By Sister Carol Gallagher

“He rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”

—John 13:4-5

Art by Sister Renee Yann

“So, it is not hard to understand

        where God’s body is, it is

everywhere and everything; shore and the

         vast fields of water, the accidental and the intended

          over here, over there.  And I bow down

           participate and attentive….”                                                    

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate” captures the joyful conviction that is at the heart of our celebration of Holy Thursday, a feast that calls us to love, transformation, and radical service.

We first hear Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he recreates the Eucharistic tableau of the night that Jesus was betrayed. Jesus breaks the bread and offers it saying, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He then offers the cup of wine saying, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” In his words and in his actions, Jesus offers a four-fold remembrance: taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing. Jesus nourishes us in sacrament, but before doing so, he feeds us in his person.

When we turn to John’s Gospel, we understand concretely the challenge of remembrance. Where the other gospel writers place the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, John focuses on a very different kind of eucharistic text. As John describes it: “…surrounded by those he loved, Jesus removes his outer garments, and begins to wash the feet of his disciples and to dry them with the towel around his waist.” With this “loving act of abasement” (Raymond Brown, S.S.), Jesus reveals the essence of Eucharist– service and self-giving. Serving with love and giving without measure is the Eucharistic imperative. THIS is what we are called to do in remembrance of Him.

Service, both in action and in presence, is integral to our lives as Sisters of Mercy, and is publicly proclaimed by us in our fourth vow. Our vow of service impels us to respond to the needs of our suffering world across the globe. We act on behalf of, and tenderly embrace the afflicted and vulnerable in South, Central, and North America, the Caribbean, Guam, and the Philippines.

In my own small corner of the world–Dallas, Pennsylvania–the days of lent are long and cold. Even now in April, the green leaves of the daffodils strain upwards through snowy patches of earth in my garden. During the weeks of lent, we (sisters and associates) came together in the City Square with our Muslim neighbors to mourn the loss of lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and to pray for the healing of our broken world. We raised our voices against the violence of hydraulic “fracking” which continues to contaminate the drinking water in Northeastern Pennsylvania. However, more than ever before, we were summoned to the bedside of injured or ill sisters in emergency rooms and hospitals. We sometimes waited together for countless hours, grateful that, amid so much human pain, we had the comfort of one another, and the assurance of God’s merciful presence.

In her book “Written That You May Believe,” Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M.  expresses her conviction that the act of footwashing in John’s Gospel is also about the mutual service of friendship, and a sharing of ourselves and our gifts in a way that eschews any sort of power or dominance. Viewed through this lens, we can see how our friendship and mutual affection enriches our “Journey of Oneness,” and encourages us to discover through this journey new channels of God’s Mercy in our world.

On this Holy Thursday, as we stand poised on the threshold of Easter, let us continue to celebrate our friendship as sisters, strengthen one another for service, and delight in the ever-present Mercy of our God.

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