Thursday, April 02, 2015

Holy Thursday word, 02 Apr 15

Not Ornamental
Mass of the Lord’s Supper B (02 Apr 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
When we gather around the tables of God’s word and God’s son our words never adequately express the mystery. We enter our triune God’s life and love God shares with us. We name the mystery Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The mystery feels more intense tonight and the next three days. As a way in to the mystery I will focus on a detail of the Lord’s Supper the Fourth Gospel’s remembers for us: Jesus took a towel and tied it around his waist. Why that one? Laundry.

I recently laundered kitchen towels. In the kitchen I don’t stint on using towels. I don’t want to rearrange or transfer grime from surface to surface. And thoroughly damp towels cease to dry things. Dry towels fascinate me—their physical properties: surface area; absorption; the weight of water and towels’ thirsty materials. Their properties are impressive. You and I are not here to be impressed. We are here because we are more than our physical selves; we are embodied spirits. We thirst: we desire more humane and worthy lives. As I folded kitchen towels I thought of us: Jesus responds to our thirsts; to us he has given a new fascination, a sacred appeal to the humble towel. As he said, I have given you a model to follow.

When he took a towel that night he celebrated Passover his final time Jesus transformed it. All who use towels as he did and imitate him, Jesus transforms into priestly, prophetic witnesses to him and servants of his mission. All the baptized are shaped into priestly, prophetic witnesses to him: both the priesthood of the faithful and those in ordained ministry. We exercise our priesthoods everywhere—sometimes in church. This night Jesus modeled what exercising our priesthoods looks like: If I… the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow. By doing the most menial task, Jesus tells Christians in every age no task of serving is beneath our priesthoods.

Jesus made clear service marks us as his. In remembering that the church links service with eucharist. We can say: eucharist begets service; and service leads to eucharist. The portion of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we heard this night confirms the link. In the earliest written memory of the night he was handed over, St. Paul recalled Jesus interpreted the Passover bread and cup as his self-offering, his self-service: my body for you; [my blood for you,] drink it to remember me.

Paul wrote what he received from the Lord to respond to a practice among Corinthian Christians: they did not serve one another. Paul had observed: When you meet in one place…it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.1 And that in a Christian community of around 200 members!2 How easy it has always been to be mindful of and even serve those beyond our circles and to neglect our blood relations as well as our sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus!

The related neglect is equally un-Christian: to serve only those like us and by Christ united to us. Christian service responds to everyone. Jesus modeled that! The night he took a towel and tied it around his waist he commanded his followers—then to this night in Greenville—to extend the pattern of his caring everywhere; Jesus gives us his Spirit so we may do it.

Jesus’ towel symbolized love in action. Love in action makes us more human and “make[s] society more human, more worthy of [each] person.”3 The next time you see a towel recall how Jesus used it for us. Let every towel remind us to fulfill his new commandment in our daily living. Let every towel ask us:
  • “Has my baptismal call to serve become ornamental, no longer vital to my life in my Savior?”
  • “Do I draw strength to serve, to live my Christian identity, by worshiping Jesus in word and sacrament?”
  • “Am I growing more curious about Jesus and longing to deepen my relationship with him?”
  • “In my personal praying do I chat with Jesus as one friend to another?”
  • Jesus’ towel questions communities not just individuals:                   “Do we continue to grow aware of what Jesus has done for us and what he longs to do for others through us?”
This is no ordinary night. Tonight we adore the one we will soon consume. We can savor him; what he has done for us; and imagine what he will do for us. Beginning tonight we can let his towel question us, encourage us, renew our fascination with him, his pattern of living, dying and rising and guide us to emulate our model for the sake of our world.

  1. 1Corinthians 11.20-21.
  2. H.H. Drake Williams III, “Obstacle for a Church Planter: Paul’s Greatest Obstacles in Planting the Church,” Not Weary of Well Doing: Essays in Honor of Cecil W. Stalnaker. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013, p. 56. [Wayne Meeks estimated 300.]
  3. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 582.

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