PREPARING FOR THE WORD
Before you begin take a moment to pray, saying this short prayer by St. John Chrysostom or a prayer in your own words asking the Lord to open up your heart and mind to his Word.
O Lord Jesus Christ, open the eyes of my heart, that I may hear Your word and understand and do Your will.
READING THE WORD
Lectio or reading is the first step of lectio divina. You are invited to begin by slowly and attentively reading aloud the gospel of the day by yourself or others.
Gospel John 13:1-15 Lectionary:39
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him,
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
Simon Peter said to him,
"Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him,
"Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all."
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."
So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, "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."
For all of the readings for Holy Thursday go to: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041317-lords-supper.cfm
REFLECTING ON THE WORD
As we begin the Sacred Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, there is so much to take in and ponder. On this night, we gather to enter into the very institution of Eucharist itself. Yet, on this night we hear proclaimed not the familiar words of the institution narrative from the three Synoptic gospels in which Jesus tells his disciples that the bread and wine is his Body and Blood, which will be broken and poured out in his Passion and Death on the Cross.
Instead, we hear proclaimed the account from the gospel of John, that during the meal, Jesus rises from the table, takes off his outer garment and tying a towel around his waist and taking up a basin and pitcher, washes his disciples’ feet.
The apostles are incredulous and perplexed; Peter indignantly refuses to have the Master wash his feet until Jesus cautions him that unless he allows Jesus to wash his feet, he will have no inheritance with him. Only after he has finished washing all of their feet (including those of his betrayer, Judas, ), does he explain what he has done.
If Jesus, whom the apostles (rightly) call Master and Lord, washes their feet, so too should they wash one another’s feet. Jesus is depicted in this gospel passage taking up the role of a slave, who would customarily be the one to wash the feet of free men and women in a household. This echoes the hymn from Philippians which was the second reading proclaimed on the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
On the eve of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the Cross, Jesus’ humility in washing the feet of his disciples, like a slave, underscores his complete kenosis or self-emptying the next day when he put to death on the cross, a humiliating and tortuous punishment which the Roman’s inflicted on slaves.
The Eucharist, which is the eternal symbol and memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, draws us intimately into the divine mystery of self-giving, self-emptying love that has no limits. Christ the Servant feeds us his Body and Blood, under the signs of bread and wine, to nourish in us the desire and the grace to imitate his saving kenosis, that we might be freed from our sinful inclination to seek our ultimate fulfillment in power, prestige and pleasure. Rather, at the table of the Eucharist and at the altar of the Cross, we come to grasp that the way of self-giving, of self-abandonment, of living a life poured out in loving service in imitation of Jesus is the source of our deepest joy.
Is is paradoxical? Yes. Does it involve self-denial and suffering? Yes? Is it the only life worth living? Yes.
On Holy Thursday, and during the solemn celebrations of the Triduum, the Church proclaims this great, paradoxical mystery, that in weakness and humility of Word-made-flesh, Jesus, God has overcome forever the power of sin and death which had us in its grasp. As we enter into this holy night we are once again invited to love like Jesus, in the washing of the feet and in the breaking of the bread.
PONDERING THE WORD
In meditatio, traditionally, the second stage of lectio divina, we are invited to ponder, as Mary did, “all these things in her heart” as we listen for Jesus, the Incarnate Word to speak to us heart-to-heart. You may find the following questions helpful in doing this.
PRAYING THE WORD
In oratio, the third stage of the practice of lectio divina, pondering the Word of God naturally leads to prayer. Having opened your heart to his Word, take a few moments to speak to Jesus heart-to-heart.
CLOSING PRAYER You may wish to conclude your time of prayer using the Collect from this Sunday’s Mass below or the Lord’s Prayer:
O God, who have called us to participate
in this most sacred Supper,
in which your Only Begotten Son,
when about to hand himself over to death,
entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity,
the banquet of love,
grant, we pray,
that we may draw from so great a mystery,
the fullness of charity and life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.