Holy Thursday – April 9, 2020
Up until the time when my father passed away in 2005, most every year of my life with few exceptions, I would spend hours before Memorial Day with my father planting flowers on the graves of loved ones: my mother’s and father’s parents, my dad’s brother and his grandparents. And always, at the end of our mission, we would walk to the oldest section of the cemetery and plant flowers on the grave of my dad’s mother’s first husband. He died in 1918 in the last pandemic to envelope our world. And every year, my father would recount stories of this man whom he obviously never knew and the flu that took his life – stories that had been passed on to him by other family members who remembered and lived through that tragic moment in our history. … What we’re experiencing during these difficult days will be the memories that are shared by others one hundred years from now.
So much of our lives are rooted in memories, aren’t they? They comfort us. They challenge us. And they make us who we are. And when even the simplest of those memories are lost or disrupted, we become lost as well.
Perhaps that’s why it’s been so difficult for us to accept the fact that these holiest days of the Christian calendar are being celebrated this year in a radically altered way. For you see, these days and particularly this night – Holy Thursday – are all about memories. The memories that pour into our minds and hearts may be about our own experiences woven into this sacred Mass of the Lord’s Supper – from the processions in which we participated as children – to visits to the Blessed Sacrament – to the sights and sounds and smells of candles and bells and incense.
But this night is about more than our own personal memories. It is a night that beckons us to reflect upon the memories that serve as the foundation for our lives as Christians as told in the sacred scriptures.
Each of the scripture passages proclaimed this evening, along with the treasured rituals of this Mass of the Lord’s Supper call to mind cherished memories from the past. Yet, each passage also serves as a vehicle which makes present the life of God in our midst through his son, Jesus Christ. And each calls us – time and time again – to a moment of decision in our lives.
The Passover commemoration recounted in Exodus concludes with these words: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate as a perpetual institution.” There’s no option given. The Exodus event must be commemorated and the great works of God must be remembered throughout the ages. … Saint Paul echoes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper after he offered bread and wine as his very body and blood, broken and poured forth for the life of the world: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Repeat this sacred ritual in Jesus’ name – and so receive the strength to allow your lives to be broken and your blood to be poured forth for the sake of the people entrusted to your care. … And Saint John’s Gospel poignantly concludes with these words of Jesus, which follow his act of humble, selfless service of his disciples: “As I have done for you, so you must do for others.”
Jesus gives us his very life and so makes this night holy. He does not, however, give us the luxury of simply being bystanders. It is not enough for us to simply remember the events of God’s saving grace in our midst in wonder and awe. This night challenges us to be vulnerable before God – to admit of our need for love and forgiveness, for healing and hope. … It also challenges us to find our deepest meaning, purpose and peace by following Jesus and making the pattern of Jesus’ life of love and service our own.
A few years ago, Pope Francis reflected upon this sacred night. “Jesus gives Himself totally, He keeps nothing for Himself, not even His life. At the Last Supper, with His friends, He shares the bread and distributes the chalice ‘for us.’ The Son of God consigns His Body and his Blood into our hands ‘to be with us always’ – to dwell among us.”
“What does this mean for us?” Pope Francis goes on to ask. “It means that the life of Jesus is my, your, our path. … Following Jesus means learning how to go beyond ourselves to reach out to others, to be the first to move towards our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, consolation and help.”
The great Saint Augustine, in speaking of the Eucharist, which lies at the heart of this holy night, shared these powerful words, “Become the mystery you celebrate.” … My friends, so many these days have become like the selfless Jesus – loving, serving and caring for the most vulnerable in our midst – and in some instances literally giving of their lives for the sake of those given to their care. They remind us in their service that embracing the life of Jesus is our only way forward in these challenging days.
May we trust in the power of the Eucharist. … May the example of so many selfless souls encourage us. … May we find hope in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. … And through our openness to God’s grace, brothers and sisters, may this moment of pain and suffering in our history one day become yet another memory – a cherished memory of God’s saving presence in our lives.