On Easter Sunday,1939, the famous African American contralto, Marian Andersen, gave a spellbinding concert on the steps of Washington’s Lincoln Memorial. The concert was originally scheduled for Constitutional Hall but, unfortunately, she was shamefully refused use of the Hall by its owners, the Daughters of the American Revolution, simply because of the color of her skin. Without rancor, she began the concert by slowly closing her eyes and to a hushed crowd of over 75,000 and the millions listening on the radio, she sang “America,” mesmerizing her listeners into awed silence.
My sisters and brothers, the experience of exclusion, particularly if it is because of prejudice or unjust discrimination can indeed be a scaring experience that one can carry for the remainder of one’s life. One of the most unsettling aspects of this kind of exclusion was experienced – in the not too distant past - by millions of our fellow Americans who were barred from sitting down and sharing a meal at lunch counters and restaurants simply because of the color of their skin.
To share a meal with another is far more than just satisfying a biological need. To dine with others implies an openness to share one’s life with another. Some of the most important moments in our life are shared in the context of a meal. I suspect that for many of you who are married your engagement took place at the end of special meal. Birthdays, significant anniversaries in our life, and even the celebrating of the life of our dear one’s who have gone to the Lord – are all often celebrated with a meal. No wonder then that to be excluded from this moment can be so painful and scaring.
My friends, as we enter into the three holiest days in our Church’s Year of Grace, we do so by remembering that meal that has forever anchored our life of faith and shaped our identity as Christians. Tonight, we celebrate with grateful hearts the gift of the Eucharist, given as a lasting legacy of the Lord’s abiding presence to His Church. Just as the Passover meal marked the beginning of the great liberation for the people of the Covenant, so too, this meal speaks of the ultimate freedom that has been gifted to all God’s children by the saving blood of Jesus.
In one of the most dramatic gestures of inclusion celebrated by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on his first Holy Thursday as Universal Shepherd of our Church, few will forget the images of his gently washing and kissing the feet of the young people in the simple chapel at the detention facility for youth in Rome. These were not the pure and perfect. Breaking with the letter of liturgical law, our Holy Father washed the feet of a young Moslem girl. There were recovering drug addicts and runaways. He not only welcomed them but enabled them to experience the unfailing love of the Lord and his special love for those who are on the margins of our society. No one was a stranger that evening at the Table of the Lord.
As we gather in faith this holy night to enter once again into these days of grace and blessing, no one is a stranger but all of us are called to drink deeply of the Lord’s mercy and love.
And the gift we are given this evening and every time we share this sacrificial meal, we are called to give to others.
May the dramatic gesture of the washing of the feet of our sisters and brothers, which we remember this evening, be a reminder to us of what this holy meal calls us to do and to be in our world today – servants of God’s mercy and love for all.