Last night, when we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the first of the three great celebrations of Easter Triduum, we contemplated themes of home, of belonging, of hope. Perhaps we can think again on these themes.
In a few moments time, we will venerate the Cross. In the instructions for the priest, not only is the priest told to take off his chasuble, he is also asked to remove his shoes. Like so much in the liturgies of Holy Week, this instruction is like a thread that when followed goes deep into the mysteries, deep into the scriptures, deep into the heart of God’s loving plan for us.
I am sure many of us have been to places, to homes where one removes one’s shoes on entering. Perhaps this is something you do in your own homes. Does it make sense to think of coming to the cross as entering a home? What could that mean?
More than that, might not such thought be even a little impious? Impious especially when we think of the scriptural background to this instruction to remove one’s shoes. More than likely, this command to remove one’s shoes goes back to God’s commandment to Moses when he approached the Burning Bush. Moses was told to remove his shoes because this was holy ground. The Burning Bush where God revealed the Divine Name. The Burning Bush where God commands Moses to rescue his people from Pharaoh.
The Cross is the fulfilment of the Burning Bush. The Cross is now the final revelation of God’s name, the God of Jesus Christ, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the Cross is now the revelation of the fullness of God’s mission to humanity, to become once more the priests of creation, after the pattern of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, to keep creation holy and to spread the Good News.
This then is an awesome mystery. The radiating heart of creation, the hinge of history. The revelation of the Word that underwrites all meaning, all truth and all beauty. The very point of life. Given this, we should definitely take our shoes off.
Indeed, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem ‘God’s Grandeur’ wonders whether we have not so sullied the world that we have forgotten these primal wonders, and he uses shoes to symbolise this forgetting. He writes:
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Are we so removed then from these primal wonders – of truth, of beauty, of relationships, of love – are we so removed that it is right then to remove our shoes in the hope of getting that feeling back? Might not this removal of shoes remind us of the hope deep within our hearts, the hope of knowing the way home, the hope of knowing where we truly belong, where we know we belong because God knows our name and we know God’s. Where we know that God has made a space for us in his heart.
And that is one more remarkable unravelling of this thread of taking off our shoes. Last night, we remembered the Last Supper. We remembered Christ’s act of charity of washing the feet of his disciples. This then is the twist, the ending that could not be foreseen. God tells us to remove our shoes, yes, because it is sacred ground, yes, so that we can remember that we are home, but most incredibly because God wants to wash my feet, the feet of a sinner, and through God’s love make me whole again. Jesus is doing this on the Cross, washing me clean in his blood, the blood that pours from his side, the Blood which creates the Church, the Blood that nourishes us in the Eucharist.
As with the Prodigal Son, God foolishly waits for me to return. Runs after me to keep me safe. Dies on the Cross for me so that I will never be alone, not even in suffering, not even in death. This is the real wonder. This is my true home. That God not only created me. That God not only redeemed me. But that Jesus dies out of love for me. Dies out of love for me precisely to make me a child of God, a saint, a missionary after his own heart.
And so as we pray the prayers of the Church, as we prepare to venerate the Cross, let us ask God to heal our hearts. May we know that we are safe. May we know that we are loved. May we know that we are home. And knowing we are home and that Christ’s love and joy fills up our hearts, may we die out of love for our brothers and sisters, so that Christ’s love may be in them too.