Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on Holy Thursday, March 24.
My favorite response after mention of things we plan to do is “God willing!” If you say “See you tomorrow!” I’ll say “God willing!” I wasn’t raised with this phrase, I learned it from my parishioners who in such situations would respond “¡Si Dios quiere!” meaning “If God wants” or “Primero Dios” (“God first”).
Since I am God’s servant, his will takes precedence over what I want. Arabic speakers say “Inshallah!” which means exactly the same thing. In this we are, perhaps without knowing it, much closer to believing Muslims than to secular Americans who put doing their own will ahead of doing what God requires — for instance in issues of morality.
All of the events of Holy Thursday are linked to the question of putting God’s will ahead of our own. If doing God’s will were easy, it wouldn’t lead to the cross. So it is very significant that it is in this context that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist — the worthy reception of which requires death to self. Jesus had died to himself long before he died on the cross.
At the Last Supper Jesus was conscious of the fact that the original Passover meal described in today’s first reading was followed by the death of the firstborn of all the houses of Egypt, the awful price paid to break Pharaoh’s stranglehold on their oppressed nation. But the resulting liberation of the Hebrew slaves was not an emancipation but rather a transfer of ownership. They had belonged to Pharaoh, whom the Egyptians regarded as a god, and had to do Pharaoh’s will. Now they belong to the one true God and have to do God’s will. They were now his people and he was their God — and a jealous God at that! And the Law God handed down on Mount Sinai revealed what their true divine master required of anyone who wanted to belong to his chosen people. What the ancient Passover celebrated for a single nation, Jesus fulfilled, transcended and extended to the entire human race.
This New Passover instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper in today’s second reading was followed by the death of the firstborn of all creation, the Son of God himself, which was the awful price paid to break Satan’s stranglehold on every nation, not just Israel. Moreover, our liberation by Jesus was not a transfer of ownership — he really set us free. But we won’t stay free for long unless we use that freedom as God intends, embracing the salvation Jesus offers us and living according to God’s will as Jesus has revealed it to us. If we do so, we become his very body, so intimately united to Jesus that when he embraces his cross, we embrace our cross with him — when he dies, we die with him — and so having died with him, he promises that we will share in his resurrection as well!
Jesus offers up his body and blood today in every Eucharist, which is the sacrament of his death to self and enduring presence among us, and he invites us to join our own sacrifice of self to his, offering up our body and blood to the Father, from the same altar, united to that of Jesus.
In John’s version of the Last Supper in today’s Gospel, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples to remind us that the union we claim with Jesus is genuine only if it leads to a life of humble service. Not just a good moral life and a few good deeds here and there, but rather an entire life lived in such a way that humble service has become second nature to us, which we rejoice to see so clearly in the life and example of Pope Francis. This certainly applies to the priesthood which Jesus institutes today saying “do this in remembrance of me.”
But his message is not just for priests: it applies to all of us because by saying “Amen,” which is Hebrew for “I agree” (not merely “I believe”) at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, you also agree to unite your self, your body and blood, to that of Jesus offered to the Father from this altar. Your “Amen” does not merely acknowledge the truth of the words of the just recited Eucharistic Prayer, as if faith mainly had to do with what we think. No, faith is also a commitment to act, a response of your whole self and in particular your will. By saying “Amen” you agree to do God’s will in all things, putting God’s agenda ahead of your own! “God willing! ¡Primero Dios! Inshallah!”
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