On Holy Thursday
What would you do if you knew you only had one day left to live? This is a common philosophical, very human question people often ask. And for some reason this Holy Thursday it struck me that Holy Thursday and venturing into Good Friday, is Jesus' answer to this query. He sets an example for who we are called to be, in all the most human and truly divine ways. Part of Jesus' answer is stunningly in line with my answers. Another part is a challenge, I think, to what we think of as our time on Earth.
Now, of course, we should recall that Jesus knew he would rise from the dead. But, it is a great mystery now, as it was then, what exactly that would look like. Jesus is transformed. He is "new" in resurrection, so part of Him truly dies on the cross. He is not the same. And, thankfully, we are all not the same because of it. But the point of clarity here is that the future is unknown, but Jesus was aware that time was fleeting. Suffering and death were unavoidable. This is universal truth.
When I think about what I would do with my final hours, I am certain that I would gather everyone around a large table and have good food and drink. Honestly, this is my dream for how to spend every Thursday (or Friday or Monday or... you get the idea). It sometimes catches me off guard how very Catholic I am at my very core. It has thoroughly imbued every aspect of my life in all the best ways. But there are things that surprise me when my eyes are opened to the connections. I dream of a huge dining table to have all my loved ones over and feed them. My husband and I have always lived in small places. And I am so grateful to have a roof over my head and a cozy home that I try not to beg for more. But, I eventually dream of a home that accommodates a giant table right at the center. And, I realized while at funeral yesterday, as the priest gestured toward the altar, that I have spent so much of my life gathered at the largest table. It has been the example set so beautifully at church, and so perfectly by my Irish Catholic mom at home. I want to have the table to invite others to. And, even in my small home, I have done it. And it is what Jesus does on Holy Thursday. He invites all of His closest friends. He offers them food, drink, and Himself. Surrounded by friends and memories, Jesus begins his journey. An example I understand and gladly follow.
The challenge he sets is that, with his last moments, Jesus serves others. Jesus washes feet. He serves others at the table, not waiting to be served. He gives completely of Himself. If you knew you only had one day to live, would you spend it washing other people's feet? It is not that I do not understand it. I want to make this life one about giving back and touching lives before I move onto the next life. I hope to do this in this life anyway. But if I knew I was down to 24 hours, would I volunteer to scrub someone else's stinky toes? People often talk about their "Bucket List." How many of these lists involve an activity of that kind of profound, personal service? I challenge myself to add this if I ever get around to making a bucket list.
The last way Jesus dedicates his time in his final hours is prayer. Aren't we all called to this? Having now watched people I love spend their last weeks, days, and hours, this surprises me less than it might have when I was younger. My Dad's last hours in hospice were dedicated to calling his family around him, laughing a bit --and deep, contemplative, powerful prayer. It was a gift to witness it. He wanted to venerate the Lord without distraction. But we need no bucket list to answer this call to prayer. If you believe death is a form of transformation, as seen in Holy Week, in a funeral for a good person, the passing from one life to the next, then it is natural to see prayer as the continuum of this. Prayer is our transformation. Our ability to believe in something opens us to transformation. And we do not need to wait till our last hours to participate. Jesus isn't afraid to ask for too much or too little in prayers. We can do the same. Every day.
The question of what we will do with our final hours is common. But I think the Easter Mysteries, ask us what we will do with our life, with all of our hours? Do we connect with others? Are we looking out for the greater good? Are we nourishing our friends, ourselves, even strangers, with our days? When asked to serve, do we say "yes?" Even Jesus struggles with His grand call. We are invited to struggle and find redemption in our suffering. Every day is not Holy Thursday. But if we want to be more than our answer to a handful of hours, we can try to make each day a little more "Thursday," filled with hope, service, fellowship, discipleship, and prayer.
Christians consider themselves Easter people. We are not just the people of Christmas, or just the people of the crucifixion on Good Friday. We require those events to happen, but they are not the reason we are Christians. The joy of Christmas, its innocence and majesty, inspires us. Good Friday is a reminder of the greatest sacrifice, and the suffering we all share in our humanity. God became fully human, which essentially requires suffering. But the miracle of Easter, the Resurrection, is the ultimate definition of the divine. Without Easter we are a collection of joy and suffering without purpose. But in the Resurrection we find real, true hope. Whatever we do in our final hours is made greater by this hope. We are more than ourselves. There is a greater good, and a greater glory, made manifest by the transformation begun in earnest on Holy Thursday. So how will we spend our last hours waiting in joyful hope?