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Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper
April 1, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 36:09)

     Holy Thursday is a night unlike any other. We sense that as we gather this evening. We are in St. James Cathedral in Seattle but we are also with Jesus and his Apostles in the Upper Room, and somehow we know that this is where we came from - that our very identity is bound up with what we do here tonight.

      And who are we? We are the people who gather in the name of the Lord Jesus to break the Bread of Life in his memory. There are many good and important things we do together as a people, of course, but none more important than what we do here tonight. This night is at the heart of everything we do and are, and it makes sense of everything we do and are.

     There is a memorable scene in the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye and his wife gather their children together for the Passover Seder. They are dressed in their Sabbath best and the table is beautifully set. And then the youngest asks the question that is both ritual and real: “Why is this night different from all others?” The answer, in their mother’s eyes and on their father’s lips, is “We are doing this because we are Jews. We are doing this so we can remember who we are.”

     Tevye and his family were Jews in Russia. They lived in perilous times. Whatever happened, they must not forget who they were – children of Abraham, children of the Promise, Gods’ Chosen People.

     My friends in Christ, we do what we are doing here tonight so we can remember who we are. The Passover celebration took Tevye and his family right back to their roots: to the great moment of God’s deliverance when He led a captive people through the waters of the Red Sea from slavery to freedom. The Eucharist we celebrate tonight - the bread we break and the wine we share – takes us right back to our roots: to our beginnings in the Upper Room the night before Jesus died. But there is more: the Eucharist not only reminds us of where we came from, it also makes us who we are. That is its power.

     The ritual we celebrate is old, but it is ever new.  Because it is old, and very familiar, there is always the possibility that we will miss some of its power. So, my friends, take it in tonight not only with your eyes and your ears; take it in with your hearts as well. Be like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus whose hearts burned within them each step of their journey, but whose eyes were closed until the moment of the Breaking of the Bread. And then listen to what Jesus says as he breaks the bread: “Do this in memory of me.”  “…In memory of me….” Break the bread of life and pour out the wine of loving sacrifice in my memory. Do it over and over again, millions and millions of times, and more. Do it today, do it tomorrow, do it until the end of time. Do it until the path of my life becomes the pattern of yours. Why? Well, because you are so forgetful!  You need to be reminded again and again of who I am and of what I did and, yes, you need to be reminded of who you are. “Do this in memory of me.” Why? Because while there was death in it for me, there is life in it for you.

     And, my friends, this remembering that we do tonight and whenever we gather in His name, is no mere looking back fondly or wistfully. It is not an exercise in nostalgia. This remembering has unique power: a mystical, sacramental, divine power to transcend time and space and to make the past present!

     Tonight, as at every Mass, we are in the upper room. We are witnesses to the greatest outpouring of love our world has ever known, but we are more than witnesses, we are partakers. When we take part in the Eucharistic meal as we will soon do, we will be one with Jesus. He will become our food and we will become his Body – become more and more who and what he is. And that, my friends, is the only way his otherwise impossible commandment can ever become possible for us: “Love one another,” he says, “as I have loved you.” Through our communion with him that impossible commandment begins to become possible.

      But, lest all this sound abstract and theoretical, Jesus, true to form, told a wonderful parable to his friends at table that night. No, he went one better: instead of telling a parable he performed a parable. During the meal, he got up from the table, set aside his outer garment, tied a towel around his waist, and got down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of his friends. It was a parable that didn’t need any explaining, although Peter needed some convincing. The way to be part of Jesus would be the way of love and the way of love would be the way of service. It was as simple as that. There would be no power trips or power grabs – only hands and knees and dirty feet. And so it was, and so it is.

      Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we are unable to reenact what Jesus did for his friends that night, but we need to be reminded of it, because if we ever forget it, we will be forgetting the very thing that takes our faith out of the abstract realm of theory, and brings it to life.

     “I AM IN YOUR MIDST AS ONE WHO SERVES.” Those Last Supper words of Jesus which speak to us from high above the altar of this cathedral are yet one more telling of his Last Supper parable. They are a constant and challenging reminder to us - not only of who Jesus is - but of who we are. On this holy night set aside for remembering who we are, let us hear them anew. On this holy night may the Christ who is in our midst show himself to us as never before in the Breaking of the Bread!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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