HOLY THURSDAY – April 1, 2010 – Fools for Christ’s Sake
The biblical texts for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
[On Holy Thursday at St. Vincent de Paul Parish (Albany, NY) everyone present is invited to participate in the washing of the feet.]
In the Russian Orthodox church there are 36 saints called yurodivy — holy fools. St. Basil in Russia and St. Francis of Assisi were known for their divine madness. There are fools in the Hebrew bible. It is said that Isaiah walked naked for three years (Is 20:3) as a protest against Egypt and Ethiopia. In the New Testament Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We are fools for the sake of Christ.” (1 Cor 4:10) In the middle ages fools or court jesters were employed not only to provide a sense of humor when things got too serious but also to criticize those in power. In some areas being a fool was considered a privilege.
One of the places we see a picture of a fool is in a deck of cards. When we begin a card game we usually toss the Jokers away as if they were not important. In some games, however, Jokers are wild and can be beneficial in winning.
For centuries some card games were used not only to pass the time but, as with Tarot cards, they also helped people map out their spiritual journeys. The Jester or Fool card represents endless possibilities for someone on a journey in life; it looks at life through the unfiltered lens of a child, it points to new beginnings. Play that card and something different but exciting can happen to you.
That our Holy Thursday falls on April Fool’s Day this year gives us a chance to ask an interesting question. What does it mean to be a fool for Christ’s sake? What happens when divine madness puts you and me on a new journey in life?
Many writers believe Jesus himself was a fool. He believed he could change the hearts of powerful religious and civic rulers. He expected outcasts and women to be treated equally with dignity. He thought the truth would prevail over falsehoods, that somehow a distant God would never abandon him or his followers. Jesus had a wild imagination.
The teachings of Jesus Christ are so countercultural today trying to follow them can make us feel foolish at times. When someone hurts us we are supposed to turn the other cheek. We work for justice in the face of inequity. When things go wrong we want miracles. When we die we expect to rise again. We call the bread and wine on our table the body and blood of Christ. Is this Eucharist the feast of fools, the meal ticket to new life, to total transformation?
Our washing of feet tonight gives meaning to the second reading. It’s Paul’s recollection of the supper on the evening when Jesus was betrayed. Some sections before and after that part, although poignant, are strangely omitted from our lectionary. In them Paul speaks about division and factions in the community (1 Cor 11:19) and reminds his listeners they will be held responsible for their actions. (1 Cor 11:27)
Our sharing in the Eucharist, the bread and cup of salvation, the sacrament of unity, cannot be done without serving one another. (Psalm 116) The act, no matter how prayerful, solemn and repetitive, will be incomplete. Doing one and not the other is to overlook the meaning of tonight’s celebration and perhaps the significance of the entire holy week. It is all about everything Jesus lived for and died for.
When Jesus blessed God for the gift of bread and wine at his last supper almost everyone in that room knew the ancient meaning of those symbols. Jesus saw his own life in the bread of affliction, the bitter herbs, and the blessing cup. He identified with the captivity, the liberation, the exile and the hope of his ancestors. Now it was all happening to him. We have been invited to do the same, to embrace that story as our own.
As we watch, listen, pray and walk these holy days can you and I examine the direction we are taking in our lives? Will we play the Joker’s card or will we play it safe? How willing are we to act like fools for Christ’s sake?