READINGS: Exodus 12: 1-8; I Cor. 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15
Have you ever wondered what keeps a people united? Why allows the people in France, or the United Kingdom, or the United States to live peacefully together and see themselves as bonded to neighbors and those living in the same country? Scholars offer many answers that unity can be the result of ethnic uniformity, a common history, tribal links, or shared symbols. But we also know that what unifies a people can also separate them from other peoples.
So what about the Church, have you ever wondered what unifies 1.5 billion people representative of hundreds of languages and ethnic groups spread throughout the world. Unlike a nation, the Church is held together not by race or language, or ethnicity; it is a unity around an event and kept alive by an event.
As Christians, we are united around the figure of Christ who suffered death and rose from the dead. His life and resurrection showed us the power of God over anything which destroys life; it is a power which defies ‘power’ as we understand it in the secular world for is not based on domination but love. Christians unite around the hope and promise of the Christ event which gives us direction, hope, and a promise of eternal life.
The Church is also kept alive by the memory of an event which we celebrate today on Holy Thursday, the Last Supper. Two versions of this event exist; Synoptic and the Gospel of John. In the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) the Last Supper records the gift of the Eucharist by Christ to his followers. John’s Gospel also describes the Last Supper but focuses not on the Eucharist but Jesus’s washing of the feet of his apostles. While scholars argue about the meaning and reasoning for these different approaches, which are not contrary I think that they can be seen together and point to another way in which we are united as Christians. The Eucharist points to Christ’s actual presence with the Church, His Body, through time, and, from the point of view of John’s Gospel, it reminds us not only the humility and love of Christ but our need to ‘wash each other’s feet’.
Unity not by race or land or language but the promise of Christ, power of good over evil, and a challenge to serve one another. A very different principle of unity but one which has endured, though often scarred and muddied, for almost 2 thousand years.
On this day perhaps we can spend some time thanking God for the Eucharist and asking how we can humbly be with those around us in their joys, suffering, and doubts.
Please remember to help the Mission Doctors who make Christ present through their healing work amongst God’s poor. Happy Holy Thursday!
Br. John Kiesler, OFM