THEME: TRUE POWER IS NOT BY BEING IN CONTROL BUT IN SERVICE
When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” John 13:12-14.
As we begin our Triduum, in preparation for Easter, we recall when I said this is the longest Mass in the Church. This Mass starts on Thursday and finishes on Saturday of the Resurrection. We heard the bell when the Gloria was being sung, that is the last time we shall hear the bell for the next two days until the Gloria is sung again on Easter Saturday night because the world is going to be stripped of color, beauty and joy because God is going to suffer and die for us. This evening we shall go with Jesus to the garden. It is the night when they come to arrest him and He invites us to come with Him and pray. Come and be with me. I love you, I care for you, I am interested in you. Come and experience with me the dark moments of my own life so I can help you understand your own dark moments. This is the invitation of Jesus to us. He gives us this invitation within the context of a meal.
THE COMPLIMENTARY PASSOVER
Our First Reading prefigures the Passover meal that Jesus would become for us as we see in the Gospel The intention of God was to save his people when He said ‘I will pass through this land’. On Easter Saturday night when we listen to the Exultet, we shall declare, ‘this is our Passover feast when Christ the true lamb is slain’, whose blood consecrates us not just on the door post but on our fore heads, the consecration we received at baptism. Our foreheads now become the door into our hearts and souls. St. Augustine in his commentary on Ps. 24 ‘The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness… Oh gates lift high your heads, grow higher ancient doors…’ says the door is the human spirit, the human capacity to receive God. This is the door we are called to open up so that we can receive God, small as we are, we should expand ourselves for God to come in. Jesus is our Passover and He celebrates for us within the environment of a meal.
This morning we celebrated the memorial of the establishing of the ministerial priesthood and we said that from the table of the Word to the Altar which is the table of the Bread and Wine, there is a connection. Jesus Christ the Word of God having lived on the earth for more than thirty (30) years and for the three (3) years of his ministry, His word was experienced, people felt him, they saw him and He transformed them by His Word and self, which are inseparable. Every person He met was changed, whether Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, Lazarus or the Centurion, everybody Jesus met as Word, He changed them. Now He was to leave this world but His word remains, He gives us another experience where we can encounter Him at the breaking of bread. ‘this is my body, take and eat, when my Word opens you my body and blood that you will receive will help you to become like me’ and Jesus gives us this in the setting of a meal.
THE CHURCH AT THE SERVICE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD
The vocation of the Church is to continue to give life, to continue to feed the people of God in the Word and Sacraments so that they can grow in the knowledge of the Word of God. Jesus sets this scenario of a meal where He feeds the disciples and after feeding them, He says, now I will teach you something else, I will teach you true leadership, for Jesus, leadership is service. He takes off the cloak, puts on a towel which we shall replicate very shortly. Now He does the job of a slave not even a servant, to wash somebody’s feet is the job of a slave, a slave who has no future, no opportunity to buy his/her freedom, whereas a servant can buy freedom but a slave cannoThe example of Jesus washing their feet is an aspect of his self empting. He teaches His disciples, if you really want to be like me, then this is what you must do. What Jesus did, was not even as serious as leaving His kingdom to take on human flesh. St. Paul’s tells us that though He was in the form of God, He emptied himself (Phil. 2:6-7). This self-emptying to take on our nature is the highest form of self-abnegation. God divesting the dignity of God to take on flesh so that He can save mortal flesh. And because human beings still do not understand Jesus, He decided to do the extreme, to wash their feet and as expected they were scandalized, Peter refused. Jesus tells him that it is to teach him the meaning of service, the meaning of power. True power is not to be in control, true power is in service and in service, you rule over the person. The one who serves is in true control because he manages the needs of the one served. The one served is by analogy poorer since he or she has a need that another must attend to. If you are in control, people fear you, but when you serve, you direct the needs of the served. It is a further call to humility since it is an honour to supply the needs of others. Those who serve in humility could not be made lower any further.
There is an old song that says ‘He that is down, needs fear no fall, he that is low no pride, he that is humble shall ever have God to be his guide. So Jesus in emptying himself, demonstrates for us the nature of the life of the Church, the Church at the service of the people. For the Church to be true to its nature, it must be serving the people and consequently any position we hold in Church, if we say we are representing the Church, then we are serving the people, if we are not serving the people, we are not the Church and we are not reflecting Jesus Christ because the mission He gives to us is to serve, and it is within this service the Church finds its true meaning when she serves the people.
It is an analogy of the service of today that we shall do shortly. It mirrors the church carrying the trash of Her children, further indicative of the fact that to serve means to carry trash. To wash the feet of somebody that has walked on all types of soil, such water used to wash the feet is no longer useful and yet that is what the Church does. The Church is God’s instrument that washes away sins, the instrument that helps us through reconciliation back to cleanness to encounter God. The Fathers of the Church refer to confession as the second plank of safety after the shipwreck of sin. For those of us who are used to the river, we recall that every big ship or vessel, has smaller boats attached to it in the event of an accident. Sailors and rescuers throw these boats down to help people drowning to land safely and most times. These boats are like the sacraments for us. When we fall into the sea of sin, the Church throws the boats and says ‘enter let us bring you up’, the Church may not jump into the water but stretches the hand and requests the person drowning to enter. The further implication of this is that we must make efforts to go for reconciliation in order that we can get absolution. We must make the journey, we must move to Christ. All of us therefore are privileged to be in a Church that serves.
CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO SERVE
Jesus Christ says, I have done this for you that you should do to one another, every person must make effort to wash the feet of the other. This is symbolic of service, it is the lowest we can do, but some of us don’t even need to do the lowest to serve others, a simple cup of water can be service, a helping hand can be service. So when the Church celebrates today this event given to us in the Eucharist, she is saying Jesus Christ has to give himself for us Body and Blood without holding any back, He could have given us only the Blood and leave the Body or vice versa, but He gave all, hence, if we must serve be ready to give all just as Jesus did. There are many opportunities to serve, not only in the Church, but in our various communities, we must remember that when we serve, we are not doing anything extra ordinary but we are imitating the Master who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
This evening, at the end of mass, we shall go with Him to the garden to go and pray, we beg Him to open our eyes to different moments of service and we also beg Him to help us resist the temptation to be served rather than serve. Jesus by His action today tells us that the one who serves is the one who governs. A quick look at your homes, the one who serves is the one who is in charge of you. Jesus gives us opportunities to serve, when we get to heaven, among the many questions we shall answer is, “how many people have you served”? As we come to the end of Lent, let us ask for grace that the sacrifices we have made during this period will become permanent for us as we seek holiness through Christ our Lord. Amen.