Excellencies, dear Brothers and Sisters, dear Pilgrims, and dear faithful who are listening to us through various communications media,
Happy feast! Happy feast to you priests, monks, men and women religious, and to all of you who have dedicated yourselves to the Lord, to all of you who are nourished by the Eucharist and all who love this great Mystery.
1- “Jesus knew the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father” (Jn13:1)
With these words, the evangelist announced Christ’s entry into his Passion. The liturgy of this Holy Thursday invites us to recall this journey of Jesus towards his Father.
2- “Do this in memory of me” (1 Cor 11:24)
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul the Apostle recounts to the Corinthians the gestures and words of Christ as he instituted the Eucharist on the evening of the last supper in the Cenacle –the consecration of the bread and the wine into his body and his blood. These gestures, these words, “handed down by tradition,” we continue to call to mind today in the Church and each time that Mass is celebrated.
This commemoration of the Holy Sacrifice of Christ echoes a still older commemoration through which we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt: “This day will be a day of remembrance for you, which your future generations will celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord; you will celebrate it as a statute forever.” (Ex 12:14) Indeed, the Jewish Easter is still celebrated to this day in Jerusalem.
However, this Easter of old is but an incomplete form of the new Easter. We Christians, see in the death and resurrection of Chris, the accomplishment of what came before the exit from Egypt: the freedom from evil and death, and entry into the life given to us by God. Jesus Christ offers himself “to those who were of the world” by “loving them to the end.”(Jn 13:1) And this is what is being accomplished for us today.
In the new Easter, Christ is the priest and the victim; it is Christ whose forehead sweats drops of blood; it is Christ who suffers, alone and forsaken by his own, Christ who has been stripped of all dignity. It is a transition through which God humbles himself to assume in concrete form the place of the condemned slave.
3- “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” (Jn 13:7)
The words of Jesus to Peter are filled with meaning. Peter protests at the moment when his Master bends down to wash his feet. Peter, the future leader of the Church, does not understand this gesture of humility, yet he must consider it seriously even though he is incapable of repeating it.
And for us today, do we really understand this message of Christ who chose to bend down in an act of unbearable humility? How can the Man who so impressed the crowds with the authority of his word, who caused so many signs and miracles to happen, humble himself in this way? How can this King, this son of David, acclaimed only days earlier by an entire people, wash my feet?
Yes, it is true that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” says the Lord. (Is 55:.8)
For us who live in this Holy Land, Christ continues to suffer in the members of his mystical body: every day we are confronted by the absence of freedom of movement and peace, frustrations, suffering, and even martyrdom.
These living conditions wound us in our innermost soul. We hunger and thirst so much for justice and peace, we dream of leading a simple normal life. We are prisoners of hate, of mistrust and the fear of men towards one another.
In spite of these conditions, the Lord today asks that we imitate his humbling action instead of self-exaltation; his humility in place of pride; His pardon in place of resentment and a much greater love for Him and for our fellow men.
4- “Love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:12)
In this antiphon of today’s Gospel, we find the key to the entire Holy Week: Love – that is the key to the new Easter. For it is a love purified on the wood of the cross of the ordeals and sufferings that overwhelm us. It is the love of those who have died to themselves. It is the unconditional love of Him who loved us first. What Jesus asks is that we should live this love in order to be truly free.
Through this gesture of washing of the feet that we are going to celebrate, the Lord has given us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” A model that is hard to imitate yet still harder to live, and yet He invites us to do as He did.
Together, let us therefore pray to the Lord, that He may sustain us not to flee from this Cross but to accept it. Let us pray to Mary for the courage to accomplish this heroic transition to humility and to death with Christ in order to love “as He has loved us.”
In this way, His Glory will shine in our faces, in this way our way of the Cross-will be shorter, in this way our Resurrection and that of our people will come sooner. In this way, Jerusalem, the Holy City, will discover its aspect of peace and justice: this Holy City, from where the Mother Church greets all believers as brothers. We shall then be truly the Sons of our Father.
May the Holy Spirit give us the wisdom and strength to be true witnesses of his Love, as we await the joy of the Resurrection. Amen.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem