Holy Thursday 2020 – A reflection

And once more the world has been turned upside down. We may not fully realize it yet but everything has changed and there is no going back. There is only going forward. Right now, society, the world is like a broken container/jar and we have our hands around it, trying to hold it together so that the stuff inside doesn’t spill out and we lose it. We can only hold it for so long, we either need to put it into a new container or let it spill out. Either way is messy and the original container is gone. The container of our life has broken.

In the spiritual life, for something new to be born, something has to die. We don’t like to let things die. We humans are social beings, that is why it is so difficult for us to isolate, to be locked down, to be quarantined. It’s heartbreaking to know that because of Covid 19 people are dying, all alone. In their pain and suffering they cannot be touched, nor held. We can’t even anoint them. Our suffering, our anxiety is real.

People are upset that we cannot gather together during this time of Holy Week, understandably so. That’s natural, it is part of the grieving process. We grieve when we lose things that are important to us. In an ironic fashion it reveals to us what we value.

I believe that a grace in this time of epidemic is that people are finding out what they value. For most people it is a time of slowing down, for many to the point of boredom. For others it has been a hectic time, racing from task to task and perhaps running on adrenaline. Either way, it is a new way of operating, a new way of being. It is causing us to do some soul searching. How do we live?

A message of how to live is being told to the apostles by Jesus in our gospel reading today.
How do we make meaning out of Hoy Week while physically distancing? The default setting has been to internet-cast our liturgies. All around the world priests are doing this. But this is really just a band aid on a wound that needs stitches. While it may be good to see a familiar face and hear the familiar voice of one’s pastor, there is a deeper meaning that is not addressed. This deeper meaning goes beyond our understanding of ecclesiology, it takes us to the core of our faith, to a Christological meaning.

Traditionally we have seen Holy Thursday as the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. And it is that. That is why we feel the loss of gathering together as church and doing our sacred rituals. Those rituals are important. But there is another aspect of the Last Supper that we often forget and John’s gospel is reminding us about it.

John is the only gospel with the washing of the feet. It doesn’t have the passing of the cup nor the breaking of the bread. As Richard Rohr said (Radical Grace Meditations)

“Perhaps John realized that after seventy years the other Gospels had been read. He wanted to give a theology of the Eucharist that revealed the meaning behind the breaking of the bread. He made it into an active ritual of servanthood and solidarity, instead of the priestly cult that it has largely become. Peter symbolizes all of us as he protests, “You will never wash my feet!” (John 13:8). But Jesus answers, “If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.”

The gospel of John is telling us the meaning of the eucharist is not about my personal, spiritual piety. It is about serving one another. The reading tonight stopped short but this chapter ends with Jesus giving the disciples a New Commandment – to Love one another, as he loved them. That this is how people will know you are my disciples, he said, that you loved one another.

That is the Christology in the eucharist. “The Christ” is really more of a verb than a noun. For so long we have been focused on Christ as the noun, the thing, the material, the bread and the wine. While it is all that, as you know it is so much more. For many Christ has become more of a proper noun, the last name of Jesus!

The Christ is where the material and the spiritual meet. It is incarnational. Love is also more of a verb than a noun and God is Love – God is acting. Even the word eucharist is a verb: from the Greek, to give thanks. Giving thanks, Jesus blessed the bread and broke it. It’s all action.

Holy Week is a time to reflect on what is our action? How are we loving one another? Not only those in our inner circle/community but in the larger world. One way we are showing that love is by being physically apart. We are serving and loving one another by being physically distant. The way to understand the Christ and the Eucharist is through experience. The experience of staying home and isolating has made many people realize gratitude. We need to return to the gratitude, the Thanksgiving in Eucharist.

For many of us the Eucharist and the Christ has been mainly a noun, that has been our “container.” Since we cannot physically gather as church and break bread together our container is broken and we are desperately and sincerely trying to hold the container together. Our calling at this time, is for us to be the container. For us to be Christ in the world. This has always been true. It is not new. During this epidemic it is all the more true and necessary. We need to be more mindful of each other, we need to check in with each other, need to be more patient, more loving, and more kind. In short, we need to be more God-like. We need to become Christ in the world.

Fr Matthew Pyrc SJ

Fr Matthew Pyrc SJ (born Flint, Michigan 1964; entered the Jesuits 2006; ordained 2014) is a Jesuit currently completing his Jesuit formation in South Africa. He originally comes from the United States and has previously worked in University Ministry and has taught and been chaplain to students at a high school in California. He is interested in Ignatian Spirituality and world religions. He is currently interning at the Jesuit Institute and spotlight.africa.

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