Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Today’s readings

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

The Church sees this evening’s Mass as the beginning of a three-day Liturgy that embodies our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. These three days are the Paschal Mystery, in which we see our Lord’s love and Divine Mercy poured out freely on sinners – which is to say, of course, on you and me. No one in this church has merited this Divine Mercy; it is freely given, and if we have prepared ourselves properly this Lent, freely received.

At the beginning of every Liturgy there is an introit or entrance antiphon. It’s a brief scriptural verse that provides the mindset, if you will, that the Church wants us to have as we pray that Liturgy. For these three days, the Church gives us an adaptation of the fourteenth verse of the sixth book of Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

The Church wants us, appropriately enough, to focus on our Lord who is, after all, the whole reason we’re here tonight, and for the rest of these days. More specifically, the Church wants us to reflect during this most holy three-day liturgy on our Lord’s Cross. And quite honestly, that’s kind of inconvenient. It’s hard to gather people together to celebrate the Cross – it’s not pretty and it doesn’t portray the glitzy kind of happy message that beckons Christians to church.

It’s always been that way. In the early days of Christianity, they knew the cross all too well. They saw it on almost a daily basis. What had been intended to provide an ignominious and painful death to the worst criminal offenders soon enough became the way to execute all those who were politically inconvenient, most especially Christians who refused to take up the worship of pagan gods which was required by the government of the day.

But even now, quite honestly, who wants to look at the cross? We don’t like pain or grief or anything like that. We take a pill for every malady, even braving a horrifying list of side-effects. To those who have experienced the death of a loved one, we offer meaningless platitudes like “everything happens for a reason,” and then we expect them back at work in no more than three to five days, functioning and behaving just as they did before. We anesthetize ourselves with drink, or drugs, or hours in front of the television or computer, or immersing ourselves in work, so that we don’t have to confront the difficulties in our relationships, or family lives, or whatever else might be on our plates. So for us, reflecting on the cross is just too painful, and glorying in the cross – well, that’s just ridiculous.

But we know the Truth: we know that it is only by our Lord’s Cross that we have won salvation; we know that we too have been called to take up our own crosses and follow our Lord; we know that we have been given an example and that we need to follow it – we know that if we don’t glory in the Cross, we can never have a resurrection. And so during these three days, I’d like to suggest some ways that we can reflect on the Cross and glory in it, that we might come at last to Easter glory.

Today we see in the Cross our call to service. But by service, I don’t mean the light and fluffy things we see as service – it’s not a quick service project, or writing a check to do our little part of handling a need. Those things are nice, but they don’t really measure up to the example our Lord gives us today. Our Lord’s service was one of kenosis – the Greek word for “emptiness.” Our Lord emptied himself of his own will so that he could completely embody the Father’s will. He did that to save us from our sins. So the service our Lord calls us to today is one of emptying our own will out so that we can be filled by God’s will.

Jesus emptied himself of his will to be served by serving in the most menial of ways. At the banquet, it was not the host who washed the hot, dirty and tired feet of the guests – it was instead the task for a servant or slave. But because none of those at the Last Supper thought himself low enough to take on that task, our Lord did it, and one wonders if Peter’s reluctance to have his own feet washed was because he didn’t want our Lord to stoop down and serve him, or if it was because he knew it meant that he had to do the same thing. How willing are we to empty ourselves of our entitlement and instead to serve the poor and needy among us?

Jesus emptied himself of his will by giving his body and blood to be our Eucharist – our reason for thanksgiving – and to sustain us on the journey to eternal life. He didn’t come just to give us directions to heaven. He came to bring us there, nourishing us along the way, helping us to get up when we’ve fallen, giving us food for body and spirit. He knew that it was only his Body and Blood that would overcome our profane human nature, that would give us enough a share in his Divine nature, that we could find our way to heaven. How willing are we to empty ourselves out, completely giving ourselves for others?

Today the Cross we glory in is one of service – and it’s a service that is a complete giving of self for another. It’s love beyond words. It’s mercy and grace given with wild abandon. It’s an emptying out of self-will so that God’s will can be accomplished now and in the life to come. That Cross can be heavy and inconvenient and even repulsive at times. But it’s the only way to heaven.

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

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