Homily for Holy ThursdayPublished:
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
April 13, 2017
In our table reading in the monastery this past week, there was a passage from a work by St. Bernard which illustrates for us the mystery of God’s love into which we enter in a special way in the Easter Triduum, which we have now begun for this year. St. Bernard writes: “First, there is a peaceful person who merely renders good for good as far as possible and wishes to harm no one. Then, there is another who is patient, who does not render evil for evil and is able to endure being harmed. Finally, there is the peacemaker who renders good for evil and is willing to be of service to the one who harms… The first, as far as possible, has peace; the second holds fast to peace; the third makes peace.”
Jesus is clearly the one who “makes peace”. As we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians: He is our peace (Eph. 2:14). He is our peace because, as the Son of God come to dwell in our human nature, he lives unceasingly and inseparably with that life of God which is love. In the perfect obedience, which is the fruit of that eternal, uncreated love of Father and Son, he is about to enter into that awesome contest with the great enemies of love, hatred, envy, cruelty and, the last enemy, death. In this contest, he will reveal to us in his own person for all time that the power of that uncreated love, the source of all that is, is far more powerful than the emptiness of death.
As the fullness of the revelation of God, Jesus is first and foremost of all the peacemaker, who renders good for evil and is willing to be of service to the one who harms. As the gospel reading tells us, Jesus knew who would betray him. Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, whom the devil had already induced…to hand him over. Judas is there among those whom Jesus loved as his own in the world, and whom he loved to the end. He washes Judas’ feet as he did those of all the others disciples. Jesus displays great peace and perfect possession of himself. This is not superficial peace, present because he is at a solemn and festive meal with his closest friends. As the gospel tells us, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. In a few hours, he is to face the hideous cruelty of the cross. No, his peace is that of one who has unshakeable trust in the all-encompassing power of God’s love. Rendering good for evil and willing to be of service to one who harms was the whole reason for his coming into the world. From the beginning of mankind, God has been acting so. In the beginning, as the Genesis account tells us, the devil induced our first parents to betray the love of God which had brought them into being and given them every good thing. From that time on, the same story, repeated endless in human history, comes to its climax on this night. For at this supper, the devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to betray him. And lest, in our hardness of heart we fail to grasp this great revelation of the love of God, Jesus, who had washed their feet, those of Judas included, instructs them: Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me “teacher” and “master”, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. And shortly thereafter he himself brings this model to life when he gives himself over into the hands of evildoers, and for them, and for all of us whose sins have brought him to his cross, he lays down his life. And foreshadowing this greatest manifestation in creation of God’s love, he takes bread and wine at this meal and gives them to us as his true body and blood. And so it is down to this very celebration this night, he continues to give himself over to sinners so that he continues, until he comes again, to render good for evil and to be of service to us who have so often betrayed him.
If this were not enough, in another great revelation of the surpassing love of God for us, he invites us to become like himself: I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Not only does he invite, he also empowers by the gift of his very self in the most wondrous sacrament of the Eucharist. Never forgetting in his immense love for us his plan that we are to live as His very image and likeness in creation, and never abandoning us in spite of our endless betrayals great and small, God holds out the confident hope to us that we may be not merely those who have peace, or who keep peace, but, transformed into the image of his Son, may be those who make peace.
But how difficult this is for us to come to this perfection of divine love! Even the passage of the Apostle we have heard, who tells us of what the Lord did for us on this night, reminds of how desperately we resist this call to be makers of peace. If we wish to know why he wrote this to the Corinthians, let us read what precedes this passage: First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you…When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk…Do you show contempt for the church of God? And all too often it sadly continues. We struggle mightily to be even those who are willing to render good for good and who wish no one evil. As the sad events of the world and even our own hearts tell us, too often our thoughts are to return evil for evil or even evil for good. Rather than trust in the power of God’s love and preserve our peace when faced with the difficulties of others, we prefer to be rid of them so that we may remain undisturbed. And we let pass by without regard the great gift held out to us by a generous God to participate in God’s own love and mercy by showing love to those who are wounded and hurt, just as God on this night has so generously manifested his patience with our brokenness.
But on this night, the Lord Jesus Christ, almighty in his divine nature, steadfastly facing his death in our human nature, prepares to make peace once and for all by the blood of his cross. In his immense love, he gives us his very self as our food, that in the strength of his life and his grace, we, too, may come to share in that great peace – peace with God, with ourselves and with one another. In awe of so great a love, in thanksgiving for so great a gift, let us, as he ask asked us to do, keep watch and pray with him this night, so that made one with him in his love, we too might be one with him as those who render good for evil and are willing to be of service even to the those who would harm us.
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