A Reflection for Maundy Thursday
by Archbishop George Stack
Today we begin the three holiest days of the Church’s year, the Paschal Triduum. They are holy because in his Passion, Death and Resurrection Jesus makes humanity ‘whole’ again. He breaks down the barriers of suffering, sin and death. All the things that break us apart, those things that would separate us from God, from each other and even ourselves, these are all “put back together” by his death on the cross and his rising from the dead. On Holy Saturday we will read:
“Life and death contended.
Combat strangely ended.
Life’s own champion slain
Yet lives to reign”. (Victimae Paschalis Laudes)
I hope I am not exaggerating when I say that no other Holy Week in the history of the Church will be as strange as this one. Followers of Jesus naturally feel the urge to come together on these three days to celebrate the central mystery of our faith.
But we are separated by “social distancing”. We cannot be in touch with each other. This is the very opposite of the Incarnation, God with us. We believe he is with us. In times of sickness pain and distress as well as times of joy and happiness he is with us. That is one reason why we are live streaming our services from many churches over the next three days. To remind us that we are part of the Body of Christ. We remember Jesus in the words and actions he performed on this Holy Thursday. “Do this in memory of me”. We re-member, put back together again the separated members of his body. We re-member that we are each of us part of that body in the world. As St. Theresa of Avila said in the 16th century:
“Christ has no body but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
With compassion on the world”.
Jesus is flesh of our flesh. Bone of our bone. He brings the abundant love of God to us in every situation, no matter where we are,what anxieties we have, what trials we suffer. Jesus is the body language of God. He sees the unseen. Hears the unheard. Touches the untouchable. He is company for the lonely and neglected. Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God with you – wherever you are.
There is no “social distance” when we are in communion with each other as we are in our prayer today and in the next three days. And even though we cannot receive him in Holy Communion tonight, we can make a spiritual communion, a place for him in our hearts and in our lives. Many people will say today “When this is over”. But of course it will never be over. Things will never be the same again. We will all be called to be more vigilant,more caring,more responsible not just for our own well being, but for the good of others as well. There are lessons to be learned even in the most painful circumstances of life – and death.
During his Last Supper on the night before he died, Jesus gave us the gift of himself when he took bread and wine and said: This is my Body. This is my Blood. This is me. The Bread of Life. Food for the Journey. The nourishment we need in this life and the next. “The Body of Christ” the priest asks at Holy Communion. “Amen” is the reply. I believe. Amen.