Holy Thursday: Mass of the Lord’s Supper
April 17, 2014
Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14, Psalm 116, 1 Cor 11:23-26, Jn 13:1-15
by Rev. Mr. Sal Clarizio, Permanent Deacon
Not long ago, the history channel showed a documentary in which scientists attempted to create what may be the most realistic 3-D image of the face of Christ. They spent many months on the project, using sophisticated computer technology to craft the image from the Shroud of Turin.
The result is the face of a young man with long hair and a beard, scars, and blood stains around his brow. The computer estimates that he’d be about 5’8″. He looks heavier and more muscular than most may think. But he otherwise looks very much the way any of us might imagine Jesus looked at the time of his death.
What Jesus really looked like has fascinated us for centuries – we have seen how he’s been portrayed in art. And it’s not just what he looked like, but what he did. We see him depicted so often in art as a crucified victim, or a good shepherd, or a teacher preaching to his followers.
Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth is the earliest account ever written of the Last Supper. It pre-dates, even, the gospels. It is so close to the original event, that its words are part of our Eucharistic Prayer, spoken at every Mass, at every altar, around the world. The words that created the Eucharist are the beating heart of our Catholic Christian belief. And through it all, one word leaps out at us.
Remembrance. Do this in remembrance of me.
But tonight, on one of the holiest nights of the year, we are given a very different picture of Jesus. And it may be more surprising than anything you’d see on the History Channel.
We see him on his knees, wiping away dirt, washing feet. This is truly what it means to be Christ. He said so himself. “I have given you a model to follow,” he tells his apostles, “so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
And remembrance is at the very heart of what we celebrate this evening. Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus is saying: This is how I want to be remembered.
In tonight’s gospel, John finds something else for us to remember: Christ, the servant. Deacons feel a special affection for this passage, because it is here that the diaconate, really, is born — in Christ’s extraordinary act of service, the washing of his disciples’ feet. Often, you will see emblems for the diaconate that include the image of a basin and a towel. It refers to this specific passage.
And it is a reminder that we are called to serve – to wash one another’s feet, in humility and in love, just as Jesus did. But it is not just the ordained who are called to this. It is all of Christ’s disciples. All who sit at his table and share in his body and blood. All of us.
So for all those who ask the perennial question, “What would Jesus do? ” Here is your answer.
And it comes at a surprising moment: on this night when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, and the institution of the priesthood.
Tonight, God gets down on his knees for us. Tonight, he lowers himself. Tonight, he becomes a servant to the world — as humble as a slave, as meager and plain as a crumb of bread. From this, we learn what it means to be like Christ. The overwhelming impression is surprising, and challenging. It is God becoming less…so that we can become more.
One of his last acts on earth, the last communal moment with his friends, is spent taking care of them, purifying them, removing the dust of the day. Perhaps he is anticipating the roads they will travel in the hours ahead. Maybe he is somehow getting them ready for the long journey ahead — missions they will undertake after he has gone, traveling by foot to bring the gospel to the world.
I also think it is a beautiful representation of the priesthood, and the sacrament of reconciliation.
We all walk the earth carrying the debris of our lives – our failings, our sins, our weaknesses. They cling to us. But here, they are washed away. We are made new; we can begin again. And this, too, is what it means to be like Christ.
“As I have done for you, you should also do.”
The imitation of Christ begins with this moment. It is in the selfless service, doing what others won’t do, or can’t. It is all of us caring for those who cannot care for themselves.
It’s aid workers in Africa and sisters of charity in the Bronx and missionaries bringing Christ to those seeking the truth. And it is our priests and thousands of clergy around the world, who anoint our sick and offer absolution for our sins, and celebrate Mass with one simple goal in mind – to save souls.
It is people like all those in our parish ministries who serve others – physically, mentally and spiritually. Think of those volunteers who rise early almost every Saturday, in every kind of weather — go to an abortion clinic , and stand outside, and simply pray the rosary. A humble, simple act that can change hearts and, maybe, save lives.
It is all of these kinds of Christian actions that go on today by our clergy and lay workers in the vineyard in every corner of the world. That is what it means to be like Christ.
“As I have done for you, you should also do.”
That is Christ’s message to his followers 2,000 years ago – and, of course, to us tonight. And so, this night, confronted with this challenging gospel reading, it’s worth asking ourselves: How have I tried to imitate Christ?
Mother Theresa once said, “I take care of all those who come across my path.” We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and —on the way ——at the altar of life.
Science and technology can only tell us so much. The fact remains: if you want to really know what Jesus looked like, you won’t find it on the History Channel. You won’t even find it on the Shroud of Turin.
Look, instead, to tonight’s gospel. Because here – on his knees before others, his head lowered in humility and in love, doing the work of a slave – here is where you see the true image of Christ.
May Jesus Christ be praised.