Given at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, Maundy Thursday, 1st April 2021, in Westminster Cathedral
This evening we remember with special devotion the Last Supper of the Lord with his disciples, his washing their feet and his gift to us of the most holy Eucharist.
Every ceremony of Holy Week, indeed every liturgy of the Church, is a celebration of the divine mystery: a celebration of the presence of God in our midst, of the saving touch of God’s healing love, and a glimpse into the very heart and life of God which is our destiny.
This evening we are drawn into the divine mystery along two intersecting paths: the way of sacrifice and the path of service. We are helped in this by the words of Pope Leo the Great: that we are to fix the eyes of our hearts on Jesus and recognise ourselves in him, for in Jesus we see the fullness of the mystery of God and the perfect expression of our humanity. His words and actions show us the life of God and teach us the way we are to live.
The way of sacrifice is marked by the shedding of blood.
The first reading from the Book of Exodus described the Passover sacrifice of a sheep or a goat, whose blood, smeared on the doorpost, became the passport to freedom from slavery. This sacrifice is a powerful foretelling of the sacrifice of Jesus, whose blood becomes for us the freedom from our sins. In this he is our high priest, whose sacrifice is made once and for all on the Cross. This is achieved only because Jesus truly is God and acts in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is accessible to us only because he shares completely our humanity. He is one with us in our humanity so that we can be one with him in his divinity.
This gift of salvation and eternal life is put within our embrace in every celebration of the Holy Mass. He tells us: ‘This is my body which is for you’; ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (1 Cor 11.24). In this greatest of sacrifices, the greatest of all gifts, we rejoice this evening!
The second pathway we trace is that of service. Sacrifice and service are intertwined. Indeed, they are inseparable. Service is self-sacrifice expressed in the small print of our daily lives.
The Gospel we have heard, but this year have not enacted, makes this plain. Before the final gift of himself on the Cross, and its prefiguring in the words and actions of the Last Supper, Jesus carries out his last act of service. He washes the feet of his disciples. It is a humble work. It is of course symbolical of every act of humble service that we offer to those in need, to each other. Service is the Eucharist in action. Indeed, the Eucharist without such service is incomplete. And service unrelated to the Eucharist no longer points to its ultimate source.
I am filled with admiration and hope when I ponder the tremendous kindness and service which has emerged in our midst during these difficult days of the pandemic. Countless, quiet acts of selfless kindness have lit up our days. Valiant efforts have been organised to offer to those in hardship the help and reassurance they need. I thank all who have contributed, and who will continue to do so. I thank our diocesan Caritas for its outstanding leadership.
How important it is to understand that meeting these basic needs, for food and other necessities, is a first step in accompanying others on a journey which, God willing, will lead to a deeper knowledge of great mystery of the love and compassion God has for all people. This ‘knowledge of the heart’ is the deepest treasure we have to offer, and one which we receive afresh this evening.
Sacrifice and service. These are the key words of this Maundy Thursday: the sacrifice of the Cross, which we ponder tomorrow, and the washing of the disciples’ feet. Every Christian, each one of us, must live the life of Jesus anew. We are to make him present, in his service and his sacrifice. In doing so, our sins will be met with his forgiveness and our wounds healed in his love. This is our daily mission: to live the life of Jesus, quiet, steadfast, deeply rooted in our love for him and nurtured by his Body and Blood, the food of life, today and for eternity.
Praise and honour to you, Lord Jesus!
Love one another as I have loved you.
Praise and honour to you, Lord Jesus