Category Archives: Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017
Cycle A
Rev Tony van Vuuren

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, marks the start of the Easter Triduum. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. In John’s account of the Last Supper, which forms the gospel reading tonight, John makes the point that the Church has to make Christ present not only sacramentally, in his Body and Blood, but also in the spirit of service and surrendering of power which Jesus symbolises by washing his disciples feet.

In the other three gospels, the description of the Last Supper was modelled partly on what the early Christians were already doing in their Eucharistic celebration. And what they were doing was modelled, of course, on the actual event of the Last Supper itself, and Jesus’ words over the bread and wine: “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. “Do this in memory of me”.

In John’s gospel, that particular aspect of the Eucharist is dealt with in Chapter Six, where Jesus gives his long discourse on the living bread. “The bread I give is my flesh, for the life of the world…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I live in them”.                                                                                                                                  This evening John doesn’t mention anything about bread and wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood. He uses the event of the Last Supper to emphasise another facet, or another dimension, of the Eucharist.                                                                                                                                                                     John’s version of Lord’s Supper describes Jesus washing his disciple’s feet – and informing them by this gesture that he’s the Messiah who’s come to serve rather than be served. And, just as important, he’s telling the disciples that they’ve got to do the same if they want to think of themselves as his followers.

John’s point in putting that incident right in the middle of the Last Supper illustrates how we can put our belief in the Eucharist into practice. The meaning of the Eucharist is lived out in practice when we all treat each other with that attitude of humility, self-emptying, service and love that Jesus himself demonstrated.

John never got tired of making the point that if our devotion towards God is real; it will express itself in devotion towards our neighbour, an active dedication of ourselves to our fellow human beings. “If God has loved us, so we must love each other”, he says, elsewhere in his writings.                                                                                                          It’s this aspect of our life in communion with God which John wants to emphasise in his account of the Last Supper as well.

For the true Christian, who is genuinely open to God’s influence in their life; taking part in the Eucharist is conditional on this attitude of service and humility – this willingness to take up a stance in life which involves performing menial or servant-like tasks for each other. Washing people’s feet in Jesus’ time was of course a task that only a servant or lowly slave would perform.                                                                                                            According to John, no Christian should approach the Eucharistic table, or receive Christ’s Body and Blood, without this prior commitment.                                                                                                                          At the same time, none of us should go away from the table, having received communion, without having this commitment strengthened and reinforced. We have to find the presence of Christ both in the Eucharist and in the washing of feet. They’re two sides of a single reality.                                                                                                                     Well, the question is: what reality? Why does John say that we as followers of Christ have to take on this servant-like commitment?                                                                                                                                                           The answer is that it’s a reflection of God’s nature, God’s character, and so it’s something that we take on as we gradually realise or grow into the vocation we all have to be like God.

By the time John’s gospel was written Jesus was clearly seen as being divine. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” he said. So the gesture of the foot-washing demonstrates a vital aspect of God’s nature – the fact that he chooses to reveal himself in powerlessness and servant hood.                                                                          God shows himself – to make the point another way – by reversing the ordinary human values and customs, where important and powerful people demonstrate their superiority with all kinds of badges of privilege and ways of being treated in a servile way by their subordinates. Peter shows how far he still holds to that way of thinking by his embarrassment and by the objections he raises to Jesus’ action. ‘You shall never wash my feet.”

Christ is present in the bread and wine as a sacramental sign and when we celebrate Mass together we are making him present in that way. But Christ must also be made present in real life, by a concrete commitment to servant hood. We make Christ present when we renounce our own pride and self-interest and respond to the needs, and especially to the suffering and the distress, of others. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to remind us not to separate those two aspects of the Eucharist and always to see them as belonging together.

That’s why out of the four gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s especially John’s account that belongs within the Easter Triduum: it belongs especially in the context of Christ’s journey to the Cross. And it’s partly for that reason that the Mass of the Lord’s Supper doesn’t have a formal ending – it remains open and unfinished, and picks up again tomorrow, with the remembrance of Christ’s Passion and Death.

So the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of the feet, and the Path to the Cross, are all part of a single mystery, and they all cast light on each other.

These are the realities of our faith which we can bear in mind and reflect on as we come together once again to re-enact and celebrate this year’s Paschal Triduum.

Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper

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