Holy Thursday April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday
April 17, 2014
It is light in here. In fact, up here where I am, it is downright
bright in here. It is dark out there. It is night already. The drama
that unfolds in these three days needs both the light and the
darkness to be whole. But the question of this night is: Do you
understand what I have done for you?
This evening begins with lights “full-up,” and with beauty in
bright flowers, and Glorias ringing. But this evening will end in
darkness and remain there for the proverbial three days. Many of
us will have a taste of that darkness as we try to negotiate our way
down to our altar of repose at the end of the service—in the dark.
We will all be careful, won’t we? The dark is scary. But that’s
where we all have to walk.
The journey we enter tonight reminds me of the title of
Barbara Brown Taylor’s brand new book, Learning to Walk in the
Dark. That is always a challenge especially on Holy Thursday.
These days are a drama played out largely in the dark. And many
of us still try to negotiate the dark in our own lives. That is
appropriate. For the Light of the World has embraced the dark and
released its power. But we walk in the dark until the Great Vigil
brings light back.
But before the supper ends, before the light is extinguished,
he asks them and us a question. “Do you realize, do you
understand, what I have done for you?” It is a powerful question,
perhaps one of the most profound questions Jesus ever asks in the
Voltaire once said, “judge persons more by the questions they
ask than the answers they give.”
In all the gospels, Jesus doesn’t get to ask too many questions.
Some of the ones he does ask are more trivial and circumstantial.
But then there are the others. Listen to some of his questions. And
maybe even ask them of yourself tonight.
What are you looking for (Jn 1:38)? Who is it you are
seeking (Jn 20:15)? What is it you want (Mt 20:21)? What do you
want me to do for you (Mk 10: 51)? Why is it you call me ‘Lord,
Lord’ and do not do what I say (Lk 6:46)?
Then there are some other questions where there is even
deeper import. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Mt
27:46)? Who do people say the Son of Man is? And the related
question, who do you say I am?
Ask yourself his questions: what are you looking for? What
do you want of him? How is it that it is so easy to call Him Lord,
Lord and still not do what he asks? And what does he ask tonight?
Watch as we wash feet, break bread, and share a cup together.
Then hear him ask again: Do you realize (understand) what I
have done for you?
Don’t answer too quickly. Remember that on that first night,
no one did understand. Remember those who thought they could
see from the gospel two weeks ago. The man born blind was the
only one who in the end did see. T. S. Eliot penned a remarkable
description of the paradox of Jesus. He speaks of Him as “the hint
half-guessed, the gift only half-understood.”
This Triduum is filled with the paradox of Jesus. We are a
strange group who profess to follow Him. We are perhaps the only
religious group in history that still celebrates its own
disintegration. Timothy Radcliffe puts it this way: this night “is a
story which tells of the moment when there was no story to tell,
when the future disappeared. And “we gather as a community
around the altar and remember the night that the community
disintegrated….Our community looks back to when it fell apart.”
God was about to be abandoned and die in order to re-start
creation from the beginning and in order to show again just how
much God loves this world and all its desires and dreams.
My brothers and sisters don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t.
But we can’t forget that this is what happened. And no matter what
is looks and feels like right now in our lives, God has already
shattered even death itself. That is the Promise we remember this
Do you understand what I have done for you? Answer slowly.
It still seems incredible, and someday soon each of us will be
invited again to live the answer we give.