4/14/17

Holy Thursday in the canned vegetable aisle


Homily for Holy Thursday
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily


Just a few days ago I was at Market Basket.
I hadn’t planned to go food shopping,
I was at a nearby shop buying some new shirts,
but I saw a big sign in Market Basket’s window
that told me that Libby’s canned vegetables were on sale
and I like Libby’s canned carrots  and so I went in.

And it was in the canned vegetable aisle that I saw him.
That’s when I saw him.

An elderly man, dressed in a rather mis-matched way,
that suggested to me that his clothes closet
was probably limited in choices
and that he likely no longer had a wife at home
to advise him on fashion.

He was standing in front of the Libby’s canned vegetables,
holding the Market Basket circular with both hands
and carefully turning his gaze back and forth
from the shelves to the paper.

He looked disappointed - as was I.
Not all of Libby’s vegetables were on sale and, in fact,
the carrots were not marked down.
The man I was watching seemed distressed.
I guessed that his favorite vegetable wasn’t on sale either.

He folded his circular and as he pushed his carriage past me
I noticed there were only a few items in it, all canned.
And I wondered if he ate only canned food
and if he had anyone to sit at table with him
and how much he might have to depend on sale items
to stay within a meager weekly budget for groceries.

And because in the last few weeks my Holy Week homilies
have been on my mind constantly
it occurred to me there
in the canned vegetable aisle at Market Basket
that here was a man
who might welcome someone to stoop down
and - wash his feet.

And I became keenly and embarrassingly aware
of all the clothes already hanging in my closet
and the new shirts sitting in my car -
and of all the food in my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets -
and of all the people with whom I break bread
and raise a glass and share a table -
and of how free I am of worry
about the cost of dining out or paying the grocery bills.
And of how there are so many wonderful people in my life
who, in so many ways, wash my feet
with their care for me, their concern for me, there compassion
and their companionship.

The old man made his way down the supermarket aisle
but he has remained in my mind and heart for several days,
even to this night.

For centuries, there have been those who seek Holy Grail,
the cup Jesus used at the last supper.
Others claim to have a piece of the cross on which Jesus died.
Many treasure what they believe to be Jesus’ burial shroud.

I’ve been thinking this week
that if I could find or have some relic,
some memento of Jesus’ life,
I would like to have the towel he tied around his waist
and used to dry his disciples’ feet after washing them.
• Imagine holding in your hands
the towel Jesus held in his hands…
• Imagine having the towel that dried the feet of the apostles,
even of Peter who protested his Master’s servant gesture...
• Imagine tying around your own waist a towel
woven with the love and humility of Jesus,
the love and humility of our God,
who did not hesitate to come on bended knee to serve us,
we who, by every standard,
are undeserving of such love...

Of course, the danger in having that towel, Jesus’ own towel,
would be that I might frame it,
keep it under glass, or in a cedar chest,
or, worse yet, under lock and key.

And if I did that,
might Jesus not come and say to me as he said to Peter,
“Austin, don’t you realize what I do for you,
what this towel is all about?”
Well, I do understand what the towel is about,
it’s just that I don’t always have it tied about my waist
and do for others what the Lord has done for me.

I don’t think I had my towel with me at Market Basket.
I thought later of ways I might have helped the man I saw.
I could have waggled my way in front of him in line
and payed it forward: “Put that guy’s food on my tab.”
I might have gone to the service desk, bought a gift certificate,
found the man and made up a story
of why I wanted him to have it…

But I didn’t even engage him in conversation.

And now I wonder how hungry he might have been
not just for Libby’s vegetables, but for someone to talk to.
If I had my towel with me that day,
it must have been rolled up and stowed away,
somewhere else.

So now I ask myself and I ask you:
who in our families, who at work, who at school,
who in our neighborhoods, who in our parish
would welcome the water and towel
of our care, our concern,
our compassion, our companionship?
It’s so much easier, so much neater, so much cleaner
to make a souvenir of Jesus’ love for us
when
what he wants us to do is to carry a towel with us
and  to use it to serve those whose lives and needs
cross our path every day of the week.

Jesus instructs us, he commands us
to gird ourselves in the towel of Christian service,
and to keep our eyes and hearts open
for those who would welcome our washing their feet
with care, concern compassion and companionship.
The towel Jesus hands us in the gospel tonight
isn’t a trophy meant for display
but rather a tool meant for working and for serving others.

That Jesus gave us this towel at the last supper,
on the eve of his suffering and death,
draws us, as does the Eucharist,
to the humble service Jesus offered
not only when bent down at his friends feet
- but even more -
when he was lifted up, on the wood of the Cross.

The humble service to which Christ’s towel calls us
is but an introductory lesson on the self-giving love
he teaches us from the tree of his Cross.
The Eucharist,
whose institution we remember and celebrate this night,
the Eucharist is the perfect sign of Jesus’ humility
for in the bread and cup of this altar
we receive the sacrifice he offered for us
in his suffering and death on the Cross.

A towel is for tying around one’s waist
and wiping dry another’s feet, another’s tears.
The Eucharist is for us to eat and drink,
to consume,
in the hope that it will consume us
and make of us humble servants of Christ and one another.

This night, then, the Church invites us
not only to receive the sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice
but also to wash one another’s feet, in humble service,
to do for others what he has done for us.

You are invited to watch as feet are washed
and towels dry them.
You are invited to have your feet washed and dried
and to wash and dry someone else’s  feet.

It can be embarrassing, it can be awkward, it can be difficult -
but what we do tonight is easier
than starting a conversation with a lonely old man
in the vegetable aisle at Market Basket.

This is dress rehearsal tonight for the real stuff
that we are called to live.

Whether we come forward or not,
and that’s your choice,
let us tie the Lord’s towel around our hearts
and pledge to do for others
what he has done for us.

 

     
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