Holy Thursday: The Mystery Handed On
This is Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber. The young Jedi knight fashioned it during the Clone Wars and fought bravely with it throughout, until he fell to the dark side of the Force. After Anakin was defeated by Obi-wan Kenobi, his old master took the lightsaber and kept in as he remained in exile on Tatooine. Almost twenty years later, Obi-wan gave the lightsaber to Anakin’s grown son, Luke Skywalker, and Luke trained with it and even fought Darth Vader with it, until he lost it when Vader chopped off the hand with which Luke held the saber. The lightsaber fell into the depths of Cloud City and was lost for a long time. However, wondrously, the lightsaber reappeared in the tavern of Maz Kanata and “called out” to young Rey, who took it and found Kylo Ren and the First Order with it while she trained to become a Jedi. Finally, Rey buried the lightsaber in the sands of Tatooine, bringing the “Skywalker Saga” to a close.
Star Wars nerds like me will debate as to who is now the rightful owner of the lightsaber – Anakin, Luke, Rey, or even Kylo/Ben Solo. However, it doesn’t matter. The weapon is now buried, and its story has been told. You’re probably bored beyond telling by my dumb story here on Holy Thursday!
So…. Let me tell you another story! (Bear with me, I have three of these!)
This is my chalice. It was made in 1937 for my great-uncle, also called Austin Murphy. He received it when he was ordained a priest, on [date] of that year. On the bottom it is engraved with its dedication: “Rev. T. Austin Murphy, Ordained Priest, June 10, 1937. Gift of my Father, Mother, Joseph, Rosemary, Carroll, , and Brady.” Uncle Austin took this chalice to his first assignment, right next-door to his family home at St. Martin in West Baltimore; then, he took it to St. Dominic in Hamilton, and finally to St. Rose of Lima in Brooklyn Park, where he kept it until he died in 1991. Then, the chalice was taken by the diocese and kept in a vault at the Basilica downtown as diocesan patrimony, because it had been the personal chalice of one of our auxiliary bishops.
In 2005, I was taking a group of ladies from my current parish assignment in Middle River on a tour of the new Basilica (after the big renovation). While they were doing their necessary business in the gift shop, the sacristan told me that they had found my Uncle Austin’s chalice during the renovations have had it in the Basilica residence. He asked if I wanted it, since, hey, it had my name on it. “Of course I do!” was my enthusiastic response; and we went off and got the chalice. I took it to my father, who was stunned to see it again, with his grandparents and father’s names on it. He spent all afternoon polishing it to a great shine. I’ve had it ever since then. And here it is now with us.
Whose chalice is this? Uncle Austin’s? Mine? The Archdiocese’s?
That doesn’t matter! The truth is that this chalice is Christ’s. It has lovingly held the Blood of Jesus for 86 years. It has fed thousands of Christians with the price of our salvation for almost nine decades. And, because that Blood is the miraculous Blood of Christ, which He poured out for us on Calvary, this chalice is connected to the celebration of every Mass in every place and every time since the Upper Room.
On Holy Thursday, we remember. We are centered in a special way on Christ’s lasting Gift of Himself in the Eucharist, and, like the Israelites out of Egypt, we recall that “This … shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate … as a perpetual institution.” The Gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood has endured throughout history, passed on by the hands of His priests, day after day, year after year, century after century. Each time we come here, to this familiar place, we are united with Jesus, as well as with all those who have, are, and ever will receive His Body and Blood.
Whose Jesus is this? Mine? Ours? Yes and no. Jesus is not a private possession or a playing card to be handed as we see fit. Rather, Jesus is the Son of God, who was “handed over” for our sake, and who hands Himself to us in the Eucharist. Every time we gather and celebrate this feast, as St. Paul says, we “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Like the lightsaber, like my chalice, Jesus is handed on for the benefit of others. He is the one who must drive our narrative and empower our mission. That is why we do as He has done, because He “has given you a model to follow, so that as [He] has done for you, you should also do.” Fueled by the Sacrament that we celebrate now, we should be keenly that we belong to a long and vast story of God’s love for us, reflected in the Eucharist and in the Priesthood – a love that saves us and reunites us with the Father. This is the heart of the celebration that we now enter with this Triduum liturgy.
In the case of Anakin’s lightsaber and that of my Uncle Austin’s chalice, I would like to believe that there are bigger forces at work than we even know. In the Body and Blood of Jesus that we share tonight, I know that is true. I am grateful to share this part of that story with you. Now, let’s hand it on.