24 March 2016
Dcn Les Ruhrmund
Tonight we start the Easter Triduum about which I spoke in my homily this past weekend. The next three days starting from this evening’s sunset are the most important and holy days in the liturgical year. </p
The first reading tonight recalls the first Jewish Passover supper before their escape from captivity in Egypt. This is a defining moment in the history of Israel and is faithfully remember by the Jewish people throughout the world each year in the Hebrew month of Nissan (April this year).
It was to celebrate the Jewish Passover that Jesus and his disciples met in the Upper Room and that night was a defining moment in our salvation history.It was at this Passover meal, the Last Supper, that Jesus gave us the gift of the Blessed Sacrament; the gift of his Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist; a gift that is given as lovingly today as it was over 2000 years ago. It was also on this night that Jesus ordained the first priests, the apostles, to ensure that this glorious and miraculous gift of himself would be available to all humankind, to every generation, until he returns at the end of time. The Last Supper was the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and every Mass makes the Last Supper present to us in our time.
Jesus’ sacrifice, death and resurrection are not bound by time and space and can never be ended or repeated; it’s eternal. When we gather around the altar for Mass, during the consecration, the priest speaks as if Christ himself were holding the host; he acts in the person of Christ and the Last Supper is made present to us at this moment in time.
Through the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament we are able to encounter the Risen Lord personally; present to us in consecrated bread and wine. This is the most important, central and sacred act of worship that we know as Christians.
At that Last Supper, Jesus did something else quite remarkable. He got down on his knees before each of his disciples and washed their feet. In this act of love, charity and humility he demonstrates through his actions the commandment that is proclaimed throughout the Gospel: love one another as I have loved you.
Remember this is the same group that not long before had argued about who among them was the greatest. As someone has put it, “They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel.”
The disciples I’m sure were paralyzed with shock when Jesus knelt before them. A Jewish free man washed nobody’s feet. In all the Scriptures it had never happened. Even when angels visited Abraham, he provided water for their feet, but they did their own washing.
One of the most obvious examples of the power of servanthood was a young Albanian girl named Agnes. At the age of 18 years she left home and entered a convent in Ireland to learn English with a view to becoming a missionary in India. She became a school teacher at the Loreto convent in a neighbourhood in central Kolkata, and at the age of 34 years was appointed headmistress. A few years later while on a train travelling to her annual retreat, she received what she referred to as ‘a call within the call”. She says she was told “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”
She began her missionary work with the poor in 1948, at the age of 38, replacing her traditional Loreto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border.
We know Agnes, of course, as Mother Teresa, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonised on 4 September this year. She’s an incredible role model for us of servant leadership.
Gene Wilkes, in his book, Jesus on Leadership, writes these very meaningful words: “Jesus did not come to gain a place of power. He did not come to defeat his human enemies. He did not come to overthrow an unjust government. Jesus came to show us the heart of God. His entire message and ministry on earth was to show selfish, power-hungry people like you and me what love looks like. As he knelt before Judas, Jesus showed us a love that no human can conceive on his own: a love that is brutally honest about what is going on but still kneels before us to lay down his life so we can be free from the sin that infects us. Jesus loves you as he loved Judas.”
The bread and the cup are important to us as followers of Christ. But so are the towel and the basin. Christ has called us to a life of serving others. That is how the world will know that we are his disciples.
Deacon Les 24 March 2016