Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19

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Bishop's Homily for the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper

We remember the story of the past to give us hope now.

By Bishop Larry Silva
April 09, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (private; live-streamed)]

They were locked down while the angel of death went about doing his grisly deed.  They were celebrating a sacred rite in a way they had never celebrated before.  They were eating the flesh of an unblemished lamb, not knowing that many centuries later there would be another sacrificial Lamb that their progeny would feast upon for a much greater celebration of liberation.  They were not reclined in comfort, but with sandals on their feet and staffs in hand, ready to go at a moment’s notice.  They were enslaved, but were soon to be set free, a freedom that would bring its own challenges, deprivations, and temptations to enslave themselves once again.  But that night they were protected by the blood of the lamb so that the angel of death would pass over their houses as they locked themselves inside against his ravenous sword.

Of course I am describing the people of Israel, who, on their last night as slaves in Egypt, were already celebrating a banquet of liberation, a banquet celebrated to this very day by Jews as the Passover.  I could just as easily be describing the situation in which we find ourselves today.  We are here in lockdown as the angel of death is going about doing his grisly deed.  We are celebrating this Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a way we never have before.  Here is the unblemished Lamb of God who has already been sacrificed for our liberation.  Though we hunger for him, we know that one day we will feast upon his life-giving flesh again, soon in our parish churches, but ultimately in the Promised Land where the milk of God’s everlasting love flows, and the honey of eternal life will bring us all together with no distance at all between us.  Like our ancestors who first celebrated this feast in Egypt, we are ready to burst out into the daylight and to make our journey to the Promised Land – though we know the journey will not be easy once we emerge from this lockdown.  We will all have to embrace living more humbly and simply, to deal with many uncertainties, and with temptations to give up the struggle.

We celebrate this as a memorial feast, so that we will never forget that in the end, God will set us free and lead us to the fullness of his beauty and love.  We remember the story of the past to give us hope in the story we are living at this very moment.

But we remember much more.  We remember another Jew about whom the angel of death lurked, who was locked away for an evening with his most intimate friends.  We remember that he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying something that would shock them and fill them with awe: “This is my body that is for you.”  In a similar way, he took the cup, saying, “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood,” so that with that blood he could paint his protecting mark around his disciples for all ages, so that even if they died, they would live forever.

We do this in memory of Jesus, so that we may also remember how he bent down to wash the disciples’ feet – the Master shocking the servants by making himself their humble servant.  And as Jesus nourishes us with himself, he gives us the desire and the power to do as he has done.  So we wash the feet of the homeless when we reach out to them with food, shelter, and compassion; when we do a kind deed for someone who despises us; when we teach a child, or correct a friend who is going astray; when we share our resources with someone who is unemployed and struggling to support the family; when we care for the sick; when we work for peace.  We remember that most of the feet that Jesus washed ran away from him out of fear, but ran back to him when he came back to them alive.  Then they ran to the ends of the earth to tell the good news to all who were still enslaved so that they, too, could be free in him.

It is easy for us to focus on our fears, on the pain of being locked away, on the economic hardships we experience, and especially on the pain we feel that most of us cannot physically feast on the Bread of Life.  But this is a memorial feast, so that remembering God’s faithful liberation of his people in the past, we may celebrate with faith and hope our liberation from sickness, sin, and death in Christ Jesus our Savior.