A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After the checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from very severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”
This humorous story points out the reality of what we gather to celebrate tonight – if love isn’t paired with service, we cannot truly live. We gather tonight and begin the Sacred Triduum – three days which really serve as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast recalls three things in particular – the institution of the Eucharist, the mandate to service in the washing of the feet, and the establishment priesthood – but ultimately I think tonight focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, our God wants to spoil us.
These Holy Days seek to inspire us; to remind us who we are as children of God and members of the Church; and most profoundly to remind us through dramatic moments of ritual and sacrament and prayer of one powerful reality – that Jesus Christ is real. We do not merely gather here tonight to tell an old story. We gather tonight to meet a real person – our Savior Jesus Christ, who – although He walked the earth 2,000 years ago – is still living and active and in our midst today.
One of the most powerful statements of this realness came from the 4th Century. St. Ambrose, in a Holy Week homily instructed those entering the church about the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully – that Jesus is real!
What we celebrate tonight gets at the very heart of why we do all that we do as people of faith. Why do we come to church? What sense does it make in our modern world? In a very real sense Jesus says to us tonight, “I don’t want you to come to the church. I want you to be the church.” This is why we celebrate not only the Eucharist, but also the call to be foot washers. If we only celebrated the Last Supper we might begin to think that the Eucharist is a commodity that we come here to acquire. We come to acquire this special grace and then we leave on go on our way. Jesus reminds us that He is not a commodity, but that the Eucharist is a transformative prism through which we are transformed into people who love differently, who care differently, who reach out differently – or more simply, we become people who wash the feet of those around us, in love, and mercy, and joy. The Eucharist transforms us from being a consumer of the divine, to becoming a contributor to the divinity of our world. We come here not to be served, but to become servants.
Jesus tonight also reminds us that we are connected to one another as radical expressions of God’s love for the world. We love without exception – the homeless and the hungry, the immigrant and the refugee, the gay or transgendered person, the Muslim and the atheist, we love even our enemy – we love without exception. Too many voices in our world encourage us to love selectively, to love only those who are like us. It is not easy to love the way Jesus wants us to. Through the Eucharist, we become a community that loves in this transformative way together, side by side, arms linked in an unending chain of love; changing our world by it.
You see, in the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have make Him part of our lives; then we powerfully make Him present in our world by the simple act of washing feet; the acts of service that make Jesus real.
So, the question tonight is this: are we willing to take off our outer garment? Are we willing to lay down our own Mantles of Privilege, or pride or jealousy, anger or selfishness, laziness or greed? Whatever our Mantle is, can we lay it down and replace it with the Apron of Service? When we take off our outer garments all things are possible for us. Someone said, “When we’re young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.”
My friends, on this Holy Night, look into the mirror that is Jesus Christ in His Sacred Body and Blood. Look there until you see your own image reflected in the face of Jesus. Then, become that mirror for the world, reflecting the face of Christ to all who see you. Reflect Christ through your own humble, simple acts of service to one another. Put on the Apron of Service and follow the example that Jesus has given us. My friends Jesus is real! Let us be filled once again with the Real and Abiding Presence of Christ here tonight and let us become his Real and Abiding Presence in our world. And, let us become like Him, washers of feet.
“‘Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
May the Lord give you peace.