Holy Thursday Homily
It has taken the longest time for my senses to begin to notice this line in the Gospel – He loved his own in the world and He loved them to the end. I still will have to figure out why this was so. I suppose the consequences of this particular logos are so mind boggling that my mind freezes in incredulity? This year I decided to look at the Greek. It proves to be very interesting because the Greek says literally that He loved them into the telos. For us as Fr John Behr points out the English word – end is rather functional. You could end with a thud or end accidentally. But not telos. Telos, the goal, denotes the coming to perfection of a process set in motion by God. What is this telos. Again Fr Behr, in the Genesis account of creation, when it comes to man, God does something different. For all other created things, the imperative “let there be ..” is used. And they come into being, complete and finished. But when it comes to man, God uses the subjunctive ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness’ There is no fiat. Man does not appear, complete, finished like a new vehicle. It is a project undertaken by God. And this mighty project is completed only when Jesus says ‘It is finished’ – the verb finished being a derivative of telos. Something begun in Eden is finally brought to its sabbath rest on the cross. As Fr John Behr points out – Christ brings about the perfection of humanity on the Cross. Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human by dying on the Cross. We become human by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ.
What will this look like for us? It could not be just being crucified. None of us will end our lives on a cross. Death on a cross could mean anything. This is what some exegetes have done. They say Christ’s death is a result of miscalculation on His part. He started a process as a prophet and then the train went off the rails and He became a helpless pawn in a larger game. The Cross is a mistake. It is St John who shows us the inner meaning of the Cross in the washing of the feet. Christ takes off His outer garment and then washes the feet of his disciples. The symbolism is very obvious here. God stoops down. He hides His divinity so that He can become man to touch not just our heads but the very last parts of ourselves – our dirty feet, our sinful selves. So Christ shows us what it is to be Divine. This is not something you get from a metaphysics class as John Behr tells us. It is from looking closely at the Son of God in action. To be Divine is to be willing to die for human beings. This is what being Divine does.
As we all know, in place of the Eucharist, St John has the washing of the feet. So today Holy Thursday when the Holy Eucharist was instituted, we are shown by St John the inner meaning of the Eucharist. It is God dying for us to wash us clean to make us human beings. But it is a two-edged sword. If we receive God whose divinity and glory is shown so clearly in that He can die for sinners. Then we can only become human by dying with Him to our selfishness and lovelessness.
I speak for myself. I spent my adolescence in the time of the changes – the change from Latin to the vernacular, ad orientem to facing the people, kneeling at the altar rail to standing and receiving communion. The meal aspect that gathers the community together was stressed. So every gathering for whatever purpose deserved its own Mass. It becomes a ritual to bring about fellowship and a shallow fellowship at that. The deeply personal aspect, the aspect of ‘deep calling to deep’ in communion takes the backseat. You forget that it is Someone else’s body and blood you are really receiving – not just a wafer and a generous gulp of wine. Maybe there is a culpable ignorance in all this forgetting. Otherwise we could not receive the Lord’s Body and Blood without being convicted as unloving, selfish and ungrateful sinners.
This brings me back to what was said in Genesis. Let us make man in our own image and likeness. God would not say ‘Let it be’ because He was not making a stone. He can say ‘Let us make..’ . It is up to say to give the fiat, the ‘Let it be’ We must say let is be, let me die with Christ and for Christ and for the sake of others. We must be partners in God’s project to make man in His own image and likeness. The Amen can only come from our side. God died on the Cross to bring man to completion. He left us an example. But the ‘Let is be’ must be ours. We must be willing to die with Christ to become human again. This is something we must be very conscious of as we come to communion. The Body of Christ – only we can give the Amen. The Blood of Christ – again only we can give the Amen, the Let it be. We can choose to let the dying of Christ in us bring us to our true humanity. Or we can eat the body and drink the blood to our condemnation.