News & Events
Service and Sacrament: Hope and Love
Holy Thursday Mass
St. Andrew's Cathedral
April 13, 2017
"I think our world needs a lot of hope, I think a lot of people are suffering deeply because they have lost hope. I believe deeply that this food that we receive, the Body and the Blood of Christ, does nourish love in our lives. It causes us to want to love more, and more, and more."
~ Bishop Gary Gordon
This evening as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we are given at least two profound and rich signs to imitate. One is the washing of the feet—and we will wash feet this evening. I was a little disappointed last year when I said to Fr. John, “I want to wash all the feet!” And he just looked at me, and he said, “You just can’t do that, Bishop!” So I think we’re at about a dozen or so, and that is one very powerful image that is part and parcel of this day in the life of the Church.
The other is the institution of the Eucharist, when Jesus in his final act of love, gives us his own life in his body and blood. We continue to live that every week and every day. As I was preparing for the Triduum and thinking of this, the little boy in me surfaced and I asked myself, What for? Why? And I actually got an answer this time, sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament in my little chapel. What for? Why? And that’s what I’d like to share with you. Why. Why this institution of the bread and the wine becoming the body and blood of Christ, and why, what for, the washing of the feet.
The washing of the feet is an image of what Jesus wants all of us to live, which is to serve. To serve very practically and very really. I was edified by our staff at the Pastoral Centre over Lent: they came up with this idea of taking care of feet during Lent. It’s very practical. The people who are training to be nurses at the University of Victoria have a program they provide downtown at Our Place (‘Feet First’), through which they offer foot care for people living on the street. Which is really, really important, because people living on the street are on their feet all the time. Have you ever had sore feet? When your feet are sore, you’re sore all the way up to your brain! Everything hurts, doesn’t it? It makes you really miserable! So that was our project for Lent: to raise enough funds to take care of peoples’ feet. Service.
The service that Jesus symbolizes in the washing of the feet, the service that parents are involved in, taking care of their little kids, especially at 3 am when they are throwing up, the service of Meals on Wheels—the million and one things that we get involved with. What this service does is that it is the fuel of hope. It is the work that creates the virtue of hope, not just in the giver, but in the receiver. Service creates a reciprocal hope that is a sharing at the most basic level of life. Service. The washing of the feet is but a simple symbol of what our whole lives are about.
So that became the answer to this question, Why? Why serve? Isn’t the goal of life to get a lot of money and die with lots of toys? At least, that’s what a bumper sticker I saw said: Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.
But we have heard another word of winning. It is humility, and humble service, and so the question of why was answered for me: it is the food, the nourishment, of hope. Real hope. Hope that builds in our own lives. If I were to have a little tape recorder at the back of the church and ask you what happens to you when you help somebody, when you advocate for somebody, when you do something to make a difference in somebody’s life, you would be able to say, “It gives me hope.” But it gives the other person hope too, and so there is a reciprocal grace of hope that is nourished and fuelled by service.
Is there such a thing as enough hope? I don’t think so. And so therefore there is not such a thing as enough service, enough going-beyond-ourselves. It creates a culture of encounter, which, in this present age, is a great, great need. A culture of encounter. You can’t serve virtually. Well, there are some things you could probably do virtually that are helpful. But service involves encounter and closeness and … feet. Real feet.
The second answer that I got in prayer as I asked this question, Why the Eucharist? What for? I know you’re probably thinking, “Well, Bishop, you’re supposed to know that! You’re supposed to know why, you’re supposed to know what for!” Well … I don’t know. I sit and pray, and I ask the Lord, Why? What for?, just like every four-year-old. I was struggling with this question, and it came to me: it is the food to love as Christ loves.
Love is very mysterious, isn’t it? It’s very mystical. How do you even explain it? I know, every song on the radio is about love, but are they really getting at it? It is God who shows us the way of love in His son, Jesus, and it is in this Sacrament that we encounter, and we receive, the food, the nourishment, to fuel the capacity for love in our own lives for others. I hope no one comes to church thinking they’re going to get something out of it. I’m sorry, it’s not the reason we show up! We show up to be nourished with food to give something to the world. That’s what we come to church for! We come to church to be fuelled with the very life of Jesus so that we grow, and grow, and grow in our capacity to love. It takes us out.
I know sometimes the homily is half decent and sometimes, well, actually, all the time, the choir is outstanding. I know that Fr. John really works hard at creating beautiful liturgies. But why we come here is to be nourished with the food of life so that we can grow in our capacity to love as Christ loves us. This is a holy communion.
So I’ve gotten my two answers of why. You will have to go and pray and seek your own answers; I’ve only shared mine with you.
One other thing that I have often questioned: it seems to me that the washing of the feet was a fairly central sort of moment in the Last Supper. It seems quite significant. What I haven’t quite figured out is why that symbol, that act, hasn’t found its way into every Eucharist we celebrate. I just haven’t figured that out yet. It seems, at least from the Scriptural indications, that it was pretty significant, and deeply connected to the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cup, but we have somehow simply ignored it, except once a year.
Brothers and sisters, as we enter in to this beautiful moment of our Easter Triduum, Paschal mystery, I invite you to consider the boldness of asking God Why? I think it is important to seek that deep meaning: Why are we here? What are we doing? I know I’ve received that answer because service fuels the gift of hope, and I love being hopeful, and I love creating opportunities of hope. I think our world needs a lot of hope, I think a lot of people are suffering deeply because they have lost hope. I believe deeply that this food that we receive, the Body and the Blood of Christ, does nourish love in our lives. It causes us to want to love more, and more, and more.
So don’t be afraid to ask that question of God. Why? What’s it all about? You will receive an answer. Because God wants to show us. That’s the beautiful thing about God. God doesn’t very often tell us, He shows us, and that’s what our faith is all about. What God shows us in His son, Jesus Christ, about hope, and about love.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.