I wrote and posted this reflection a year ago when churches were shut down because of a spreading COVID-19. Who could have predicted that a year later, many of us would still be leading somewhat sequestered lives? While many of us will participate in Holy Thursday services in our churches, others (not yet fully vaccinated and still leery of large indoor gatherings) will be celebrating with at-home liturgies.
If you have been participating in daily televised and online Masses, I am reasonably sure that these programs will feature the liturgy of Thursday of the Lord’s Supper. You might have to check the time of the live streaming to see if the Mass is moved to the evening. For example, the Life Lutheran Church of New York (www.thelifeny.org) will livestream a service on Thursday at 7 PM. Masses are usually recorded and posted on the website for next-day viewing.
If you do not have access to televised or online Mass, be sure to include the Scripture readings in your reflections sometime during the day: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116:12-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15.
Do This in Memory of Me
The context for Jesus’ instruction, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), is the meal he shared with his disciples the night before he died. Because of the insertion of these words close to the description of Jesus’ breaking and sharing of the bread and wine at the table, through the years we have limited his instruction to this specific action. Did Jesus mean “eat my Body and drink my Blood in remembrance of me”? Yes, of course. Yet, I like to think he meant do this about every part of his life.
Feed the hungry – do this in memory of me. Wash each other’s feet – do this in memory of me. Heal the sick – do this in memory of me. Provide safe drinking water to impoverished regions – do this in memory of me. Do this and this and this. Reflecting on the symbols and actions at the Lord’s Supper, I would like to focus on two: washing our feet and feeding those at our tables.
Washing Our Feet
In these tumultuous days, we hear “wash your hands”, “don’t touch your face”, over and over again. Aren’t these perfect instructions for Holy Thursday? Wash your hands, and face, and feet. Wash the hands, and faces, and feet of those in your care – be they young or old, sick or well. “Do this in memory of me.”
What might this look like in your home? At bath time with the little ones, as you wash their feet, remember the story of Jesus washing the feet of his friends. Sit on the edge of the bathtub and ask your little ones to wash your feet (and hands and face). Let them massage oil into your tired and aching feet. See this as the Lord washing Peter’s (and your) feet.
What about those pedicures we have had to forego? Might we offer pedicures to each other in our homes? “Do this in memory of me.” In the very least, express gratitude for the women and men who earn their living giving pedicures. Do we even know their names after years of frequenting their salons?
Your church may have monthly collections of toiletries and cleaning products for vulnerable populations. These populations are even more vulnerable now that many collections have been put on hold. Why not mail a check to a local agency? Even if their centers are closed, they can reach their clients by mail.
Feeding Those at Our Tables
Holy Thursday is all about sharing food and drink with friends and family. If you are a baker (and even if baking is a challenge to you), you might bake a special bread to share with others on Thursday. Set aside a special drink for your meal that day: wine, flavored water, grape juice. “Do this in memory of me.”
Holy Thursday is also a good time to think about food and feeding those who are hungry. It’s about extending our tables beyond our immediate families. I want to recommend a book that is perfect for your Holy Thursday reflections:
The Meal That Reconnects: Eucharistic Eating and the Global Food Crisis by Mary E. McGann (Liturgical Press, 2020).
What is most lost in the crises that engulf the industrial food system today is the recognition that food is a gift, given from the depths of divine love and sourced by the cosmic generosity of the universe; that food is relationship, an invitation to participate in the relationships that mark our identity as members of a global community of life: relationships with the Earth, with each other, with the poor and suffering of the world, and with the divine Source of all being. (p. 82)
Who could have predicted that a year after reading this book, I would be teaching an online course to undergraduates at Anna Maria College on ecological justice? McGann’s book is required reading for the second half of the course where we focus on food justice.
Our home liturgies and celebrations can include recorded hymns that might be favorites of those gathered. There are many Communion hymns from which to choose. Again, just google the title of the hymn even if you don’t know the name of the composer. I would like to recommend a hymn about washing each other’s feet: “As I Have Done for You” by Dan Schutte, 2001, based on John 13-16 (Jesus’ instructions at the Last Supper). The refrain is:
I, your Lord and Master, now become your servant.
I, who made the moon and stars will kneel to wash your feet.
This is my commandment: to love as I have loved you.
Kneel to wash each other’s feet as I have done for you.
I would like to close today with the words of verse 6 from this song:
I will give you peace, this will be my blessing.
Though the world churns around you, I leave you my peace.
I have told you all these things that my peace may dwell within you.
Let your faith be unshaken and your hope be ever strong.