“He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1)
In the final year of my graduate studies, I took a course in spiritual direction. During one of the classes, we had a guest speaker, one of the monks from the abbey, who talked to us about our spiritual “personality types” – a kind of Myers-Briggs approach to spirituality. As we answered the questions to see where we would fall in his paradigm, my friend next to me whispered, laughingly, “You don’t even need to take this – I know exactly where you’ll fall, you social-justice type.” But she was wrong.
On the quadrant that divided people into four categories, depending on whether they preferred a liturgical experience that reinforced dogma, joined them to a community, empowered them for social justice, or spoke to them emotionally, I was all heart. Turning to my friend, I laughed. “Wrong. I’m a softie for church.”
I love liturgy that moves me deeply. Sure, I love diving into doctrine, communing with fellow Christians, and getting jazzed up for justice. But when it comes to Mass, what I long for is the lump in the throat – the homily that moves me, the music that soars, the liturgical gesture that makes real the presence of Christ among us. And this is why Holy Thursday is one of my favorite days of the year.
You can argue, and stand on solid theological ground, that all of Holy Week is about love. But to me, Holy Thursday is love at its most human and earthly and everyday. We wash feet, we break bread. Water and towels, bread and wine. Christ is on his knees, Christ is in our hands. Holy Thursday is one of those liturgies that lumps my throat, guaranteed.
The line from John’s Gospel that evening stopped me in my tracks. “He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.” I’d heard it a hundred times before, could recite its cadence without thinking. But as I jostled a restless S. on my hip, I watched our deacon proclaim this line and I suddenly realized what Christ’s love was like. A parent.
He loved his own in the world, those that his Abba gave him to love. And he loved them to the end, despite disappointment, despite misunderstanding, despite even the ultimate betrayal. He loved more deeply than a friend or a brother. He loved like a mother, like a father. Unconditionally, even ludicrously (according to the world’s standards). He loved them to the end, and beyond – such was the power of love that moved him from Thursday’s betrayal through Friday’s suffering and Saturday’s waiting to Sunday’s triumph.
Being the emotive spirituality type that I am, I have been turning this line from John over and over in my head since Thursday. Friday’s liturgy was, sadly, mostly lost on me; S. decided to descend into the paschal mystery as literally as he could, coming down with an awful cold and screaming through the entire Good Friday service until we could bear the glares in the cry room no more and had to bail after Communion. Needless to say, we opted out of Saturday’s Vigil (since the three of us slept about three hours combined on Friday night). S. did rise to his jolly self for Easter morning Mass, but by then the journey from cross to empty tomb had been a little too, well, tomb-like for my exhausted self to truly appreciate it.
So this year I am holding Holy Thursday close to my heart. Watching our priests wash the feet of children, even a newborn, breaking bread with the parish community that has become our family’s home – this was the beauty of Triduum for me this year. And I’m trying to live out this Easter love as Holy Thursday would have me do. Trying to love those who are my own in the world, and to love them till the end. Trying to wash the feet that God has given me to wash.