Holy Thursday

     Just over 2,000 years ago, the apostles gathered one last time with Jesus to celebrate the Passover meal, the annual Jewish celebration that recalls the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Every year the Jewish people gather together to tell the saving story we heard in our first reading, to memorialize that great saving moment in human history and to pass it on to the next generation. No matter where the Jewish people find themselves, in good times and in bad times, they leave the concerns of the world behind gather to celebrate the familiar routine of Passover. I doubt that the apostles, gathered together with Jesus in the Upper Room, had any idea that not only were they going to recall how God saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians but that they were going to be part of the story of how God saved humanity from slavery to sin.

     Yet, here we are tonight, not just to recall the Passover and the freedom of the Israelites, but more importantly we are here to recall and hand down the story of the Last Supper we heard about in tonight’s Gospel. Tonight, we recall two great events; the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. For it was at the Last Supper that Jesus took the bread and wine and gave it to His apostles telling them “this is my body … this is my blood”[1] while giving them the command “do this in remembrance of me.”[2]

     Tonight, our hearts ache because for the past few weeks the coronavirus has kept us from fulfilling this command. This time separated from the Eucharist has only heightened the sad reality that many Catholics take the Eucharist for granted. How many times have Catholics lightly excused themselves from Sunday Mass? Or on the other end of the spectrum how often have Catholics taken for granted the inestimable privilege of receiving the Eucharist and come to see it as just another part of their day that they are entitled to? My prayer, as we gather tonight with Jesus in the Upper Room, is that we will never take the great gift of the Eucharist for granted again and that year after year as we gather on Holy Thursday we will tell those who come after us how our love and admiration for the Eucharist grew when it was taken away from us during the 2020 pandemic.

     Simply because a virus is keeping us from receiving Holy Communion, does not mean we cannot follow Jesus. For at the Last Supper, Jesus not only told us to eat His body and drink His blood, He also took a basin and towel and kneeling before His apostles He washed their feet. He showed them visually and beautifully how to love, before telling them “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”[3] Since “charity is the expression of God and an extension of Christ’s presence in the world,”[4] our inability to receive Christ in the Eucharist and then take him out of the Church and bring Him to the world, does not mean we need to quarantine ourselves from our faith. Rather, the coronavirus gives us ample opportunity to be an expression of Christ’s presence in the world by serving those in need around us.

     Tonight, God wants to pull us away from our fears, anxieties, and concerns by challenging us to move beyond ourselves to serve others. He has given us a new commandment “love one another as I have loved you.”[5] Tomorrow, on Good Friday, we will celebrate the great mystery that God loved us to the cross. How is God calling you to lay down your life in service to your neighbors? Maybe it is a simple phone call to someone who is quarantined alone, or a trip to the store for someone who is too vulnerable to be in public these days, perhaps it’s something more drastic like a new way to serve at the parish or even following a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

     Yes, this Mass will end, but Jesus truly present in the Eucharist will still be here waiting for us in the tabernacle. So why not find sometime to come up to church (assuming it is prudent for you to do so and you can practice social distancing in the church) and let Jesus show you where He is calling you to serve.

     At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist telling us to “do this in remembrance of me”[6] and He instituted the priesthood to perpetuate that saving event down through history. As a priest, I am blessed to take Christ’s body and blood in my hands to carryout that command, but each of us, by virtue of our baptism is called to imitate Jesus’ mandate to serve as He served by laying down our lives in service. So, until we can gather together again in the Upper Room here at St. Theodore’s, let’s each of us resolve to fall to our knees and serve as Christ served.

[1] Luke 22:19-20

[2] Luke 22:19

[3] John 13:15

[4] Robert Cardinal Sarah. God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Dias San Francisco: Ignatius (2015) Pg 78

[5] John 13:34

[6] Luke 22:19

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