Homily for the Maundy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Preached on April 1, 2010 at Holy Spirit Parish/The Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, Lexington KY
Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
On that night, Jesus knew that He was going to be handed over; He took bread and gave thanks anyway (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-24). He knew who His betrayer was: Judas, His friend and follower; He fed him anyway (cf. Jn. 13:11, 21-30). He knew that before the night was over, His disciples would be scattered to all directions; He gathered them at His table anyway (cf. Jn. 16:32). He knew that these followers would leave Him and deny Him; He stayed with them anyway (cf. Mt. 26:56, 69-75). He knew that those were the feet of the ones who would abandon Him to the mercy of His enemies; He washed those feet anyway (cf. Jn. 13:5). “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His hour had come to pass” (Jn. 13:1). He knew how this whole tragedy was going to unravel. He knew that this was going to hurt Him big time, that it will end up killing Him. Yet He stuck with it anyway.
Was Jesus just a sucker for suffering? Was He this big April’s fool? Did He enjoy being forsaken by friends? Did He like being violated by villains?
The answer of course is a resounding no. Jesus allowed Himself to be betrayed, arrested, abandoned, denied, tried, scourged, scorned, and crucified for one reason: because “He loved His own in the world and He loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). Jesus knew that He would be despisèd and rejected, but He chose to love anyway.
This is tonight’s lesson from Jesus the Master and Teacher: to love anyway, even when everything is falling apart, even when every reason to love flees into the night. It is the model that Jesus has given us to follow, so that as He has done for us, we should also do (Jn. 13:15). It is the motive behind the washing of feet, the breaking of bread, the sharing of the cup. Anyone could do any of these things at any time but unless each of them leads us to embrace an unwavering unconditional love, none of them would mean anything, none of them would make any sense. To paraphrase the words of the Benedictine monk Godfrey Diekmann: what good is it if bread and wine change and we don’t? What good is it if our feet get washed if afterwards we trample someone underfoot? What good is it if we are loved to the end if we insist on hating? What good would these three days be if we go back to business as usual for the rest of the year?
The Teacher’s lesson on how to love has just started. The night has just begun. The end is still a long way off. Be warned: along the way, dirty feet will be washed, stupid sheep will be scattered, the Body will be broken, Blood will be poured out, and the Lord of Life will be sealed in a tomb. Stay anyway. Stay until the end for Jesus who loved His own in the world and loved them to the end (Jn. 13:1) will bring about to this tragic love story an end that truly will be a “happily ever after.”