Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Wholly Thursday": Wholly Receiving and Wholly Giving

Following the theme of the last two blog entries concerning a slight twist on "Holy Week" as "Wholly Week" (the week in which we remember how Christ gave himself "wholly" to us), what might be gained from approaching Holy Thursday as "Wholly Thursday?" Holy Thursday is traditionally celebrated as the Institution of the Lord's Supper and commemorates the last, Passover style meal that Jesus had with his disciples. One focus of the meal is Jesus' "ritualizing" his impending and total self-offering to God and humanity for the life of the world. The other aspect is the call of Jesus for his disciples to follow his example by offering themselves in this self-same way. Jesus "ritualizes" his gift of self through the symbols of bread and wine. The bread he breaks and the wine he pours at the meal symbolize how, throughout his three year ministry, he has shared and poured himself out unhesitatingly for the well-being of others. Now, at the end of his life, and with the ominous clouds of crucifixion on the horizon, Jesus doesn't hide away in a corner but "he love his own in the world and he loves them to the end." (John 13:1). The Last Supper is the "swan song", "pinnacle", and "crescendo" of the deep meaning behind all of Jesus' actions on behalf of others. It is the summation (summary) and con-summation (fulfillment) of all that he has done and all that he is about. What the Last Supper symbolizes, summarizes, and fulfills is Jesus wholly giving himself for the life of others and for the life of the world.

In a sense, therefore, "Wholly Thursday" is about "wholly receiving" the gift of Christ as the One who alone can penetrate the depths of the ambiguity and complexity of our lives and world to bring light, purpose, hope, healing, transformation, and, in a word, redemption. How can we be assured of this? Because, time and time again, Jesus did this for others during his ministry and, when the going got tough (meaning his life was on the line), he didn't turn tail and run but dug in even deeper in his resolve to be gift for others - even when it meant forfeiting his own life. The Last Supper, in a very real sense, was Jesus' "digging in" - not to defend his own life but to "defend" (meaning, "redeem") the life of others for generations to come. However, as much as Holy Thursday is about Jesus' wholly giving himself, it is also about our "wholly receiving" this gift and "wholly giving" it to others.

This comes across clearly in the way in which the Gospel of John depicts the Last Supper (John 13:1-15). These passages of John relate the dramatic actions of Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples and than instructing them to do likewise. This gesture would have been completely "over the top" for Jesus' disciples. Rabbi's and revered masters simply did not bend so low in a mode of condescending service. Peter even objects to this action, apparently appalled by his Master's gesture. Yet Jesus insists that if Peter is to be in communion with him, he must open himself and wholly receive this new, saving way of being and relating to God. What, precisely is this new way of being and relating? It consists of the continual process of opening ourselves wholly to receiving the way in which God desires to serve and save us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This way of serving, saving, or "gracing" us, has little to do with outward favors granted by God (material blessings, etc...) and is about allowing God to "condescend" and bend so low as to reach, touch, wash, and heal the parts of us that are most smelly, messy, insecure, fragile, broken, forsaken, and alienated. Yet, this is just one part of the challenge of Wholly Thursday. The other aspect of entering into a true and saving relationship with God means being willing to "wholly give" the gift that we've received. In other words, we must also be willing to condescend and serve by reaching, touching, washing, and healing those parts of others and our world that are smelly, messy, insecure, fragile, broken, forsaken, and alienated. For, Jesus himself says at the end of this Gospel, “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.” Pat, TOR


Jim said...

VERY nice and well written! Peace & Blessings!