Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper: some thoughts
Being a Christian means more than being nice
Being a Christian means more than just being nice. It means centering our whole lives, every last detail, on a person: our Lord Jesus Christ. Other great religious leaders of history pointed to their teaching. They said, “follow my teaching’. Our Lord Jesus Christ points to himself. He said, “Follow me.”
When Jesus stood up from the supper table, wrapped that towel around his waist, and started washing the feet of the disciples, it was shocking for two reasons.
First of all, because of the nature of the task. In ancient Palestine, washing other people’s feet was a job reserved for slaves. By lowering himself to the level of a slave, our Lord is making it really clear to his Apostles, the first leaders of the Church, that the way of Christ is a way of self-giving, not self-indulgence. Our Lord never sought to get, but only to give. His followers are to do the same. That in itself goes far beyond simply being nice.
Secondly, he was disrupting the sacred ritual of the most hallowed ceremony in Jewish tradition: the Passover Seder, the ceremony that God had commanded Moses to institute to commemorate the miraculous escape of the Israelites from Egypt. God himself had established the rules of that ceremony, Jesus deviated from them, added to them, just as he did when he instituted the Eucharist. Clearly, our Lord sees himself as more than just another teacher or prophet, on the same level as Moses. Only God himself can alter God’s commands.
And so, when the foot-washing is over and he says to the Apostles, “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’” his claim is clear. Yes, he is a great teacher, but he is also the Lord.
We are Christians not just because we accept a creed, not just because we accept the catechism, not just because we accept the prayer book, not just because we are nice: no, we are Christian because we have accepted a person. We have made our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ the most important thing in our lives.
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St Clare of Assisi and the Eucharist
Today, by reminding us that being a Christian means much more than just being nice, we are invited to renew our personal commitment to Jesus Christ. We have to renew that commitment continually because our friendship with him is always under attack. Our own selfish tendencies and the self-indulgent culture around us are trying constantly to undermine our relationship with him.
God knew this would be the case. That’s one of the reasons that at the same time he commanded us to follow him, he also gave us the strength to do so, in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ himself wants to be our firm defence against all attacks.
St Clare of Assisi had a powerful experience of this reality. St Clare was a disciple of St Francis of Assisi. She founded the first convent of Poor Clare nuns at the church of San Damiano, just outside the city walls of Assisi. Very soon she became recognised and revered as a saint.
About that time, the whole region was being terrorised by mercenary armies heard by the Emperor to conquer Italy. As one of these armies approached Assisi, the town panicked as they had no army of their own, no protection at all.
As the soldiers climbed the small hill towards the city gates, they had to pass by St Clare’s convent. Before they arrived, St Clare, sick and confined to bed as she was, had herself and her mattress carried outside and placed on the top of the convent wall, overlooking the road that the soldiers would have to use. She also had the Blessed Sacrament brought out and place there inside a small, golden container called a pyx. As the soldiers came into view, she prostrated herself before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and prayed for deliverance. The other sisters did the same inside the convent chapel.
The soldiers continued to advance. And then, as they did so, mysteriously cries broke out among them. Some of them drew their swords and attacked their fellow soldiers. Others fled in terror. Soon the entire army was retreating in chaos, even though no one could be seen pursuing them.
Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament had protected them. Our Lord today wants to do the same for us. He does not want us to try and fight all alone as if we were trying to follow some great philosopher. In our day-to-day battle to be faithful to him and to spread his Kingdom, he wants to be our Strength, our Shield, and our Sustenance.
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Doing a spiritual check-up
Each one of us is watching Mass today because Christ has somehow stirred our hearts. We have heard his call, we have heard his invitation. We want to follow him, perhaps imperfectly, but still, we want to follow him. We believe in him. We know that following our Lord Jesus Christ we will discover the meaning, joy, and fruitfulness that no one else can give.
At the same time, when we look into our hearts, we know that we are not following him as fully as we should. How can we follow him better? How can we make the real centre of our lives. We can start with something simple. We can do a spiritual check-up.
Today we start the Holy Triduum, the three days when we particularly celebrate our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. These are special days for the whole of the Church, and they have been since the very beginning. Let us take advantage of these days, particularly in this strangest of Holy Weeks, let us carve out some time from our busy schedules. Let us spend some quality time with our Lord in prayer, reflecting on what kind of a friend he has been to us this past year, and reflecting on what kind of a friend we have been to him.
This year, we are all separated from physically being at Mass, being at the watch with our Lord this evening, but there are plenty of online resources, as well as our own prayer books at home.
If we take some time in these days to do that spiritual check-up, if we ask him to help us, he will surely show us one or two things that we can do to be more authentic Christians. And then, on Easter Day, when the bright light of the Resurrection shines in our souls, we will find ourselves more centered on Christ, closer to him, and closer to the happiness he has in mind for us.
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