Holy Thursday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Son of Man came to serve
Holy Thursday
24 April, 2008
1 Corinthians 11:23-32 ; Matthew 26:1-20 ;
John 13:3-17 ; Matthew 26:21-39 ;
Luke 22:43-45 ; Matthew 26:40-27:2

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

How very alike we are to the disciples and apostles, even to this day. Just as the disciples and apostles were weak, tired, and afraid, so we still spend our lives being weak, tired, afraid, distracted, and out-of-focus. We are not necessarily paying close enough attention. We seem to be unsure about what direction we are going in. Because of distractedness, forgetfulness, and so forth, we human beings tend to live a rather foggy existence.

It is important for us to remember when we are standing here today, that as we are passing through these days of Holy Week, we are passing through these days not just here (thousands of kilometers away from Jerusalem, in 2008), but we are, also, 2,000 years ago, in the presence of our Saviour, in the presence of these disciples and apostles. We are actually, in the heart and spiritually, participants in these Saving Events.

While our Saviour is washing the feet of the apostles, we are present, there, at the same time. He is washing our feet, also. In a cathedral or in a larger monastery, the bishop or abbot is expected to be liturgically washing the feet of parishioners or monks or others, whilst the Gospel concerning this is read in the form of a narrative. I know that it is not done so often in North America. True, it is done in Jerusalem (and in many other places around the world). It is odd to me that North American people seem to be embarrassed to have their feet washed in public, and that they therefore resist this service. Although it does occur in some places on this continent, it is nevertheless not done by far in as many places as it might be done. I rather suspect that this has to do with our general lack of focus, our own weaknesses. Sometimes, maybe, we are just not worthy to be able to represent certain things like this.

Our Lord says : “'The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve'” (Mark 10:45). He demonstrates this very concretely by the washing of the feet (a task that was the work of a slave). In the context of the work of a slave, in our English translations (and our mentality, too), we often will find used the word “servant” to translate the Greek word for “slave”. However, “servant” means to us someone who is paid to do things for us. The Greek word for a slave does not mean a servant in the way we mean a servant. This word clearly means a slave, a person who is owned by another person, attached to another person, subjected to another person, under complete obedience in everything to the other person. The slave is required to do these things because the slave is the property of the owner. I underline this detail, even though the actual word for a slave is not used in today’s Gospel.

Jesus Christ, our self-emptying God, the Word of God, empties Himself and takes the form not of a servant, but of a slave. He serves us. He shows it very concretely in the washing of the feet of the apostles, and He shows it in every other way imaginable, also. Who is it that teaches ? It is He. Who is it that heals people of their diseases ? It is He. He does it for free. He does it without pay. He does it out of love. Who is it that raises people from the dead – such as the son of the widow of Nain, and like his friend Lazarus who had been dead for four days ? It is He, who out of love, serves us. Who is it that answers our prayers ? Who is it that listens to us pouring out our hearts to Him, complaining all the time about the state of our lives ? It is He. Who is it that meets us in the pain of our hearts, and assuages our pain ? It is He, our Saviour, the Word of God, who empties Himself out of love. In every way imaginable, and beyond our imagination, He serves, and He continues to serve us.

This is how parents serve their children, I suppose. We can make that parallel because that is what parenthood involves. Parents always have their ears tuned to the voices of their children, regardless of age. They hear and respond to every cry of need or distress, regardless of age. In just the same way, but even more, our Lord serves us. He cares for us. He nurtures us. He looks after our every need. He hears every cry from our heart. He protects us when we are driving on the highway and not paying attention properly. He looks after us when we are flying. He looks after us when we are sailing. He is with us in everything, protecting us, and sending Guardian Angels. He uses the prayers of saints to help us, as well. He is always with us. He is always serving us. This is our way, too, if we are truly putting on Christ in our baptism (as we are going to be singing very soon).

If we are identified with Him, then, from the same motivation, our whole life needs to reflect this way of serving. Not simply because Christ did it, am I going to try to serve in this manner. Indeed, I cannot on my own try to do it ; I cannot do it myself. I have to be filled with the same love which is His, and motivated by the same love which is His, in order to be able to do anything, to be able to survive anything, to be able to pass through every sort of test, and to be able to show in myself Christ, the Lord of the universe, the King of the universe, who, nevertheless, washes the feet of His disciples.

He not only washes the feet of His disciples (as a slave He does this), but in His self-emptying love, through bread and wine, He gives Himself, in His Body and His Blood, to all those who are baptised into Him. He is still emptying Himself. At every Divine Liturgy it is He, Himself (not the bishop, not the priest) who is feeding you and me with His own Body and Blood. Out of His love He gives us every possible resource to be able to live a life like His, not imitating Him in the way we think of imitation, but participating in Him, so that our life can be like His.

We are today participating in the Event of His Passion. Today, we must be ready to participate in Him, Himself, living in the love which is His, sharing the love which is His, and sharing Him, Himself, with each other. In so doing may we shine with His light, with His love, and glorify Him in everything, and refer to Him in everything, and to the all-holy Trinity : Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and the unto the ages of ages.