Triduum 2020 Homily – Fr. Rick Sherman
Holy Thursday marks the event where Jesus institutes the Holy Eucharist and invites all humanity to participate in His very life at the most intimate, personal level possible. When we receive the Holy Eucharist we receive the very person of Jesus into our bodies and souls and then collectively we ‘become one Body, one Spirit in Christ.’ This is a great mystery and beyond our intellectual understanding, but it is real and a relationship that can be experienced. In this same celebration Jesus institutes the sacrament of Holy Orders, the beginning of the Catholic priesthood.
Interestingly, in John’s gospel for Holy Thursday, the major part of the story has to do with the washing of feet. It says that during supper Jesus set about on the very careful ritual of washing the disciples’ feet and explains to them that this is how they too must serve each other. This is an essential part of priesthood. The custom of washing someone’s feet would have been quite familiar to the apostles as good hospitality included washing a guest’s feet on their arrival to one’s home. Chances are the people would have been walking with bare feet or with sandals and the washing would have been very cleansing and refreshing. Anyone could relate to this welcomed sensation and it would have likely been as satisfying to the host as to the guest, much like a good chef might enjoy seeing the diners relish a well-cooked meal. There is an exchange that happens which is far beyond good manners or mere etiquette.
Eucharist is not only the most powerful form of spiritual nourishment, but it is also the most powerful form of relationship and love. Feet washing is not just a nice service, but it is an act of sincere reverence which implicitly recognizes that we are most human and also most like God when we recognize each other’s inherent dignity. This reverence and personal affinity will naturally have us always trying to see and develop the best in each other. When we can call out the ‘Godness’ in each other we are engaging in a level of ‘becoming oneness’ that very much prefigures Heaven itself. The banquet of the Eucharist indeed prefigures the Heavenly Wedding Banquet as depicted in Scripture. Serving each other and bringing out each other’s God given dignity and gifts are not just add-ons that happen after the banquet, but as Jesus demonstrates, it is something that happened right during the supper. It’s an inherent part of Eucharist.
Saying “Amen” to the Body of Christ at Communion is also saying “Amen” to the Body of Christ sitting next to us in the pews or in the social hour after Mass, as well as to all our fellow human beings whom we encounter during the week. The more proficient we become at this level of reverence, the more we are able to participate in the Resurrected life that God promises to us even while we are still on earth. Tragically, due to the confusion brought on by Original Sin, human beings do not find this natural sense of reverence so easy to experience. Instead we tend to be afraid of each other and suspicious of each other’s motives. We are most given to competition and deception. Good Friday is about overcoming this fear and posturing; it requires a real death to our egos and unreflected presumptions of all kinds. Ironically, it is the coronavirus that ultimately does not discriminate or show favorites; we are all subject to attack.
Sadly, in our current virus-infected world, we are unable to gather for the Eucharist in our customary manner and warned from even coming within 10 feet of each other. What could be more contrary to our natural created state?! It can make us feel as desolate as Jesus Himself felt on the cross. It’s indeed a form of death although it’s not permanent.
There’s an old adage which says, ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder.’ Perhaps this is the point of our current peril if we were to step back and try to look at it biblically. We are all probably becoming more and more aware of all the people and relationships and services which we tend to take for granted. The corona virus might be the type of impetus that is essential for a new collective awareness of our true relationship to God and to each other. God is always with us and always calling us closer. The Easter Triduum reminds us that God is more powerful than death in all its forms.