Holy Thursday Sermon at Holy Name Catholic Church Strikes Chord of Unity Between Christians and Jews

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I was at Holy Name Church for Holy Thursday service and was struck by the Homily delivered by Deacon Bob Gontcharuk.

It seemed an especially appropriate sermon given the nature of New Rochelle which has both a large Christian and Jewish population. Father Martin Bigeln, the pastor at Holy Name was raised in a household where his mother was Jewish, his father Christian, and so the themes of unity between the two religions is often present at Holy Name.

Sometimes in New Rochelle there are tensions but more often not. Thursday's Homily by Deacon Bob is a good reminder of why.

I thought it worth sharing with readers and asked Deacon Bob for a copy, reprinted below with permission.

To understand the Homily you need to know the readings from the Old Testament and New Testament that he is referring to so I have added those first and then the Homily after.

Reading 1 EX 12:1-8, 11-14

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it. The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

“This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt—I, the LORD! But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you. “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.”

Reading 2 1 COR 11:23-26

Brothers and sisters:

I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that 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. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Gospel JN 13:1-15

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.”

Holy Thursday Homly (April 17, 2014 - Deacon Bob)

The first reading tonight bridges the Jewish Passover meal with the Christian Last Supper meal. It connects us to our roots as Christians.

Just imagine…you are being considered for a promotion at work. And you are easily the most qualified for the job, but someone else gets the assignment.

Just imagine…You are at a party, hoping to maybe meet someone. You notice a cute guy enter the room, look around, and approach your group. He comes closer and starts chatting with your friend, while ignoring you.

Just imagine…You are in gym class. It’s time to pick teams to play a game. One by one your classmates get picked. You, as usual, are the last person to be picked.

It’s not easy being passed over…isn’t it?

Unless you are Jewish, of course!

Now that’s a whole different story. Being passed over was actually the defining moment in the history of the Jewish people. For them, this “event”, we heard in the first reading, was definitive proof that God was watching out for them, that he was their Protector and Deliverer—one who long ago made promises to Abraham (and his descendants), and who would see to it that those promises would be kept. Being “passed over” (for the Jewish people) meant identity and freedom and life.

As you heard the first reading you were probably recalling to your mind the movie, The Ten Commandments. As a child, I remember seeing it and wondering what it all meant. As an adult, you wonder whether it really happened that way. After all, it is a pretty incredible story! It is hard to get your mind around it and that is ok.
But the details are not important when compared to how the Jewish people saw their liberation from bondage in Egypt. For them, their freedom wasn’t won purely through the efforts of Moses or through the actions of Pharaoh.

Freedom was won through the sheer generous act of God. For them, God was the one who was faithful to his promises. God was the one who never abandoned them. God was the one who worked through the person of Moses, Aaron, and Joshua. God was the one who provided for them in the desert. And it was God who made them who they were as a people, and who continued to sustain them through every hardship.

And so it is with us.

Tonight we gather in this holy place to remember, to give thanks for and to acknowledge the presence of our Passover, the Risen Jesus – the Lamb of God whose blood was shed for our salvation.

We remember tonight to make present around this altar –the saving act of Jesus –to share in a sacred meal in which God provides the food, a meal in which God is the food, and a meal in which we promise to strive to become precisely the same food, to become what we eat—the Body of Christ for a world that is hungry for so much.
And sharing in this meal is more than just a private moment between us and God, more than simply a time to say some prayers and sing a few songs. This meal is meant to change us—forever—to change us to carry out Jesus’s mission in every situation in which we find ourselves. Put simply, we eat the Body of Christ to become the Body of Christ, that we might be inspired and empowered to wash the feet of whoever is in need—whoever could use a little kindness, mercy, generosity or love.
This is not an easy task…to become the Body of Christ in our world today. To love as Jesus loved. But we can try to become a little more like Jesus. A little more kind; a little more loving.

As we journey though life and prepare to go back to our Father in heaven like Jesus did, maybe we could try to go the extra mile when we are tired or don’t want to help. Try to love - even when it is not returned. And try to “wash someone’s feet” - even when we would rather do just about anything else.

Today we give thanks for being passed over. We gather together on this most Holy Night filled with deep gratitude for our own Passover—the Lord Jesus—who who comes to us in Word, in one another, and at this table. What a great God we have. Let us never take for granted the gift of the Eucharist or its power to transform us into the Body of Christ today. May we always see the connection between our sharing in this meal and the love we share with others.

May we go forth from this Eucharist tonight and be instruments of God’s presence in the world that we live in.

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