Holy Thursday, April 1, 2021
Rev. Michael Weldon, ofm
St. Mary’s Basilica Phoenix, AZ.
“…In Remembrance of Me!
It is repeated over and over in the readings of this sacred night. How do we remember? The Christ in particular – how do we actively remember him? How do we put new members on his life and Gospel? We skew remembrance? My 67-year-old brain can’t often remember details anymore. I often walk into a room and don’t recall what I came for.
—-“My remember is broken!” a famous comic often says. Americans have dangerously short memories. We repeat our mistakes too easily. Mystery of memory is it stored all over our bodies! But it must be an en- acted and conscious process. Hebrew peoples felt memory brought the past and future into the moment.
I was hanging the red veil over the Cross last week in church. Height was needed and it was my idea. I got to climb very close to the relief painting under the high altar. I usually have my back to it and my face toward all of you. It’s a “sort of” Leonardo Da Vinci’s last supper. But it has always bothered me. I read a novel about him recently by Walter Isaacson. He studies “The last supper” on the wall of a refectory of a small monastery in Milan from every detail from every angle. All told, the Last supper is a mix of scientific perspective, and theatrical license, of intellect and fantasy, worthy of Leonardo (p.290) He didn’t know a lot about the Jewish seder customs of Palestine of the first century perspective. People reclined on the floor. But most people think Da Vinci when they imagine that night. But our St. Mary’s more than century “old relief” changes details even of Da Vinci. It’s a period piece! Under the Table of the Eucharist since 1915. Jesus is giving communion on the tongue to the 12 apostles small little round hosts. No women or servants. Who cooked, served and cleaned up the seder? Bread was fresh soft pita bread and ripped to share.
When Jews around the world gather to celebrate the Passover meal, a child is chosen to ask why this occasion is different from others. Kids often remember better than old geezers like me? No kids. Children help us remember in a magic way. We got to look at anamnesis – our most Sacred memory. It is so easily distorted to ….Amnesia! Anamnesis in a sacred way is part of the Eucharistic prayer. Remembering right is important.
So that we would remember correctly? Jesus strips down as a servant to wash the feet of his guests. Like A Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi into his loin cloth…underwear. Our memories, our own take and perspective distorts. What do we do with these Distortions? What do we do with them? In the middle of the dinner. The bread broken and shared at the beginning of the Passover seder. The last blessing cup, new covenant in my blood, “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME!”
When asked a few years ago, “How do you want to be remembered? Kobe Bryant was said to respond, “I want to be remembered as a player who did not waste a moment, didn’t waste a day. I felt blest with God given talent; I never took it for granted.”
One of the privileges I have had as priest is to be invited into the final days of someone’s life. At that point most people drop all pretense and live as they are. They focus on telling stories and sharing memories, “This is who I really am. This is how I want you to remember me.” And You can’t put the cat back in the bag if they recover. I’ve had that happen a few times too.
Foot-washing in the story St. John’s Gospel Eucharist was a way to hold on to a memory. Accurately. By experience. Feet remember things too, “ya” know!? We resist at the level of feet. I tried to do it with the friars in most of the houses I’ve lived in and most were squeamish. Besides calluses and toe fungus. One got a recent pedicure to prepare. I believe that is something near to the mystery that Jesus focused his last supper with his loved ones. A reality…Few except the very young have happy feet! I see the feet on the recent new baby of the Stevenson’s with envy. They’re perfect. Unused. With those he gives us an image of what the Master’s preoccupation.
Jesus changed some significant rules that night…most specifically of the Passover Seder meal to mean something new. He changed…1. The Host…not the slave did the dirty work. I wonder who cooked. I’d like to think he did that very well. Even after resurrection he cooked breakfast for his frightened disciples. He modeled leadership.2. And by doing that extended the boundaries of who belongs. Who is family? And who is and is not part of the Kingdom of God. 3. Left us a very intimate memory device— foot washing. The action makes his ‘real” presence again and again. It is what got him killed: bringing home strays, eating with sinners and prostitutes, Samaritans, women, gentiles and enemies.
In Remembrance of Me!
On that evening Jesus had one last chance to say to his disciples, he his is who I really am. This is how I want you to remember me. A true teacher, he made himself vulnerable and approachable, as they ate that meal their minds were flooded with memories of the sick healed, the weak gaining strength, outcasts being welcomed, the possessed made sane. The dying knowing peace and sinners being given a fresh start.
My brothers and sisters, we are responsible for the details of this night. Sometimes it feels like we are trying to step back from Jesus new rendition of the Last Supper changing the details & excluding from the table; from our borders and our schools and social services those who don’t deserve them. Those who don’t belong. And from our churches -those who are faithful and those who aren’t! Those who do church right and those who do not. Those worthy & those not-worthy to come to the table of the Lord.
My brothers and sisters, Eucharist has so many meanings, but this year I believe it is first of all… “a verb. To “Eucharist” our world was the Christ’s mission! If we want to show what it means to be a follower of Jesus…the Bread of life, and Cup of salvation for a hungry thirsty planet, “TERRA” earth these days, the Gospel says wash feet! Lives given for others, selves “poured out” are a tough invitation. The Eucharist does its magic. It feeds and nourishes us as we enact it….to make that miracle possible!
St. Paul to the fighting Corinthians church “I received from the Lord what I handed on to you…namely, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said…”This is my body, which is for you. The cup is the new covenant in my blood. “In Remembrance of Me!
These days before Easter are not about “reenacting.” What the paschal Triduum actually celebrates is mystery, not history; REMEMBERING THE SHORTEST DISTANCE BETWEEN HUMAN BEINGS AND THE TRUTH IS A STORY.
The Eucharist is fast food, trail food, not a private feast, but a family dinner to be lingered over. It is a public meal food for those in flight, those being dispatched on a mission fort God. We eat this bread with whomever comes, we drink this cup/chalice with all. The faithful. We do this with the intent that it will not just fortify us, but change us transform us so that we might as St. Augustine wrote in the 4th Century, “Be what you see and receive what you are.”
The goal and hope is the transformation of humanity…that “new normal” which our planet truly aches for. Time is short. Windows of opportunity are passing.
The story is told of several of our friars went to a football game last season. They really got into the game…shouting til about half-time and they were thirsty. One told the other,” I’m going to get a cold drink.” “And one for me!” said the other friar. In a few minutes the first one came back. “I tried to have a cold drink for you, but I found after I had my own drink, that you weren’t thirsty after all!”
We are thirsty for the mystery that refreshes. Holy human communion is that primary thirst. Tonight we honor Jesus’s DREAM. We thirst with him for it. And with human family for it. A dream of people in Sacred Communion that would be yeast in the community of the world. People regularly reconciling communion with one another and washing the feet of the world in service.
We commit ourselves at this Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s supper every year to give ourselves to that dream of the Master. To build a world held together in Sacred Communion with God. I came to love the sign over our kitchen at Sts. Francis and Clare Friary in Franklin, Wisconsin where I came from now seven years ago. Someone famous must have said it. “We may not have it all together. But together we have it all.”