HOMILY HOLY THURSDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
THE CALL TO SERVICE FOR ALL, ENLIVENED BY EUCHARIST
Jn 13.1-15 Ex 12.1-20 1Cor 11.17-34
Some Last Supper images
Da Vinci’s classic mural in Milan of 1495
Then copies out of rocksalt, postage stamps, toast, chocolate sauce, butter, spiderwebs, spools of thread (hang upside down and view through a clear acrylic viewing sphere on a metal stand), vegetables, Rubik’s cubes, dryer lint
And finally, Salvador, Dali‘s image, which is surreal, then Jesus and the street children, and Andy Warhol’s take.
Now it’s time to reflect on the descending darkness as the Passion approaches, with the Last Supper scene in John’s Gospel. Strangest of all, perhaps, is that there is no reference to the breaking of the bread to be shared, and blessing of the wine, to be poured out and drunk by those present. (That comes earlier in John’s Gospel in his Bread of Life discourse on Eucharist in chapter 6). The focus is on humility and service, as Jesus approaches his fate. The washing of the feet is a model for disciples of Jesus to emulate, as a metaphor for service of others, in all sorts of ways.
Peter, the impulsive enthusiast for responding to Jesus, when he feels like it, changes his tune, when he wakes up to the fact that Jesus is demonstrating the way he wishes his followers to serve the needs of others before oneself. It was a sign of respect for another person, not just a perfunctory ritual with no depth of meaning. And obviously for us, it is much more than about footwashing.
So, I take a few concrete examples tonight, from contemporary experience. I’ll start with Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who died at 74 this week, an indigenous man, who was first thought by Christian missionaries of Yirrkala community, in Arnhem land, to be a future priest or minister, but he returned to his home country at 19, after a short time at Bible college in Brisbane, and became an activist for his people, their culture and their rights. His service and determination was recognized early, as he was named Australian of the Year, way back in 1978, when chairman of the Northern Land Council, and awarded an honorary doctorate from Melbourne University in 2015.
He was also a guiding force for the music group Yothu Yindi, and engaged with prime ministers along the way, presenting a blueprint for a treaty in the Barunga Statement in 1988. He mightn’t have pursued the priesthood, but retained a determination to serve his people and stand up for their rights. And I’d argue that there was a deep spiritual dimension to his life and work, in the spirit of what we celebrate here on this evening, in the call and example of Jesus to serve others, on the night of his betrayal and the eve of his wrongful, unjust and brutal death.
Closer to home, we celebrated the lives of two faithful parishioners just this week, with Aileen Sheean aged 101 from Arcadia, and John Hardwick at 75, who was baptized here at St Therese’s here in 1947, his father Gus, among the first contingent here at St Therese’s School when it opened in 1923!
Aileen had lived a life of long and faithful service in family life, raising 9 children, with she and her husband Gerald heavily involved in their parish community in Glenroy, helping with the building of the church there and in parish community activities in general, including St Vincent de Paul work and the Legion of Mary. There were no pretences, and no attention seeking, just a commitment to a lived faith in service of others, beginning with family. A quiet, unassuming life well-lived, with deep faith. And of course, a well-loved grandmother of 24, and great grandmother of 35, no mean feat all around!
(When she felt she needed more urgent attention, she called: “Help, help! A 101 year old woman needs help!” at Footscray Hospital – “That should bring them running!” she said as she winked to her daughter Geraldine.)
Then I turn to John Hardwick, a larger than life parishioner from birth, whose continuing faith was not only reflected in his regular presence here at Mass, but also in the way he engaged with family, football (although Kangaroos, evidenced by Alistair Clarkson visiting him and then sending a video tribute!) and community in all sorts of directions. The celebration of his life demonstrated a good man who lived life to the full, with an active faith to the end.
And we can’t forget Noel O’Brien, whose commitment to a life of faithful service to family, friends and community, local and global, was very much to the fore in the way his life was celebrated back in October last year. He might have done very well in business, but his philanthropy knew virtually no limits, driven no doubt by his deep faith and commitment to actively living the Gospel of Jesus.
For all of us, you and me, this Gospel has very practical applications, as we reflect on parish life, and its many dimensions of service, in the fields of liturgy, décor, music, senior friendship group, sacristy work, eucharistic ministry to the sick and the housebound, gardens and leadership team, office support and sacramental preparation too, among others. There is always room for more to be involved too. There’s no closed shop here, so thanks, and welcome to all who contribute in diverse ways, and for just being here, as part of our worshipping and involved faith community.
From a theological perspective, we continue to break the bread and drink the wine (although virtually at present, due to the lingering aftereffects of COVID), linked to the challenge of service of others and responding to their needs. We remember how he loves us, not just in the past tense, but throughout our journeys of life and lived faith.
Our second reading this evening is said to be the earliest recorded account of Eucharist being celebrated in early Christian communities, but missing the point of it all! The expanded version gives the bigger picture, where, even then, there was discrimination and class distinction, with their social and economic differences, unwilling to share, as well as over-indulgence, which Paul abhorred. He sees it as antithetical to the spirit of the Gospel, such that he warns the Corinthians to wake up to themselves and be more open-minded and inclusive of all, not just those whom they liked, or were of similar status.
And so we celebrate Holy Thursday with a spirit of humility and determination to continue to be people of service and commitment to the message of Jesus, sustained by the Bread of Life, Bread for the Broken, in the Eucharist.
john hannon 6th April 2023