Last week, I received an email from Riley Manning, the religious reporter for the Tupelo Daily Journal. This is one of the questions he asked me: For those who may not know, what is Holy Week and why is it important?
A. In answering that question, I paraphrased a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who stated that during Holy Week, we Christians reenact, relive, and share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. In many ways, the events of Holy Week tell us what our faith is all about.
We find ourselves commemorating Holy Thursday today in the middle of Holy Week. One event of significance we have in our Holy Thursday liturgy is the establishment of the Eucharist for us as followers of Christ. Paul tells us the simple and profound words of Jesus during the Passover that he celebrates with his disciples: “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In those words, Jesus gives us the gift of the Eucharist and the mandate that goes with it as well. Paul goes on to say: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Perhaps it is the washing of the feet of the twelve representatives of our community of faith, representing Christ’s disciples, that helps explains to us what the Eucharist means to us and how we are to live out our lives of faith in the mandate Jesus gives to us. Last year at this Holy Thursday mass, Pope Francis, who had recently been elected pope, made headlines all over the world for what he did. Normally, the pope celebrates Holy Thursday at one of the major basilicas in Rome, either St Peter or St John Lateran. The pope usually washes the feet of 12 priests during the mass, symbolizing the 12 apostles. However, last year, he visited a youth prison for the Holy Thursday celebration, bathing the feet of 12 inmates, which included 2 women and 2 Muslims. That was the first time that women had ever been included in the foot washing ceremony on Holy Thursday as celebrated by a pope. This evening, we will have the foot washing of 12 representatives of our community of faith. However, all of us present today should feel Jesus washing our feet. Perhaps some of us feel resistance in our lives of faith right now. Perhaps we are resistant to have Jesus wash our feet just as Peter was resistant. Perhaps we don’t want Jesus to wash our feet, to give himself to us, to let him be servant for various reasons. Perhaps we want our independence: to live according to our own laws and the laws of man rather than the laws of God. Perhaps we don’t want to admit that we need to healed or saved or washed. Or perhaps we don’t feel worthy. Perhaps this year during Holy Week, God is calling us to name that part of ourselves that we need to surrender to him, that we need Jesus to love and to embrace, to wash and to clean.
Jesus gives us a mandate in the Gospel as he washing the feet of his apostles in a show of servanthood – to follow his model and to do for our brothers and sisters what Jesus has done for us. The Gospel tells us that Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. We are to love in the same way. As Jesus washes our feet today, we are to feel love and gratitude in our hearts . The way we approach the Eucharist and to live out the Eucharist, both today and everyday, is to flow out of that love and gratitude.
Today we enter into the three days of liturgies before Easter – it is called the Triduum. As we celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday together as a community of faith here at St James, let us see these three days of holy liturgies as a single prayer of final preparation as we enter into the redemption of humanity and the salvation of the world that is made present in the death and Resurrection of our Lord.