Holy Thursday Mass

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28 March 2013

It is often said , and rightly so, that this is the most important week of the Christian calendar, and going further, we can say, that these are the most important three days of the Christian calendar as well. There is something of a unity expressed, with the theme of the meals and act of service in the washing of the feet tonight, on to the very sombre commemoration of the death of Jesus tomorrow afternoon, and then on to the celebration of the Resurrection, on Saturday evening.

And this is a very special year, the year when we are celebrating the Year of Grace, and once more attempting to revitalise the picture of Christ in our hearts, and to act accordingly.

In the first reading, we hear of the people coming together to share a meal in honour of the Lord. "This is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord's honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, forever." Even today, thousands of years later, we continue to make this a day of remembrance.

The theme of the Passover is brought to mind as well. The Passover was originally a spring festival to mark the passing of the new lambs  over to the fresh pastures. It was adopted by the Jews as a celebration of their release from slavery, moving  into the land that had been promised to Moses. Today, as they take part in the Passover supper, Jewish families do more than re-enact  the Exodus. They feel themselves part of the original events they are recalling.

Jesus was being faithful to his Jewish heritage in the celebration of the Passover, but at the same time he instituted that first incredible act which has been at the centre of Christian/Catholic belief ever since.  He said "Do this in memory of me.”  He left not a part of himself, but the whole person. He longed to share the Passover meal with them, and the reason is obvious: before long he would be dead.

But he gave us a wonderful lesson of service in the washing of the feet: and then the very next sentence, in advice for us all, he adds: "I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you."  This too is his gift - he did not wash hands and faces, but feet.

And at the same time as all this happened, we not only find Jesus serving his people, but the Father as well. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God"  and because of this, he did what he did.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember that Jesus died a violent death. But as we would expect, Jesus did not respond with violence. The noted preacher of the Lenten Retreat to recent Popes, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, has said on one occasion that the Eucharist is the sacrament of non-violence. It is thanks to the Eucharist, the Sacrament of non-violence, that God’s intolerance of such behaviour continues to echo down through the centuries.

Perhaps more than we are prepared to admit, we are subjected to images of violence in our daily lives, through the television, in news reports, and also some particular kinds of programmes built around that theme. At the present moment, here is our own Tasmanian community we are trying to fend of changes in legislation to ensure that no violence is perpetrated on the elderly and the unborn in our society.

We need the Eucharist, the sacrament of non-violence, to ensure that we may be filled with the courage to be the non-violent disciples of Jesus. The very moving gesture of the washing of the feet is a sign and reminder of the gentleness and respect we are called to show to others, to respond to their very human needs, and to assist them to continue on their journey of faith, as we continue on ours, particularly during these three most important days of Holy Week.