Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Mass for 2022 Maundy Thursday, St Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta
Readings: Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
The new model of living and relating inaugurated
My dear friends,
They say that in every crisis, there is also an opportunity. In many ways, we the human family are facing a moment of truth that can either launch us into a hope-filled future or leave us mired in a shrinking whirlpool of despair and regression. The Covid crisis has exposed the myth of individualism and self-sufficiency that lies at the heart of our cultural assumptions. We are so oriented towards individual success and prosperity that there is little room for social conscience and the common good. Poverty, inequality, environmental exploitation etc… become the collateral damage of a profit-driven, grab-what-you-can and survival of the fittest society.
Maundy Thursday reminds us of our call to follow the way of Jesus, who came that everyone might have a dignified life. We are called to be his body broken and his blood poured out for others. The Eucharist strengthens us and sustains us as we follow the way of Jesus in transforming lives and relationships and thus bringing about God’s plan for the world.
In the first reading taken from the book of Exodus, we hear the description of the Jewish Passover meal. In this ritual, our Jewish forebears celebrate the deliverance from slavery and the call to build a society they are meant to be. The Passover meal reinforces their commitment to form a covenantal community in which the care of the most marginalized was to be the essential distinguishing feature. In the land of promise, Israel developed some of the most rigorous safety nets and a very sophisticated care economy in the Ancient Near East. Those at the bottom of the society such as the orphans, widows and strangers were protected by divine mandate.
In the Last Supper, Jesus transforms the Jewish Passover meal. It is no longer just a celebration of freedom from bondage in Egypt. Jesus anticipates a new kind of exodus by his death and resurrection. He is the Passover Lamb, bringing about a new and greater exodus—leading us not to an earthly promised land, but to the reign of God’s justice and love.
His command to eat his flesh and to drink his blood has profound significance in terms of our participation in the mystery of his life-giving death and resurrection. The Eucharist commits us to be Christ’s transforming presence in the world. For like him, we must suffer with others, be vulnerable with the vulnerable, be last with the least and be powerless with those without power. We are reminded of the many meals Jesus shared with the poor, the hungry, the sinner, the disenfranchised and the marginalized.
Jesus demonstrates the ethos of the kingdom in the dramatic gesture of washing of the feet. He subverts worldly notion of greatness, power and leadership by enacting the role of a servant. He illustrates powerfully to us what it means to be his follower. It is a relational paradigm or a model of living and being in the world, that is rooted in kenosis, that is in self-giving love as opposed to self-preservation. In Jesus’ kingdom, there is no bottom place. The worldly power structures that favour the top end are superseded by a new relational paradigm that actually privileges the bottom dwellers.
My dear friends,
Tonight’s celebration highlights for us what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be a body of Christ. In the world where public responsibility is on the wane and the most privileged desperately work to improve their private estate, we are called to an economy of solidarity, justice and compassion. May we follow the example of Jesus in living for others and embodying God’s self-emptying love for the suffering. Given that we are likely to be a minority in the future, our call is not to batten down the hatches and circle the wagons but to cast out into the deep in active and intentional discipleship.
The Eucharist touches the very essence of our faith. Today, we give thanks for this gift of Christ’s body and blood. More importantly, we strive to imitate the self-giving nature of our God himself. As we celebrate and share the Eucharist, let us commit ourselves to the journey of transformation. May we grow daily into the Eucharistic Christ who reaches out to all people and leads them to the heart of God. May we model our lives on the one who came to that all have life and have it to the full. Amen.