Day after day we gather around this altar table to do what Jesus asked us to do. And what was that? Well, our second reading is clear about what he asked us to do: to share a meal in memory of him. And this “Remember me” of Jesus is surely the most poignant request in all of Sacred Scripture. We are blessed as a community to be able to do this, to respond to Jesus’ request this evening. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are unable to do this today. So, as we remember what Jesus did on this night, let us remember in a special way all those who can’t physically be with us.
Why do we do this? Why do we gather around this altar table? Why do we continue to share a meal in memory of Jesus? Simply put, we do this because we believe that Jesus is here. We believe that whenever we gather together like this, the living risen body of Christ is among us. And why do we believe this? Because Jesus says so! As St. Paul says: “On the night before he died, Jesus took bread and said 'This is my body.’” We believe that when we gather like this and offer the Eucharistic prayer, the bread and wine is really changed into the living risen body of Christ. And we believe that together we are transformed into the same living risen body of Christ. In other words, when we proclaim this mystery of Christ, we are proclaiming our own mystery, our own reality. This is what St. Augustine reminded his hearers of centuries ago: “If you are the body of Christ, then it is your mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you receive! When you say 'Amen,' you say 'Amen' to what you are. Your response is a personal signature, an affirmation of faith. When you hear ‘The Body of Christ’, you say ‘Amen.’ So be then members of his body, so that your 'Amen' may ring true!”
We come together around this altar doing this in memory of Jesus so that we might be his body and have the strength and power to continue to build the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated - to build it by washing one another’s feet. At this and every Eucharist we ask to be changed; to become more than we are as individuals; more grateful for who we are; more generous; more forgiving; more able and desirous to wash one another’s feet in the multiple ways we are invited to do so in close community living.
When Jesus washed Peter’s feet that same night, Peter’s response was clear and unambiguous: “No way are you going to wash my feet!” Now this could be seen as an expression of Peter’s humility. But I don’t think so and neither does the tradition of the Church. What was going on in Peter’s mind at that moment, we don’t exactly know. But I don’t think it had to with his feet. I think it had more to do with Peter feeling vulnerable and exposed and uncertain about what he might be getting into. As we know, later on in this night his vulnerable uncertainty will explode in a vociferous denial of even knowing Jesus. I can’t help but surmise that Peter’s hesitancy and fear had to do with parts of himself that he was withholding, not just from Jesus, but from himself. My guess is that Peter had a secret, maybe a number of secrets – a past that haunted him, a brokenness that terrified him and was just too painful to deal with. And so, it was a lot easier and safer to say NO to Jesus and push it all away and in so doing attempt to push Jesus and his brothers away. Maybe he hoped that Jesus would leave him alone, because he just wasn’t up to letting him get so close to his hurt and vulnerability. He wasn’t ready to let Jesus and his brothers in. We all know that after the resurrection all this changed for Peter. Jesus didn’t let Peter push him away. He came back to him; and Peter finally let Jesus get in. Hopefully this touches a chord in each one of us.
This is a special night for Jesus. But it is also meant to be a special night for each one of us. So let’s not back down, as Peter did when Jesus approached him with basin and towel. For this is our night also. It’s a night to remember who Jesus really is and who we really are with and in him - his body. It is our night to bring all that we are and all that we have, including, and most especially, our frailty, our weakness, our fears, our sins, our brokenness in all their varied ramifications. To bring it all and lay it on the table. Put it out there, come clean. After this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the altar will be stripped bare. Let that be a sign of our own willingness to be stripped bare of all that gets in the way of our being, really and truly, the Body of Christ. This is Jesus’ night, and this is our night.
Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily this evening.