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Abbot Brendan’s Holy Thursday Homily

Christianity has a story to tell and that foundational story begins by looking back to the Last Supper and the night the whole thing fell apart. This is where our story begins and this is where we begin our celebration of the Triduum. Out of this apparent failure comes victory and hope for all of us. As we enter into this mystery during these days together, we must allow it to touch us deeply and shine into those hidden places, those darkest corners of our lives. The events of these days are full of contradictions and by means of these contradictions God comes very close. Our own lives too are full of contradiction, for none of us are perfect, all of us are flawed in some way and need to experience the healing touch of the risen Lord. That is why we are here and that is what the Lord longs to give.

In the East there is a famous icon known as “The Icon of Extreme Humility.” The image depicts the crucified Lord standing upright in his tomb. The icon portrays those words of Philippians which we sing over and over again these days; “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus displays this humility not only by his death –  his entire life, from the very beginning, was the incarnation of God’s humility. His death and burial were but the final moments of this revelation.

On this most blessed night St John recounts how Jesus rose from the table, removed his outer garment and washed the disciples feet. This was the work of slaves but he does it willingly. However, when Jesus comes to Peter there’s trouble. Peter is a very proud man. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” St John Chrysostom tells us that these words express Peter’s love, but that it’s a defective love, because it lacks humility. The Eucharist teaches us humility, something we all need a great deal of. In Peter pride and humility are a bad mix and this is why he fails to understand. It is only later, after his denial of Jesus, after the cock crew, after his encounter with darkness and humility in his own life, that he begins to see. Peter was able to accept love and forgiveness in his life and the darkness did not prevail for him. He is a good model for us as we journey through these days.

God doesn’t want to trample on us, but kneels down before us so as to exalt us. The mystery of the greatness of God is seen precisely in the fact that he can be small.

The Lord is trying to teach us and like any good teacher he knows that the best way to instruct, is by example. This is not the only place in the gospels where feet are washed. We recollect that one of the most moving scenes in scripture is the encounter between Jesus and Mary of Bethany, as told by John, six days before the Passover. She anoints the Lord’s feet with costly ointment and dries them with her hair. It is a beautiful scene.

Like Mary of Bethany, we each carry around with us a precious alabaster jar of very expensive ointment. This represents our potential to love and to give. We fear to break open the jar, to pour out our very selves over the feet of others, because we are all so undeserving of such an outpouring of love, and yet the Lord says “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” We receive from God not only what he gives, but what he is – love. This is why the Eucharist is a call to us to grow in our ability to love and to be loved. To go forth and to wash feet.

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