Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Homily
Holy Sepulcher – Jerusalem, April 9, 2020
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
May the Lord grant you peace!
We gather here at the beginning of this unusual Paschal Triduum, to celebrate, in the holiest Place, the events of our salvation. The circumstances are difficult. Externally, there is nothing festive today. We have already told each other several times in these days that it is strange to celebrate in this manner. But perhaps, in these semi-clandestine celebrations of these days, precisely because without triumphal entrances and solemn and crowded ceremonies, there is something that we can learn anew. Departing from the usual traditions, we could perhaps more easily grasp a word, a reflection, a teaching to which in normal moments we would probably not have paid attention.
Let us allow ourselves to be guided by the Word that the Liturgy proposes to us and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us on this Paschal Journey we are about to begin.
In the reading of Exodus, we see that the blood of the lamb marked on the houses will become a sign of salvation for the Israelites who dwell there. Those people of slavery, humanly unable to fight the unparalleled power of the Pharaoh, were liberated from slavery by divine intervention. Not an angel, not a messenger, but the Lord himself passed among them. “On that night I will go through the land of Egypt… I, the Lord!” (Ex 12:12). The passage of the Lord leaves nothing unchanged and requires a decision of acceptance or rejection.
Even today the Lord passes among us, and today we, too, are asked to take the same position of acceptance or rejection. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to be marked with the blood of the Lamb. If we want to go out from our Egypt and walk towards the goal that the Lord points out for us, or if we want to remain “seated by pots of meat” (Ex 16:3).
The Gospel clearly tells us what the goal is. It is Jesus himself who indicates it to us, and He will reach it first, to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:2). The entire Gospel of John is permeated by this question: from where comes this man and where is he going. It is the theme of Jesus’ identity.
[Everyone who meets Him asks not only where He comes from, but also where what He does comes from, what He possesses. They ask where He lives (1:38), where does the water that was changed into wine come from (2:9). On the Sundays of Lent, we saw in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman, from where He draws His living water (4:11). The healed blind man affirms that it’s that strange no one knows where He comes from, given that He opened his eyes (9:30) ... Lastly, Pilate also asks Him: “Where do you come from?” (19:9).
The only one who really knows where He comes from and where His is going is Jesus himself and He repeats it many times (7:28; 8:14; 13:3). He also states that where He is going, for now, no one can follow Him (8:21,22; 13:33; 13:36) until He will have opened a way (14:4) and prepared a place (14:2). And He is positively certain: “Father, I want also that those you have given me to be with me where I am” (17:24).]
Well, this mystery is revealed to us precisely in today’s Gospel: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father... fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” (13:1,3). The goal towards which Jesus is going and which he also prepares for us is fully revealed here: He comes from the Father and returns to Him, and so He wants it to be also for us. And how does one get to this destination? “He rose from the table and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.” (13:4-5).
The gesture that Jesus makes is the gesture of the passage from earth to heaven, from the world to the Father, from the temporal to the eternal. Jesus washes the apostles’ feet to show the way that leads to the Father.
Every gesture of love, done in the style of washing the feet, lived in service, in free love, in the total gift of oneself, will be a gesture of true and therefore infinite life: “having loved his who were in the world, loved them to the end” (13:1). Until the end, until completion, without limits or conditions. Jesus gets up from the table to wash the feet of his own when he knows that the “the devil had already put in the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray him” (13:2). He also wants to wash the traitor’s feet.
The reaction of Peter, who in the face of this gesture is scandalized and retracts (13:6), tells the whole distance between God’s thinking and ours: we think only that which is related to the idea of power is glorious, eternal. And we think serving is something that diminishes our dignity. For Jesus, it is not so: eternal is the humble service that passes the world of the Father, of those who put themselves at the feet of the other, divesting themselves of their autonomy, self-sufficiency, and presumption, and recognize and celebrate the gift that the other is, through the concreteness of humble and daily gestures. Service creates communion, takes out the slavery of one’s selfishness and gives rebirth to a unity of life that cannot die. This style of relationship prefigures the style of God. Everything that is like this in us is already part of the Trinitarian life.
Peter shows us it is not at all obvious how to make oneself loved in this way, how difficult it is to recognize one’s own need to be loved like this: it is not possible other than by humbly acknowledging one’s sin. Whoever does not know that his feet are dirty, does not agree to have them washed. “I have given you an example, in fact, because you also do as I have done to you” (13:15): Jesus today invites us to follow him, to take off the clothes of self-sufficiency, the presumption of doing it alone without needing anyone, and recognizing ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness; He asks us to wear the apron of humble service and self-giving. Let us allow ourselves, therefore, to be led by Jesus to the Father, and recognize that we need to have our feet washed, to be purified.
We go up to the Father with a purified heart, but not separated. We carry our real heritage with us. Nothing can break our human bonds, our relationships. Even betrayals, if recognized and assumed, are not excluded from this journey of salvation.
These days we are hit and wounded exactly in what is dearest to us: our human relationships. It seems that the Lord took them away from us, and later return them to us purified.
Perhaps the Lord wants to purify us of what is possessive and violent in our relationships, He wants to tell us that we can choose to support each other or to be selfish, thinking only of ourselves. The isolation and loneliness of these days can teach us that it is possible to change direction, starting a path of conversion, understood as a return to listening to the Word of the Lord. Most of us are forced to remain closed in our homes, without the possibility of participating in the Eucharistic Celebration, the heart of the Church and the healing Sacrament. In this strange and painful time of fasting, we can perhaps read a call to rethink and purify our family relationships, to re-found the domestic church in the light of this Gospel, which indicates in the gesture of washing our feet the way to heal our relationships, the way to go to the Father.
The Eucharist is the relationship that becomes a sacrament, it is the handing over of Christ who, after defeating death, gives new life. The beginning of a new presence of Christ among us is inaugurated in the Eucharistic Bread. And today the Word invites the Church – that is, us – to come together in unity in the Eucharist, the center of life, of the hopes, of the commitment of the Church itself. It carries in its DNA this call to be “Eucharist”, by making a free gift of oneself. At this time, we cannot do it together physically as a community. Let us do it as the domestic Church, in the family, and then start again our ecclesial journey with passion and determination, with a renewed spirit.
The page of the Gospel proclaimed today invites us to boldly rethink on what we build our personal, family, ecclesial and social relationships today. We are not at the end of the world. Rather, we are at a passage in a story that still has a long way to go. Tomorrow, therefore, which will also be, will depend on the novelty of the relationships that we begin to build now. Death, every death, is not conquered simply by Life, but by Love. It would be an understatement to read this time of limitations, this common battle only as an attempt to save our lives. That is a battle that, sooner or later, we will lose. We are rather called to commit to creating a new world, which has its invincible beginning in the Risen One and its model in gratuitous and free love. In other words, we will know how to create a new world in the measure in which the Eucharist will truly shape our communities, above all in breaking bread; and then in creating relationships based on interest for persons, on justice, on inclusive and non-exclusive social models, on balanced and attentive forms of development for the common good of all.
We do not know what and who we will meet on this path and where, in our life, this road indicated by Jesus will lead us. But we can be sure that no “where”, no place where life will lead us, will be more “outside”, useless, far from God, if we accept the instructions that Jesus gives us today: “you too must wash one another's feet” (13:14). “... that you love one another” (15:17). Everything, every experience lived in that way will amount to a return to the Father.
Before washing the feet, Jesus had said that no one could follow Him yet. But after showing how He loves; Jesus can say: “Now you know the way” (14:4).
Today, also, we are resuming a path, and we now know the way of this path.