Holy Thursday 2020: not just “like Christ”, but “with Him” and “for Him”

0498vp19A different and unusual Holy Thursday this year for all priests! We cannot bend down to wash the feet of our young people, our elders or the least, in a solemn liturgy with a big congregation, as we did before. We cannot look at the fearful and excited faces of our altar servants, neither at the smiling and benevolent faces of our parishioners, who look curiously at the scene of the Last Supper, which is represented at the foot of the altar. Yet never like this year, in which we celebrate a more silent Holy Thursday, in the quiet of our empty churches and chapels we hear strongly the solemn words of the John’s Gospel: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13,1). The Love of Christ that overcomes every human feeling and with the power of the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts, of us, who are still in the world tried by this health challenge, comes to remind us that more than He did for us, he could not do. The Love of Jesus reached for us His fullfillment, His aim (in greek, télos), in the mystery of His Passover (in hebrew Pesach) from this world to the Father. It’s not a case that John puts on Jesus’lips on the cross the expression “It is fulfilled” [tetélesthai] (John 19,30), with the same roth of télos. Never like this year, we have to feel Jesus cares for us. His full, complete and unreserved Love. Today the words of Isaiah resounds in us: “What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? Why, when I expected it to yield fine grapes, has it yielded wild ones?” (Isaiah 5,4). What more could Jesus have done for us that give his life? The gesture of Jesus on that last evening very often has been misinterpreted in a reductive view: Jesus with his humility did what the servants did in ancient times, when they washed the feet in the suppers, then we also have to do the same, serving our brothers and sisters. That’s true, but it’s not enough! Jesus wanted to comunicate more than this! In the gesture of laying down his garments, bending over, washing and drying the feet of His disciples, Jesus is showing us his mission, prophetically dramatizing what Paul says in the Letter to the Philippians: “being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” (Philippians 2, 6-8). Pope Benedict XVI, following the Fathers of the Church position, recalled us that the washing of the feet is not just an exemplum, an example to follow, but it is also a sacramentum, a sign of what really Jesus did and does for us all (cf. J. Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, from the Entry into Gerusalem to the Resurrection, 74-77). Like in that last evening, mainly with the power of His Word and His sacraments – and it’s not a case that today we remember the institution of the Eucarist and the Priesthood! –Jesus is continuing to purify our lives, washing our feet from the dust of this world, with salterio-fol-011r-bodleian-library-large_0_1-oHis Love and His divine Grace. If, like Peter, we thought that we didn’t need it, we would pay the same consequences, given by the terrible words: “If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me” (John 13,8). In this Holy Thursday, contemplating and adoring the mystery of Jesus’ Love really present in the Eucarist, from over the world many objections are raised towards the sense of prayer, of contemplation, of “wasting time” with the Lord, true treasures of the Church, insisting more on doing or giving, often unfortunately invalidated by sterile protagonism. The Word of God, on his side, reminds us that without the grace of Christ, that is, his gratuitous Love freeing our proud and rebellious hearts from the dust of this world, we will never be able to learn the true logic of service and gift. Withouth these premises, our good works will only be philanthropy, beneficence and volunteering, like that of many NGOs and many men of good will, but it cannot be called a real Christian Charity. And if the Church, dragged by this vortex, forgets the theological root of her becoming servant of humanity, which does not derive only from her doing “like Christ”, but even more “with Christ” and “for Christ”, she would lose the essentiality of her mission!

Fr. Luciano Labanca