Holy Thursday Homily

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Homily for Holy Thursday
(Scriptures for this evening's liturgy)

Audio for homily

So when he had washed their feet, put his garments back on
and reclined at table again, he said to them,
 “Do you realize what I have done for you?

The answer to Jesus’ question is:
No – they didn’t realize what he had done for them.
At least they had not yet realized the import
of his getting down on his knees to wash their sandal-clad feet,           
dirty from the dusty streets of Jerusalem
which they had walked to get to this last supper with Jesus.

And I think that  his close friends might be forgiven for not getting it -
I think perhaps they deserve a pass here.
But as always, what Jesus says to his contemporaries in the gospel
he also says to us.
So this Holy Thursday night, Jesus reclines at our table, here, and asks,
 “Do you realize what I did for you?”
And since we have had some 2,000 years to come to realize
what Jesus did for us in washing his friends’ feet,
we don’t get a pass – by now we should be able to answer Yes.
But I wonder if we can.

I’m not sure we can say Yes, we realize what you did for us, Lord,
because in so many ways we fail to follow the model he gave us.
What an image of mercy for us to consider in this Year of Mercy:
Jesus kneeling at our feet, washing them
of the grit and grime of our wayward, halting steps.

If anyone in that upper room deserved to have his tired feet washed,
it was Jesus.
But with exquisite and humbling mercy it’s Jesus who bends down
to serve his friends – to serve us.

In Jesus’ day, washing the feet of visitors to your table was commonplace.
But it was the servants who took care of this lowly task,
certainly not the guest of honor.
In our own culture of pedicures, paved roads and shoes and socks,
there’s no longer a need for foot washing
but that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility Jesus lays on us here.

It may seem that Jesus’ purpose is to reverse the master-servant roles
such that the master is lowered to the servant’s level
but something much more subtle is at work here.
Jesus is undoing the master-servant hierarchy, dismantling it,
and calling all to serve all – at all times.
So Jesus takes off his outer garments,  stripping away his rightful dignity,
and bends down to care for the very practical needs of his friends:
their feet are dirty and they need to be washed.

How many times in the course of a day do you and I meet opportunities
to put aside our pretense, to strip away a layer of our pride,
to reach out and to do for another what is kind, generous,
self-effacing, helpful and merciful?

How often do we prefer the garments of respectability
to the transparency of heartfelt-service?

In how many ways do we shield ourselves
from getting near the nitty-gritty needs of our neighbor?

What acts of mercy do we confidently assume will be take care of
- by someone else?

What do we presume is just something “we could never do?”

What helpful gestures do we believe ourselves excused of
in light of what Jesus himself did for his friends
and gave to us as a model to do the same?

How often are we too busy, too preoccupied, too much in a hurry,
too proud, too afraid, too reticent for any number of reasons
to reach out in mercy and kindness to those around us
and to those whose needs we know
though they live on the other side of the globe?
It would have been much easier for us if Jesus, at the last supper,
stepped forward to set the table
and instructed us to do likewise for one another.

But that’s not what he did.
And that’s not the model he gave us.
He left us not with knives and forks, china, glassware and napkins –
but rather, with our neighbors’ dirty feet, a bowl of water and a towel.

This is why he asks each of us tonight:
Do you realize what I have done for you?

And what he did at the last supper was but a shadow, a hint,
of what he did for us on the following day.
For having bent down to wash our feet, he then stood tall
to take upon his shoulders the weight, the grit and grime of our guilt,
to be stripped of all his dignity
and to wash away our sins in the greatest act of mercy
ever perpetrated in the history of humankind.

Do we realize what he did for us?
Yes, we do – or else we would not be here this night.
Have we let his example become the model for our lives?
Yes, we have – but not nearly enough.

So tonight, we will do as Jesus did some 2,000 years ago.
We will wash feet.
We will wash feet at the table
where we will share in the mercy of his sacrifice,
offered for us on the Cross,
and now given to us in the Eucharist.

The feet we wash will  likely not be dirty enough to require a washing
and yet the very act of offering them for another to wash
and of washing the feet of the next person,
provides an opportunity to follow the Lord’s command
and to realize, even just a little bit more, what he did for us.


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