Sometimes I can be pretty thick-headed – a tick slow on the uptake.
For example, I remember a light bulb coming on a few years back while I was reading Beatrice Bruteau’s Radical Optimism. Her topic was how to model Christ, in living an incarnational life. But she used an image that stopped me in my tracks: ‘Eventually, we will find,’ she wrote, ‘that we are lying in a manger as food for the world.’
Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that this is precisely what a manger is: a feeding trough. Jesus’ very first home, beyond Mary’s womb, in our world.
Seen in the light of the gift that Christ would eventually make of himself in the Eucharist, it doesn’t appear to be an accident – this humble beginning to his time on earth.
Today, of course, Eucharist is on my mind because it’s Holy Thursday – the day we formally recall the ‘institution of the Eucharist.’ And far too often, I think, we use two-dollar terms like that without allowing enough time for a light bulb to go on over our heads.
It helps me to connect the two images – the infant Jesus, lying in feeding trough…and the Eucharistic Jesus, lying in the palm of my hand, just before I consume him. When I take the time to do that, to make the connection, it always overwhelms me to consider how vulnerable the Lord is in both circumstances. He doesn’t summon cosmic power to make a grand entrance. Instead, the Lord of the Cosmos is content to lie – more or less helpless – in our hands. He’s ‘all-in,’ as they say at the poker table. He believes that much in us.
The other memorable vignette we celebrate tonight is the washing of the feet. I’ve heard it described as a Eucharistic image, too – the evangelist John’s take on the bread and the cup that we read about in the other three gospels. Here again, the symbolism is powerful and rich: Christ, the Master, is all-in: He will do anything for us…even stoop to wash our feet…even open his arms on the cross.
But there’s an intriguing twist to this episode: It requires a particular response from believers. Saint Peter did the honors for us at the Last Supper – the apostolic prototype for modern day parishioners: ‘You will NEVER wash MY feet!!!’
Eventually, though, Peter relents. He finds the grace himself to go all-in with Christ: ‘Not just my feet, but my hands and head as well.’
Of course, we know that within a few hours, Peter’s resolve has already weakened. But perhaps there’s another Holy Thursday lesson in his stumbles: Christ will bless our decision to go all-in with him. Christ will be there, always, to catch us when we fall. And then – as now – Christ promises to feed us, giving us the strength we need to carry on.