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Holy Thursday
April 2, 2015


     We call this day “Holy Thursday” and it is certainly that.  Other Christians have a different name for it -- “Maundy Thursday” -- and that’s a good name for it, too, because Maundy echoes the Latin word, mandatum, which means commandment.  This Holy night has at its heart a commandment: Jesus’ amazing new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

     In the Scriptures, commandments are associated with mountaintops.  Think of Moses on the heights of Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God amid peels of thunder and flashes of lightening.  Or think of Jesus proclaiming his New Law on a gentle hillside above the Lake of Galilee we call the Mount of Beatitudes.  Commandments come from high places where earth and heaven seem to meet. It’s no different tonight as we gather on this hilltop overlooking Seattle, yet another high and holy place, which becomes for us the Upper Room on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion.  We gather here, and we hear Jesus proclaim his New Commandment and we watch him bring that commandment to life in the washing of the feet of some of our friends – as if to say, ‘love is like this;’ ‘God is like this;’ ‘we must be like this;’ ‘we must do like this.”

     Tomorrow, on yet another mountain, the one called Calvary, Jesus will proclaim his New Commandment of love in a way that will leave us speechless.  He will open his arms on the cross in a loving embrace so wide that no one, absolutely no one, will be excluded, an embrace so vulnerable that love will get its ultimate definition.  And love will give its ultimate challenge on that hill, too, and we will be left wondering mightily -- for how are we ever to love like that?

     But that’s tomorrow.  Tonight Jesus’ kind of love seems more within our reach.  We can, after all, get down on our knees and wash each other’s feet, can’t we?  We can be that loving, that caring, that self-forgetful.

     We can, but not easily.  What comes more easily to us, more instinctively, is serving self, not others.  What comes more easily to us is the power trip – walking over others instead of kneeling before them.  Power, after all, is the way to get ahead.  It’s the way to assure us of our importance, the way to make life bearable – to dull its pains and smooth its rough edges.  Controlling others seems to come more naturally than humbly serving others, and too often it’s our way.  It’s the way of our world, too, the power trip is.  Too often it’s the way of those with political and economic power.   Too often they advance the narrow vested interests of the privileged few instead of the good of the many, the common good. In the process the weak get trampled and the vulnerable forgotten.

     All of this is far from the way of Jesus, of course -- miles away from his Gospel.  The way of Jesus is the way of the New Commandment where self-emptying, humble service is the measure.  The way of Jesus maintains – against all common sense – that it’s the peacemakers, the poor and the persecuted who are blessed, not the powerbrokers.

     But, my friends, can we really walk the way of Jesus? We can. Holy Thursday, the day of the New Commandment, makes it possible. Jesus makes it possible.  He shows us the way and he also gives us the way.  He shows us the way when he sets aside his tunic, pours water into a basin, gets down on his hands and knees, and washes his disciples’ feet.  That’s how he shows us the way.  He gives us the way when he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and shares it with his friends along with a cup of wine.  “This is my body given for you,” he says.  “This is my blood poured out for you.” It is as if he is saying to them and to us, ‘the only way you will ever be able to keep my New Commandment, the only way you will be able to love one another as I love you is by doing this: breaking the bread and sharing the cup in my memory.  If you do, and as often as you do, you will become my Body, and then you will begin to do as I do, you will begin to love as I love, you will begin to allow your own body to be broken as mine was, your own blood to be poured out in the selfless service of others.

     My dear friends, tonight we are on one of those high places where earth and heaven meet.  This night is holy unlike any other.  This is the night of the New Commandment.  This is the night, more than any other, when Jesus is in our midst as “one who serves.”  This is the night when we become what we receive.  This is the night when the impossible becomes possible, the night when we begin to love one another as He loves us!

     Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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