Holy Thursday

A friend of mine, a young father of three, was reflecting out loud on Facebook—and yes, that’s what Facebook has become for us now, a place to ponder realities simple and profound, a place to reevaluate life as we know it right there in the express lane of everybody’s news feed, which is still a vast expanse of platitudes and memes and every inanity under the sun, and every once in a while where we find something good that we can perhaps take seriously and even celebrate—well, he was reflecting on what people mean when they say, “when this is all over …” We all know what he meant by ‘this.’ It’s the new abnormal of social distancing and quarantine, of respirators and PPEs, of hand sanitizers and face masks, of massive layoffs and grim body counts and no contact anything. Your guess is as good as mine. When ‘this’ is all over, what will life be like?

Whenever a monkey wrench is callously thrown in the works and our well-organized plans are upended, forcing us to pause, shudder, seethe, vent, curse, and complain, and we are helplessly sent off the path of sanity and predictability into a world of pain and chaos, it will take considerable effort and time to pick ourselves off the floor, lick our wounds, reflect on the situation, realistically reconsider our options, and then resolve ever so cautiously to attempt some kind of comeback. We may lament our failure or loss, but we aren’t likely to return to that bygone age of blissful innocence and simply resume our path toward some happily ever after. Now to be fair, not every occasion a monkey wrench is thrown in the works actually sends us off the path of sanity and predictability into a world of pain and chaos. We just might think it does as we sift through the dust of our hopes and dreams. But in hindsight it wasn’t the end of the world. We know now that we may have just panicked a little. The way things have been going since the new year began, we can all feel like veterans of a dozen or so end-of-the-world scenarios. Maybe this big one is just preparation for the next big one.

The dawning of any new age can be most unsettling and even downright scary, especially if we bought stock or hold investments or have any sort of personal stake in the previous age. Whenever the economy crashes, or a political dynasty bites the dust, or some well-established and revered institution takes a punch in the gut, there will be casualties. Life as we know it will slow down, while for an unfortunate few it will come to an ugly abrupt end. Some might even envy those unfortunates, believing they fared far better. But those who survive will be forced off their supposed itinerary. They will readjust their perspective and learn new skills. And the world will never be the same.

Such was the experience of Israel that first Passover night, when God struck their Egyptian taskmasters a fatal blow, and Moses led them from slavery to freedom. Then God instructed that they observe this singular event as a perpetual institution. It was the beginning of a new age few if any saw coming, and the end of an old one most never even conceived. Those who lost the most were the ones who had grown smug and comfortable, who saw themselves successful and secure, convinced their success and security exempted them from the evils that monkey wrenches were capable of.

Such was the experience of Jesus’ closest friends gathered with him in the upper room this very same night, completely oblivious of the new age Jesus was ushering in, their very lives soon to be altered beyond recognition, and all of God’s created universe essentially transformed and set on a new trajectory. Those who had the most to lose were the ones who dismissed God’s invitation to mercy and reconciliation, who clung to worldly treasure as their neighbors sat hungry, fearful, cold, and alone right outside their doors, who replaced the pursuit of virtue with the complacent and unapologetic embrace of selfishness and sin that had long become the hallmarks of their time.

At these two points in human history, Israel’s delivery from slavery to freedom and Jesus’ victory over death on the cross, God Almighty intervened and set in motion events that upended the social order and forced proud and sinful humanity to pause long enough to reevaluate their priorities, and there would be no going back. While consequences were immediate, decisive, and catastrophic for a few, the greater portion of humanity had opportunity to pick themselves off the floor, regain their composure, reflect on the unfolding situation, realistically reconsider their options, and then figure out what should happen next. Those who had hardened their hearts to his invitation to mercy and forgiveness would gain nothing. They would continue to walk their sad journey defiant in their stubbornness, resistant to God’s gift of new life. The community of Jesus’ disciples on the other hand has remained faithful through the ages to his offer to break the one Bread and share the one Cup in remembrance of him. It is the Passover of our age, when God’s only begotten Son dealt death a fatal blow and delivered all the children of Adam and Eve from the slavery of darkness and sin into the kingdom of his Father as joint heirs with him to the life of grace.

Whoever would survive unimaginable pain and trauma must first acquire a new perspective and learn a number of new and useful skills. Old perspectives and outdated skills would be of little use for the attainment of any success and security in any new world order. And in the Father’s kingdom whose coming he announced, there would be no room for worldly treasure nor power nor influence. Rather, God’s kingdom in the new age would be marked by humble service. And he set us an example by washing his disciples’ feet. “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

One powerful ritual that marks tonight’s liturgy, the washing of feet, will be omitted. But I would encourage you to do it in your homes among your loved ones. First read the gospel passage again, then parents first wash each other’s feet, and after, that of your children. Then children wash your parents’ feet, then each other’s. Do it without talking. And when you finish, talk about what it means. And if you can take one powerful lesson from tonight’s liturgy, let it be that God is doing something amazing and wonderful in our midst. And our lives are changed for the better. And there can be no going back.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020