Given at the Mass for the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday, 2 April 2015 in Westminster Cathedral.
In these days of Holy Week, in which we follow the last days of our Lord’s life, we are in the midst of a great human drama. Some people call it ‘the greatest story ever told’. It is the journey of Jesus to His death and to His resurrection. The journey’s full of vivid scenes, each one has its powerful symbols. This evening we find ourselves at the Last Supper, at that poignant gathering of Jesus with His disciples before the traumatic events that see them scattered. The disciples are perplexed, they’re anxious, they’re loving. We see this evening, in a particular way, the action of Jesus, of coming to wash their feet. The Lord and Master on His knees, in the place of a servant or a slave. This is, in our human memory, a sign of service in every place and in every age.
The Monarch of this land this morning, gave Maundy money as an echo, a direct echo, of this action of Jesus, of generosity and service towards the Poor. But while this action certainly teaches us about the deepest nature of human authority and how it is to be exercised, it is something more, because this is unequivocally is a divine drama, here it is God who is acting.
St John’s Gospel, as we have just heard, makes this very clear. The words and phrases spoken by Jesus show that He is in total control and that His actions are an expression of the will of the Father and of the Son carried out by the power and the love of the Holy Spirit. Listen again to these phrases: ‘Jesus knew that the hour had come’, ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God’. Jesus knew who it was who was going to betray Him. This is not Jesus as a victim of circumstance, this is Jesus, the revelation of God.
All this then takes place with divine deliberateness. He deliberately gives us this action as an expression of divine love. Here we see God in Jesus on His knees, washing our feet out of love. Here we see God, in Jesus, deliberately washing the feet of Peter, who is about to deny Him, deliberately washing the feet of Judas, who is shortly going to betray Him. Here we are taken to the heart of God’s love and mercy towards each one of us. This is God’s mercy; never pushing us away, always wanting us with Him. Jesus wanted us to have everything “in common” with Him. This is vividly the astonishing core of the Gospel. It is not the same message of Exodus, as we heard in the first reading, where God destroys His enemies. But rather it is a gospel of mercy and forgiveness where God accepts death at the hands of a betrayer, for He knows, as we know too, that He is going beyond death to be glorified in the fullness of the true life that comes after death.
Already at this Last Supper, with divine deliberateness, He shows what is to come. ‘This is my body, given up for you. Take and eat. This is my blood, shed for you. Take and drink.’ This is the extent to which He wants to have ‘all things in common with us’, the total gift of His life. This gift we receive at Mass in Holy Communion, when in our hearts and in our intentions, we want and strive to be one with Christ in the way we live. So let us approach this Mass this evening, let us approach every Mass, with great hunger and thirst, longing to have everything in common with Him who gives everything to us.
I would like to finish with a story, the story of St Josephine Bakhita. A woman form the Sudan, who was brought up in a pagan family, taken off into slavery at the age of 12, badly treated, tortured, with over 140 deep wounds in her flesh which were deliberately put there by her owners, with salt rubbed into the wounds so they didn’t heal. Eventually freed, she becomes a Christian, joins a convent of sisters and serves until the rest of her life until her death in the 1940s. She was asked what she would say if she were to meet captors and those that tortured her. She said: ‘I would kneel down before them and kiss their hands because only through their actions, did I come to know Jesus.’
She had lived with authority exercised with domination and cruelty, but she came to know the sweet authority of Jesus, of service. She had lived with people who had taken her life and consumed it, but she came to know Jesus who gives His life, that we might share it.
Tonight we thank God for the gift of faith, for the gift of knowing Him, our Lord and Master.