Homily for Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year A 2014

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, politics, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on April 12, 2014

Homily for Holy Thursday – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year A  2014

The last few years, speaking on this feast of the Lord’s Supper, I have concentrated on the Eucharist –  even though our Gospel writer of the evening, John, does not. Because the Eucharist is central to our faith and according to three of the four Gospel writers was instituted this evening, I have spent much of my time with you looking at the Eucharist in light of the feasts of Holy Week, and where indeed our first and second readings and psalms would have us go this evening.

Tonight, however, I would like to center my remarks where the unknown compilers of our yearly readings have concentrated their main focus – the Last Supper according to John’s account.

There have been many interpretations of Jesus’ washing the feet of the apostles. The two most prominent would be the idea that Jesus, lowering himself to do such an action, prefigures what will happen the next day when his death on the cross will wash us clean, but in a most demeaning way.  The other main interpretation is that Jesus was trying to show us how to act, how to be humble, and that we should follow his example in this. In other words, the first interpretation is about what God does for us, and the second, what we need to do to become like Jesus.

What is it that was so upsetting about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples?  After all, it was very common in this period for a person to have his feet washed. There were no roads, just dirt, and sandals left room for the dirt to stain people’s feet. Most people had their feet washed when they entered a home, just to keep out the dirt. Peter is upset simply because it was usually a servant or a menial who washed the guests’ feet. Peter does not want to see Jesus as a menial – after all, we saw a few weeks ago at the Transfiguration, that Peter was told by God that Jesus was his Son, the Messiah. Peter still did not understand that the whole idea of a conquering, glorious Messiah was about to be turned around, and that the Messiah would be quite the opposite of what he thought it would be like.

Jesus responds to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” I would like you to think a few moments about the words “Unless I wash you….”  The idea of baptism might obviously come to mind, or the “living water” that Christ spoke about to the Samaritan woman on the 3rd Sunday of Lent. I would suggest to you that the important word here is “you” – “Unless I wash you….” Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to be washed, cleaned, his way of life reoriented, his thinking changed. All the things he thought about the way to live as a Jewish man needed to be stripped away by the waters of Jesus. What was top was now bottom. Master was now servant. The rich were the poorer. In Protestant terms, the phrase “be born again” might apply here. And this change in how one sees the world is really quite radical. Society teaches us one thing, Jesus quite another.

But if we want to experience God, if we want to go where Jesus goes, if we want to have a share with Jesus, we have to turn upside down many of our modern beliefs, the things that society is telling us are important. Let Jesus wash them away – then we can move on to the ethical model of Jesus and see ourselves as servants and service to others.

It is no wonder that so many had and still have such difficulty in reorienting their minds to the Christian way. But it is the love that Christ shows in lowering himself to become our servant, lowering himself to die on a cross tomorrow, and commemorated at each Eucharist, lowering himself so that even the most menial of tasks can show unlimited love – this is what we are called to do by Jesus’ actions tonight.

Peter resisted this, even though he knew who Jesus was. Peter did seem to fathom finally what Jesus was saying and asked to him to wash his whole person, but Peter would not truly understand till much later that this act of a slave would be the way Jesus would be the Messiah, the way he would die tomorrow to save everyone. Jesus’ way is the way of a servant, the way of humility, the way of death for a friend.

Judas resisted this as well because he could not find it in his heart to change the way he saw the world. We resist as well. It is a big leap of faith to reverse much of our way of life and way of thinking to question much of our modern realities. Even knowing that Judas would betray him, Jesus washed his feet as well. What a lesson that is for us!

We celebrate this feast on the Feast of the Passover which led to the Hebrews free, but traveling through the wilderness for forty years. Even then God sent them manna and fed them. God has continued to send us manna. This “bread from heaven” for us has been Jesus himself. He continues to feed us.

To make this meaningful for us tonight, I would like to suggest that what Jesus was trying to show us this evening was that Jesus was telling us to live a life of service, yes, but also to die just as he did. That death, however, for us today, probably will not be on a cross because we have stood for our beliefs, but they may be little deaths of our selves – our need for power, for wealth, for being right all the time, for thinking primarily of ourselves. 

Lastly, I want to note that Jesus washed the feet of his intimate group of disciples. He didn’t go out into the streets and wash people’s feet or like Pope Francis did last year, wash the feet of the sick and poor, though I am not disparaging that. He washed the feet of his friends. We need to constantly look at our relationships with each other in this community and be servants to each other. My feeling is that we do that quite often and quite naturally in this community, but I would like you to see it as a mandate from Jesus. It is the way he would want us to act toward each other, to be there for each other, to love and help each other, to give ourselves to each other when there is need. Our eating together after this service, our sharing of a the food we brought, just as Jesus supped and shared with his friends, can be just another illustration of our need for each other and our need to know each other better, to love each other more, and to celebrate our own community.

Let our celebration continue with this Good News and let each of us be good news for our neighbor in the coming year!.

Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from for $9.99 – Teaching the Church Year”]

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