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Bishop's Homily for Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

March 29, 2018

[Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu]

Do what in memory of me?

We gather tonight to commemorate and celebrate the great gift of the Holy Eucharist that Jesus left us, and we most often think that his words “Do this in memory of me” refer only to the miracle that takes place before our very eyes.  Here we take the bread and wine; and by the words of the priest calling down the Holy Spirit, these are changed in substance from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  And, of course, for two thousand years Catholics in hundreds of circumstances of life, from birth to death, have gathered at the table as we have tonight to “do this in memory” of Jesus. 

But sometimes we may forget other aspects of this sacred assembly that Jesus also wants us to do in memory of him.  In our reading from Exodus we see the Israelites eating their first Passover meal in preparation for their impending departure from Egypt and freedom from slavery.  They are told to continue to eat this Passover meal as a “perpetual memorial,” as indeed they do to this day.  Jesus, himself a Jew, never forgot to eat the Passover, first with his family, then with his disciples.  And he did so on the night before he was going to make a painful journey to the cross, so that he could free us from our slavery to sin and death.  So remembering what Jesus did at the table is important, but remembering that this is a banquet of liberation from slavery is also a way of doing this in memory of him.  We are often slaves to sin in the way we treat each other and in the violence of our hearts, whether physical violence or the many forms of bloodless and even legal violence we allow to ourselves.  We can be slaves to lust, and the goodness of our relationships can be destroyed by this slavery.  We can be slaves of “group think” that accepts what is politically correct without judging it by the standard of God’s law.  We can be slaves of fear when we stay in our comfortable lives while the world calls out to be healed.  So tonight we remember that this banquet is eaten with sandals on our feet and staff in hand, because from here we have a journey outward to work against slavery wherever we may find it.

We also remember the lamb that was slaughtered and eaten to strengthen the Israelites for their journey.  As we do so, we remember Jesus as the Lamb of God, whose blood was splattered on the doorposts of the world so that death might pass by and eternal life be given to all who are protected by that blood.  But as we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb of God, we remember that his mission becomes our mission.  As he laid down his life as a trusting Lamb, so we are called to lay down our lives for one another.  We had a beautiful example last week of a French Catholic policeman who lost his life when he offered to be exchanged for a woman and child being held hostage.  We see it in such people as St. Damien and St. Marianne, who offered their lives on the altar of service to the sick and the abandoned.  We see it in those who lay down their lives daily to care for a sick loved one or for a disabled child.  We see it in those who lose their livelihoods because they refuse to be involved with dishonesty and corruption.  We see it in youth who resist the mantra of “Everybody is doing it” and do what is right and good despite the criticism they receive.  This offering ourselves as lambs of sacrifice Jesus also wants us to do in memory of him.

And then we are about to do the annual ritual of the washing of feet, yet another thing Jesus wants us to do in memory of him.  As he has done, so we must do.  But we remember this ritual washing of feet so that we will not forget to wash the feet in our families, by listening to the cares, concerns, pains and joys of our loved ones.  We wash feet when we reach out to a young single mother who is burdened with child care, work, household chores and perhaps trying to advance her own education.  We bend down in humble service when we care for the homeless and hungry.  And we remember that Jesus washed feet, not so that they could be put up on cushions of comfort but so that they would be bathed in the love that impels them to the ends of the earth to go out and share the Good News of his love.

Do what in memory of Jesus?  We come to this memorial sacrifice of the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday and day after day so that we and the rest of the world can set out, freed from the power of death, on our march to true freedom, on our journey to eternal life.