Our Father: Our Daily Bread, Thy Will Be Done

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Holy Thursday, 2012

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven – Our Daily Bread, Thy Will Be Done!

This Holy Week, I invite you to journey with me through the words of the Lord’s Prayer. At the end of this Mass of the Lord’s Supper we will have a time of ‘watching’ in the side chapel, reminding us how Our Lord Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray “Thy Will be done!” on a night when God’s will would demand the offering of his very life.

What is God’s will? When asked to declare which commandment was the greatest, Our Lord Jesus declared two to be inseperable: to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourself.

We have many ways to show our love for God. We pray. We use His Holy Name respectfully. We place holy images in our homes. We keep the Lord’s Day. But to love God without love for one another is sterile religiosity; if we perform rituals without cultivating care for others, we have not taken the fullness of God’s commandment on board.

To love neighbour without loving God makes us mere humanitarians. The world has many humanitarians, but we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

At the Last Supper, Our Lord taught us the depth of both commandments. The love of neighbour, by washing feet. Love of God, by commanding a new way for his followers to worship: “Do this in memory of me.”

“Was ever a command so obeyed?” The monk and church scholar Dom Gregory Dix has commented that Christians have “done this”  for any and every conceivable circumstance: “for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat…on the beach at Dunkirk… by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows … In [the] twentieth century [Blessed] Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara ‘did this’ with the same rite as [St] Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas… and best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei – the holy common people of God” – he means that our taking part in the Lord’s Supper helps make us ordinary, everyday saints.

“How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?” The psalm, from hundreds of years before the life of Christ, points us forward to the act of worship which He would teach us. “The cup of salvation I will raise! I will call on the Lord’s name!”  The very best and most pleasing act of worship which we can offer to God is to be present at Mass, to give the prayers our full attention, and to receive Holy Communion – first dealing with any sin on our soul through confession. It doesn’t matter if our singing is excellent or ropey, if the priest is erudite or a mumbler – it’s what the Mass is that matters, and we are invited!

“Do this in memory of me” – but how often?

We are given a hint in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the years after Christianity became a liberated religion of the Roman Empire, it became possible to celebrate the Eucharist daily, and this became the new practice, instead of offering Mass only on Sundays and the anniversaries of martyrs. It is not to be celebrated many times a day – the law of the church restricts both priests and people to communion no more than twice a day, or three times in special circumstances – because our holiness is not determined only by our taking part in this one rite of the Church. But “daily bread” is perhaps the measured dose for those who have the freedom to do so and who seek to be holy.

What Jesus offers Peter is also a measured dose. Jesus is not to be washed by Peter, nor is he going to wash Peter’s body all over. Jesus washes Peter’s feet, just his feet. Enough to make the point that Christ is present as a servant, but no more. In the same way, Our Lord is neither absent nor manifest in our lives. He is just barely present, stretching our faith to testing point, to strengthen us.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and said: “Do this.” Let us not betray him, but be faithful to this request. Let us renew our determination to “Do this” each Sunday, or Saturday night. For those of us able to gather to do so, let us “do this” on weekdays, too. And to our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who tonight will renew your commitment to this ministry, I say this: Renew your resolve to “take this” to those who cannot come to this altar. Do this as an act of love for the Lord, and of love for his people, whose infirmity prevents them from obeying a command which is most dear to them.

Lord Jesus, host of this holy supper, give us this day our daily bread! Thy will be done! And what is thy will? “Do this in memory of me.”

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