Below is something from the vault: my homily from 2008.
When I was growing up, like a lot of families, mine had one of those small, cheap Kodak Instamatic cameras. You used those flash bulbs that looked like ice cubes…and got these little square pictures back from the drug store when you had them developed. My dad must have taken hundreds, if not thousands of pictures with that camera. I never appreciated them until years later, after I was grown, and my parents had died, and we were going through their things and we found all these pictures. Boxes of them, curled and faded. But there they were – life, captured by Kodak. Memories you can put in a shoebox.
We need that. We want something of the person we love to outlast them, and stay with us.
We want to remember them.
And remembrance is at the very heart of what we celebrate this evening. But Jesus didn’t leave us photographs in a shoebox. He left us something better.
He left us Himself.
Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth is the earliest account ever written of the Last Supper. It pre-dates, even, the gospels. It is so close to the original event, that its words are part of our Eucharistic prayer, spoken at every mass, at every altar, around the world. The words that created the Eucharist are the beating heart of our Catholic Christian belief.
And through it all, one word leaps out at us.
Do this in remembrance of me.
Jesus is saying: This is how I want to be remembered.
In the gospel, John doesn’t even mention the meal, or the institution of the Eucharist. But he finds something else for us to remember: Christ, the servant.
Deacons feel a special affection for this passage, because it is here that the diaconate, really, is born — in Christ’s extraordinary act of service, the washing of his disciples’ feet. Often, you will see emblems for the diaconate that include the image of a basin and a towel. It refers to this specific passage. And it is a reminder that we are called to serve – to wash one another’s feet, in humility and in love, just as Jesus did.
But it is not just the ordained who are called to this. It is all of Christ’s disciples. All who sit at His table and share in His body and blood.
All of us.
“You ought to wash one another’s feet,” Jesus says. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
In other words: remember what I have done. And do this, too, in remembrance of me.
We are people of remembrance.
So were the Jews. It’s there in the first reading, from Exodus, describing the institution of the Passover meal – the very meal that Christ was celebrating when He gave us the Eucharist.One of the interesting aspects of this reading is that the entire passage is, really, a monologue.
And the one who speaks…is God.
And He tells His people: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.”
It is an occasion for calling to mind all that God has done for his people.
And He is calling on them, in a very particular way: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Do not forget.
It is no secret that the older you get, the more you do forget. Every day is a battle for me to try and recall where I put my keys, or my glasses. I think my wife would like them to be clipped to my sleeves, the way kids do with their mittens.
It is easier to forget than to remember.
Which makes tonight’s remembrance all the more remarkable.
For four thousand years mankind has re-enacted somehow the great Passover feast of Jesus and all those who came before Him. The memorial feast has continued.
For two thousand years we have gathered around this table and repeated Paul’s beautiful words – the words the Corinthians heard and took to heart.
For uncounted generations we have knelt and watched as the body and blood of Christ have been raised – and watched as we, too, have been raised with them, as offerings to God.
And down through history, we have knelt and washed one another’s feet with a profound charity and sense of purpose that made Christian love the most powerful force on the planet. Even unbelievers were moved to say, “See how these Christians love one another.”
See what we have done in remembrance of Him.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. All the pictures my father took over the years tell a story, and come with emotions attached – happiness, nostalgia, some sadness. I would suggest that the next few days will be worth a thousand emotions. From the wonder and gratitude of tonight, to the sorrow of Good Friday, and the loneliness of Saturday.
But then there is Sunday.
This night, our journey toward Calvary begins in earnest. But so does our journey toward Easter.
Holy Communion is often referred to as “viaticum,” or food for the journey. Let us prepare to receive that food, so we can begin that journey. A journey of struggle. And of faith.
It is a journey that a billion others around the world are also undertaking with us on this sacred night.
We share it with them for one beautiful and hopeful reason: we do this in remembrance of Him.
Originally published by Liturgical Publications.
Image: my sister and me, Easter 1968. Our backyard in Rockville, Maryland.