Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday: The Legacy of Christ

One of the more important things that a responsible adult needs to do is to write a will. I remember when my sister and her husband were preparing to welcome their first child, and my dad told them, “You know, guys, it’s time for you to get a will.” They were a bit taken aback by his suggestion – when you’re starting a family, after all, who wants to think about what life will be like when you’re dead? 

With some reflection, though, they could see what he meant. Making a will allows us to set our affairs in order, providing for our loved ones and stating clearly what we want to happen with our legacy. In the era of Jesus’s day, it was not uncommon for a patriarch to gather together his family and explain what inheritance he was giving to each of them and how they were to honor his legacy when he was gone.

The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples has many facets by which it can be approached: it is an intimate meal among friends; it is a Passover meal, commemorating the time when God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt; it is the setting of Jesus’s betrayal and the beginning of his Passion. But for the Christian community, this supper in the Upper Room is also when Jesus gathered us together as his family and shared with us his legacy, what he desired us to inherit from him, and how he wished us to honor him by it.

The Eucharist – our communion with Jesus’s Passion, death, and Resurrection by means of receiving his Body and Blood – is the preeminent gift of our Lord to his loved ones, both the disciples gathered in the Upper Room and us at every liturgy at which we gather. It his lasting legacy, the gift of Himself and even more the gift of a sharing in what he accomplished on Calvary. Like St. Paul said to the Corinthians, we receive this gift as something passed on from those before us, a truly spiritual inheritance given by Jesus from generation to generation. Each time we gather at this altar, we are not simply partaking in what looks like bread and wine – rather we are truly communing with the Lord, receiving anew as it were from Christ the identity and the legacy that he has given to us as his Church.

The Last Supper by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret (1895)

Of course, like any inheritance, the Eucharist is given to us not only to be received but to be used in accord with the intention of the Lord who has given it. Like any family treasure, we can misuse it, devalue it, even defame it if we forget the reason Christ willed it to us. What is that reason? He shows us clearly in the Gospel. Washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus becomes the servant, humbling himself to show us how to serve him. At the heart of Christ’s gift of himself in the sacrament is his desire that we might become, by the graces of the Eucharist, visible signs and examples of Eucharistic love in our service to one another. Receiving the Lord from on high, we become sharers in his identity – our hearts opened so that our hands may work, washing the feet of the world.

The disciples were taken aback by the act of service that they were shown. But after his passion, death, and resurrection – after they had come to understand what that Holy Thursday night had meant, when they remembered Jesus’s command to remember him – they understood that they too had the mission to wash feet. We too remember the same each time we gather around this altar. Empowered by Christ himself in the Eucharist, we bring Christ to others by our service, by our love, by the very way we live our lives.

Each year, the Church in our diocese takes up a collection on this day to support the education of our seminarians, the men who believe God may be calling them to be priests in service to his Church. Perhaps God similarly is speaking to the heart of a man here today in that same way; or perhaps God is speaking to the heart of a young person considering the consecrated single life; or perhaps to two individuals in love – who feel an attraction to each other – but who are called to see in each other their way to holiness and to heaven through holy marriage; or to any of us in a particular way that only the Holy Spirit knows. Any vocation, any mission by which we define our lives – the way we work out our salvation, in the words of St. Paul, through fear and trembling – must have at its heart ... feet-washing, the service of God through humbled love for the ones around us.

Friends, on this Holy Thursday, the anniversary of Jesus’s institution of the new covenant of his love, our hearts are moved to “thanksgiving” (the word in Greek? Eucharistein), thanksgiving that our Lord has given us this spiritual inheritance, this gift to be embraced and shared and lived out each and every day. Every time we share in this sacred meal, we receive anew from Jesus our identity as members of his Body, sharers in the covenant of his Blood, sent forth by him to renew the world with our service and charity. May Jesus in this Eucharist strengthen us to always honor the inheritance he has given us and fulfill the mission to which he calls us.

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