Holy Holy Thursday
Every single day and moment that we live is holy. Yet, to be with our beloved ones as they suffer and die is especially holy. In that “being with” we enter what the Irish call the “thin space” between heaven and earth when we can almost experience what is on the other side of this life. Perhaps it is when we realize that there is nothing more we can DO, but we can BE WITH, we are closest to God. This week is called Holy Week as we enter the Triduum (three days) of Jesus’ suffering beginning today on Holy Thursday and we follow him to the Cross on Good Friday,then beyond to glorious Easter dawn, Jesus’ rising from the dead, with the Easter Vigil. We can not close our eyes to the most difficult parts of living and dying and click our heels like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and jump to Easter, we must go through the agony of walking toward death with betrayal and angst, we must “face the music” and accept the cross and death, to get to Easter. I never understood this so well as when I spent the last days and moments with my beloved Aunt Edie in 1998 and now again with my beloved Judy Beaumont this December and January. The challenge is to enter the silence, retreat from the noises all around, with our beloved and just be with.
So we enter Holy Time and we take a while to really be with Jesus from today through the dawn of Sunday and Easter. On Holy Thursday in an evening Mass we celebrate Jesus’ last supper, His sharing of the unleavened bread and wine at the Passover meal as his very body and his very blood beginning a new covenant. Through Jesus giving up his life in a series of horrific events, God promises new and eternal life to the whole world. Life WILL follow death. Death is not the end. That truly is the good news. But we aren’t there yet. Jesus is not just celebrating a tradition he is starting a new one, offering himself as the way to be one with, reconciled to,our loving God. This last meal and the symbolism Jesus offers with it becomes the institution of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, our thankfulness for what Jesus has done, (Matthew 26:17-30). And it is awesome to realize what Jesus now must face. We begin our Holy Thursday Mass (or Service in other Christian traditions) with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-15). Then we proceed to celebrating the Last Supper before his death.
We then put the remaining bread,the broken body of Christ, in repose at an altar of adoration to be used remembering God’s grace on Good Friday the only day of the year when we do not actually celebrate the Eucharist at Mass.
We begin with the washing of feet as Jesus did as it shows us HOW to live the life that Jesus has asked us to live if we are to follow him. To “be with” Jesus is not only to feel or understand his suffering and join in it with prayer, but to bow down to one another and serve one another. To wash feet you have to bow down, and so we have our loving and humble God bowing down to us. Wow! Our response is “Oh, no, not me, I am not worthy.” But Jesus tells us “you need to be made clean, and I will wash you”. If God is so humble, we have no choice but to offer our feet, and to then bow down before the next one,especially those neighbors most beaten and broken by life’s blows and do the same. Today I think of the undocumented immigrants who work very hard and get dirty at jobs no one else will do and who are being arrested and deported in a new scourge of injustice suddenly leaving their crying families behind(250 new deportees were arrested by ICE yesterday including five in this County of Florida-our neighbors). Jesus ask us to truly serve the most broken: “If I the ‘master’ and ‘teacher’ have washed your feet,you ought to wash one another’s feet, I have given you a model to follow , as I have done for you , you should also do”( John 13:15). And so we begin our lives of humble service and seeking justice for God’s people as Jesus showed us.
In the Holy Land,in Israel,at the Church of Gethsemane, located where Jesus prayed in the Mount of Olives, there is also a special Mass on Holy Thursday commemorating Jesus’agony in the Garden(Matthew 26: 36-45. That takes place after the “last supper” is completed. He has already experienced betrayal and predicts Peter’s denial. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him and shares his heart with them. He says: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”. He then falls face down to the ground,prostrates himself, and prays “My Father,if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 38-39). We know the rest of the story. The disciples fall asleep. He is betrayed and Good Friday will soon begin. But let me lift out Jesus’ words, words that strike me most today: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. Jesus felt totally overwhelmed. Jesus felt crippling anxiety. Jesus felt the fear and grief of “being with” death, in this case not only his death but impending suffering. And Jesus’ prayers were answered with glorious life after death, but even he was not rescued from suffering and death. Finally, I can understand because of my own grief and feelings of being overwhelmed by sorrow: Jesus faced the greatest sorrow and he can understand fully when we feel the very same way. God’s humanity enabled God to viscerally know the lot of the humanity God so lovingly created. And God’s new promise is eternal life, not now though it begins now, this moment as we believe and walk with Jesus, but forever. And so I want to be with Jesus tonight and go with him through his agony, and with my suffering neighbors- to serve as he taught us.I offer only my imperfections but looking at the disciples sleeping and denying and betraying, and turning their backs, I feel that maybe I too have a chance at really serving and loving Jesus after all.
For the first time since my beloved partner in life and ministry, Pastor Judy Beaumont began her own Easter life on January 1st I was happy for the alone-ness and silence in the house today. Sometimes I say aloud and I thought only my cats hear: “this silence is deafening! I can not bear it!” But God is hearing too, Jesus is right there with infinite understanding. So today I realized that it is in that deep and overwhelming silence that I can join myself once again to Christ and find my way back home to love and service. Amen! I am thankful for this Holy , Holy Thursday.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP