Jesus would have given his mandate of service by washing the feet of the Apostles at a tension-filled Passover Supper. Our Savior knows us and takes into account our weakness and terrible frailty. And so, in order to sustain His Mission of Service, through us, His disciples, He gives us a gift – the gift of Himself to nurture us, and to sustain us in our service to build a just world that is reflective of His Love. This evening Jesus Christ again gives to us the Eucharist as the source of our service, and the foundation of our unity as Church.
While Jesus is present to us in a variety of ways, He is, in a singularly special way, present to us in the Eucharist. Consequently, each of us then has the opportunity to encounter our Lord, fully present to us, without the constraints of human weakness and the stain of sin. Thus, we are able to focus our entire attention upon him, exclusively, as our Redeemer: the One who died to destroy our death, the One who rose to restore our life, and the One who will return in glory as the eternal act of Love. The Paschal events that we celebrate in these three Sacred Days are repeated each time we celebrate the Eucharist. Christ present in the Eucharist is our greatest gift, and it is one that will be with us until He comes again in Glory.
It is the Eucharist that gives our service its meaning. The mandate of Jesus at the Last Supper was to universal service. Jesus washed the feet of ALL those present that night in the upper room. He shared the Passover meal with ALL those gathered, just as He had shared with them so many important moments of his life and ministry. He did not even exclude the one who had already been paid to conspire with those who had planned his demise. Jesus washed the feet of Judas with the very same love that He washed those of the others present, though with a profound heartbreak. And He mandates all of us to be of service with that same kind of forgiveness – a Divine forgiveness.
But for us, beset with human weakness, the question looms as to whether or not we can do what the Lord asks? Can we wash the feet of those who would do us harm? Can we wash the feet of those who hate us and speak every kind of evil about us? Can we truly forgive as Jesus commands us? My brothers and sisters, we CAN do it! We CAN wash the feet of all, precisely because of His death and resurrection. We can wash the feet of all precisely because of the living presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. And that is the gift that we celebrate together this evening.
While the Gospel of John does not recount the actual institution of the Eucharist as do the other three Gospels, and as does Paul's account in today's second reading, it does dramatically establish the critical link between Jesus the Christ, present in the Eucharist, and His Divine mandate of service. It is the critical link of the universal mandate of service to the Eucharist that is the key to forgiveness. It is this critical link that is the medicine of healing. It is this critical link that is at the core of compassion for those suffering. It is the power of the Eucharist that gives our service its life. It is the power of the Eucharist that opens us to be forgiving disciples. It is the power of the Eucharist that allows us to see the Cross as a beacon of hope and not a symbol of death.
My friends we join together tonight as a priestly people having received the grace of Baptism and confirmation. We gather together with those ordained to the ministerial priesthood, instituted at the Last Supper, and whose purpose it is to be of Eucharistic service. Together as a Eucharistic Community, together as the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we pledge to do what our High Priest enjoined us to do when He gave us the gift of himself at the Last Supper.
May our Lord and Savior embrace each of you during these most Holy Days!