Participate, Don’t Anticipate or Imitate

Homily for Holy Thursday 2022.

As many of you know, today, Holy Thursday, is also known as “Maundy Thursday,” after the Latin word, “mandatum,” meaning “mandate” or “command.” Jesus gave two commands to His disciples at the Last Supper: one about celebrating the Eucharist and the second about loving one another. “Do this in remembrance of me,” and “as I have done for you, you should also do.”

If I may be so bold, I’d like to offer two additional commands. The first is this: “Participate, don’t anticipate.” This is something we tell our teens on their confirmation retreats: “Participate, don’t anticipate.” In other words, try to be in the present moment; don’t think about what’s coming next; be open to what God wants you to receive right here and right now. This is a good rule to live by as we walk with Jesus these next few days. “Participate, don’t anticipate”—try to be with Jesus in the present moment. Be with Jesus tonight as He washes His disciples’ feet. Kneel in adoration as He gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. Go with Him to the garden. Stay awake and pray with Him. Tomorrow, walk with Him as He makes his way to Calvary. Stand beside Him at the foot of the Cross. Listen as He says His last words. Watch as He takes His last breath. On Saturday, stay with Jesus in the tomb. Watch and wait. And be there to greet Him on Easter morning when He rises from the dead. “Participate, don’t anticipate.” Wherever Jesus is, be there with Him. This is the best way to enter into these days and receive all that God wants to give us. 

The second command is similar to the first: “Participate, don’t imitate.” This command has especially to do with what we are commemorating this evening. In washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus is giving us much more than just an example to imitate. The entirety of Jesus’ life, from the moment of His conception to the moment of His death on the Cross, is symbolized in this one action. “[F]ully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, [Jesus] 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.” In coming down from heaven and taking on our humanity, Jesus laid aside his glory, even as He rose from supper laid aside His outer garment. In pouring out His Blood on the Cross, Jesus washed away our sins, even as He poured water into a basin and washed His disciples’ feet. The entirely of Jesus’ life, all that He came to do, is symbolized in this one action of washing His disciples’ feet.  

And Jesus’ doesn’t just want us to imitate His life, He wants us to participate in it. He doesn’t just want us to imitate His love for others, He wants to love others in and through us. Imitation implies a distance between Jesus and us: Jesus is over there, and we are over here trying to imitate Him. Imitation means that we are divided; participation means that we are one. And this is what Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper: “I pray…that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Jesus doesn’t want any distance between Him and us. That’s why He took on our humanity. Jesus doesn’t want us to try to imitate His love, but to participate in it. He wants His love to be in us so that He can love others in and through us.  

That’s why He gave us the Holy Eucharist; that’s why He gave His own Body and Blood to us as food and drink. Jesus shared His own life with us in this way so that we could be one; so that it would be possible not just to imitate His love, but to participate in it. When we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are not receiving a static, but a dynamic, reality. Jesus is entirely for His Heavenly Father, and He is entirely for us. That’s one of the most important words at the Last Supper, the word “for.” “This is my body that is for you.” “Do you realize what I have done for you?” Jesus is entirely for us, and He is entirely for His Heavenly Father. And He gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist so that we can be entirely for God and for others as well. The Holy Eucharist is a dynamic, not a static reality; we do not receive the Holy Eucharist to be left unchanged, but to be transformed into people who are ever more for God and for others.  

“Participate, don’t imitate.” This is what we are called to do every time we come to Mass. The Mass is not an imitation of an event that took place two-thousand years ago; it’s a participation in a reality which is just as present as it was at the Last Supper. Jesus doesn’t want there to be any distance between us, either in time or space. And so, He gave His disciples, the first priests and bishops, the sacred power to renew His self-offering each time they gathered in His name. Jesus prayed that we might be one with Him at the Last Supper: He in us, and us in Him. And that is His prayer for us tonight as well. He wants to be one with us. May we receive Him worthily and well this evening. And by participating in this great mystery of our faith, may we fulfill his commands. Amen.