Holy Thursday Homily of 18th April 2019
“A tavola-come to the table,” my great friend Mary Bianchi used to always say when she had prepared a delicious meal for me and her family when I was a student in Rome. Come to the table. We came together to eat, to drink, to talk, and to laugh. But the table at which we gather around this evening is different. The atmosphere is somber. The storm clouds are gathering. You would not need to be a prophet to know that tragedy was lurking. Come to the table. Jesus with the Twelve, one of whom would soon leave to betray him. Sit at a meal, which would be their last together, and where the Lord identifies Himself with the bread and the wine, saying, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
But Jesus goes further. He wants the meal not to be a thing, but an action, something that they will not just remember, but do in His memory. He then takes off his clothes-his top robe, and they do not understand what he is doing. Water is then poured into a basin, and He bends down and washes the feet of His beloved ones, including the one who will soon betray him, and the leader of the group who will soon say of Jesus, “I do not know the man.” Jesus knew the next day He would be killed, assassinated like some of the prophets of our time. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Saint Oscar Romero.
It’s worth looking at Peter for a moment. He won’t have any part of the drama. He won’t let Jesus wash his feet until He explains the gesture, and then Peter agrees with his usual extravagance. When Peter initially refuses, he knows that the foot washer is a slave, and so reluctantly he begs to understand better. The vision of Jesus is to announce good news to the poor, to bend down, to upturn the status quo, to be the servant of all.
But Jesus does not leave them in the dark. Once He has finished washing their feet and putting His clothes back on, He explains Himself and His actions, “Do you understand what I have done? You call me Lord and Master, and that is what I am. If I have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have done this as an example for you.” Jesus loves us so much that He kneels in front of us so that we, too, may learn how to serve. He is saying, “Yes, you are flawed, you are a sinner, you are weak, but you are also precious. You can bring life every time you serve. Jesus kneels at our feet too, dirty as they are, weary as they are; bends down and washes. It’s a sign of love. A sacred act we are called to imitate.
But are we humble enough to let Jesus wash our feet? Dame Julian of Norwich teaches that when we keep emphasizing our unworthiness, we are in fact, proud, not humble. Because we are not accepting the mercy of God. Just as earlier today Father Joe washed our feet. Let Jesus wash us, accept us, welcome us, and forgive us.
As we celebrate the Lord’s Somber Supper, and walk with Jesus at the end of the liturgy to the Garden of Gethsemane, let us give thanks to God for our table companions, our community, even though we realize that we’re less than perfect. As we gather on Holy Thursday, let us as monks, as retreatants, as visitors, recommit ourselves to this beautiful community of Mepkin, a true treasure. As we sip each drink and later walk together. Tonight’s liturgy teaches us that we need each other, that we need to love each other, and we need to serve each other by bending down and washing each other’s feet. A tavola-come to the table.