When I prepared my Holy Thursday homily last year, the pandemic was raging, public liturgies were suspended, everybody participated online, there was no washing of feet, and—besides the celebrant—no one received the bread and wine of the Last Supper. As I prepared this homily, we are in church, we are as a gathered community of faith, there will be washing of feet, and we will partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. I am delighted that we have moved beyond the darkest days of the pandemic. People say that this is the ‘new normal’, but at least we are moving on. But the question that is uppermost in my mind is just a little different. Is that all that has changed since last year?
As we celebrate the Passover, we realize that in the same way that there is a pre-pandemic world and a post-pandemic world, both the Old and New Testament Passovers signaled radical changes. The Old Testament Passover led the people of God from slavery to freedom. For us Christians, Holy Thursday separates the old Passover from the New, the Old Covenant from the New. The changes can be captured in a few significant things. First, Jesus, who was the Lord and Master, would bend down and wash the feet of his disciples. Second, Jesus, who is the author of life, would offer his own flesh and blood to become the Passover Lamb. Third, unlike Moses who led his people to freedom by opposing the rulers, Jesus would meekly surrender to the rulers. That did not mean that he was weak or spineless. Rather, his surrender would begin a new revolution, bring about a new liberation, give birth to a new people, initiate a new way of life, and promulgate a New Covenant. Today we are gathered to commemorate the New Covenant. The old is gone. The new is here. In pandemic language, today we celebrate the ‘new normal.’
Here are the three practical implications of the New Covenant or the ‘new normal.’
Jesus Washed Feet
The society of Jesus’ time was a very contentious society. There were frictions all around – between the brutal Romans and the Jewish authorities, revolutionaries like Barabbas and the Romans, the Jewish religious leaders and the ordinary folks on the streets, the Jews and the Samaritans, the tax-collectors and the rest of society, the sinners and those who pharisaically considered themselves righteous by the Law. Into the midst of such contentions came Jesus. He was God, but he introduced a totally new way of being human. His washing of feet at the end of his life, and the offering of his flesh and blood at the Last Supper, were merely the culmination of an entire life lived in love, humility, and service. Throughout his life he only did good. It was to be the ‘new normal.’ At the Last Supper he institutionalized the ‘new normal’. He said; “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” (Jn 13:12-15).
As the pandemic raged last year, on Holy Thursday I made a plea that we imitate Christ by dedicating ourselves to serve one another. But then the pandemic became contentious, masks became controversial, the election became spiteful, racism raised its ugly head, hate prevailed, and even the pope became an object of contempt. Often it seems that we have not come that far along since Jesus’ time.
All of us are here in Church today or watching this Mass online because we have survived the pandemic! As we celebrate this Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I hope we can honestly say that we imitated Christ. I hope we can say that we survived the contention and that we did not succumb to hate. I hope we can proudly say that we did not give into partisan animosity, ideological stance-taking, racism, and self-centeredness. I hope we can say that we modeled the example of Jesus; that we are a people of the ‘new normal’?
Jesus Broke Bread and Wine
Just before Jesus was arrested and finally executed, he sat for a meal with his disciples. We often hear that people who are executed are offered one last meal of their favorite dish. At his last meal Jesus was not served a meal. Instead, he served the meal. He went further. He ‘became’ the meal. As Paul recalls in today’s second reading, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”” (2 Cor 11:23-26). Each time he said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me!”
When Jesus said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he was referring to more than just celebrating Mass over and over again. “Do this in memory of me” was supposed to be the ‘new normal.’ It meant modeling our lives on the life, message, and example of Jesus. To ‘remember’ is not merely to recall to memory but to live the life of Jesus. It begins at the Eucharistic meal and culminates in the Eucharistic meal. And then, what we celebrate at the Eucharist we live in our daily lives. This is my hope, that in the post-pandemic world we will live the ‘new normal,’ and that we will “do it in remembrance of Him!”
The New Covenant – The ‘New Normal’
One of the things we hear said these days is that Covid-19 has changed the world forever. And it is true. In many ways, whatever the future will be, will be a ‘new normal.’ This is a good analogy for what Jesus accomplished. He promulgated a New Covenant. On the one hand, this New Covenant came about when the Passover Lamb was replaced by Jesus, the Lamb of God. On the other hand, the New Covenant was a Covenant of Love. Jesus did not die to fulfil the law, but rather, Jesus died to fulfil love.
This has implications. Ever since that first Holy Thursday, there is a ‘new normal’ in place. We are people of the New Covenant, the ‘new normal’. The ‘new normal’ means we live by the Covenant of love. This means putting on the mind of Christ. This means taking on the heart of Christ. This means being the hands and feet of Jesus. This means becoming the body of Christ. We do this by loving the people Jesus loved and in the way he loved. This means serving the people Jesus served in the way he served. This means giving our selves selflessly just as Jesus did for the life of the world. We must not sell ourselves short. In our world, we must be the people of the New Covenant, the ‘new normal’.
Very soon, I will be washing the feet of twelve front line workers who, in the midst of many challenges, saved lives and served society. It is my honor to do so because they are people of the ‘new normal’. As we thank them today at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, let us follow their example and the example of Jesus. As let us do this “in remembrance of Him.”
Image: Last Supper. St Wilfred, Harrogate – Low relief, Last Supper. © Copyright John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence