Giving Himself Away

He had been preparing for this moment all his life.

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the childrens’ crumbs.”
“Lord, if you say but the word, my servant will be healed.”
“Son of David, have pity on me.”

Even in the times when he apparently wanted to hold back,
he was still really preparing for this moment.

“Son, they have no more wine.”
“It is late; they are hungry. Send the crowds away.”

Now, while they all are around the table he stands,
and begins to do what he had practiced for all his life.

All eyes are on him.
Perhaps he just needs to stretch.
No, maybe he’s hot—he’s taking off his cloak.
No . . . something else is going on here.

In silence, he ties a towel around his waist;
he fills the basin with water,
and kneels down.

Now begins the moment he’s waited for,
practiced for,
all his life;
the moment that will span three days,
the moment that will last for all eternity.

He has consoled them,
instructed them,
prayed with them;
he’s touched
and healed
and fed them.
A lifetime of sharing
a lifetime of giving of himself
has brought him to this moment;
a lifetime of giving has led him to this place.

Now he kneels down,
and, washing their feet,
he gives himself totally away.

Peter breaks the silence:
“Lord, you will never wash my feet!”
But Peter, if he does not wash you,
you have no share in him;
if he does not give you himself,
you cannot claim to have received him.
He gives you himself freely,
but he is not yours to take.

Having run out of feet to wash
he takes his place again at table;
this moment’s only just begun
and he has much to accomplish
before it’s through.
“I’ve given you an example,”
he says when he’s settled in.
“You call me ‘teacher’: so learn this from me;
You call me ‘master’: now do as I command:
Wash each others’ feet!
I’m doing something new here —
I’m giving myself away!
If you do as I command,
if you love one another as I have loved you,
you’ll be doing just the same,
you’ll be sharing in my joy,
even as you get at the grime between the toes,
without a care in the world for yourself,
giving yourselves away in the very best way you can.”

Now he takes and blesses bread.
He breaks it and he gives it to them.
They’ve seen him do this before,
with five-thousand on the hillside
and four-thousand on the plain.
How freely he distributed and redistributed
everything that passed between his hands those days —
making an abundance where there was only scarcity,
a feast fit for a messiah from a few bits of fish and bread.

There’s something about the way he takes
and blesses and breaks and gives it;
something in the doing of it . . .
something unmistakably him.

“Yes, friends, it’s a new thing I’m doing,”
he says again,
“I’m giving myself away.
So take and eat, one and all —
Den Bisri!
Touto mou estin to soma!
Hoc est corpus meum!

This is my body!
For I am the bread of life,
the living bread come down from heaven,
having within me all sweetness and delight;
a body to be broken, given up and given away,
for you and for the life of the world.”

Then taking and blessing the cup,
he gives it to them:
“If my flesh is true food,
then my blood is true drink;
so take and drink this, all of you:
it is the cup of the new covenant,
the new relationship being forged forever
between heaven and earth,
between God and humanity,
written not on tablets of stone
but deep within your hearts,
not on paper with ink,
but on beams of wood
with my own blood;
written for you, written for all,
my love to make up for your lack,
my righteousness for your injustice.
Drink this now, and be at peace.
And whenever you gather in my name
to do these things —
to break the bread, to bless the cup,
remember me, and the life I came to give away.”

Now of them that eat and them that drink,
one will betray, another deny,
and all the rest, save young John,
will run and hide in fear for their lives.
Little matter that his friends will fail him
when he might need them most:
he knows as much going into it,
and it’s not to win friends,
nor even to save souls,
that he’s giving himself away.
For after a shipwreck,
getting passengers and crew out of the water
is only half the task;
setting them on their way,
restoring them to their journey again,
is by far the more important work:
and it’s not just to “save” them from rough seas
that he, as Captain, will go down with the ship,
but to bring them through safely to port,
and put them back on the path
for their sojourn to the kingdom.

But for now, it seems,
that’s the farthest thought from his mind.

After the meal they will go to the garden;
one final moment to question and doubt,
to wrestle with angels;
the last demon of holding back to be exorcised.
There in the garden he will empty himself,
determined to see this self-giving through;
he will take the form of a slave,
leave that place in ropes and chains,
doing once again what he did at his disciples’ feet:
giving himself away.

So he will give himself to the priests,
or try at least — though religion won’t receive him;
he’s not what the Law says Messiahs should be
(never mind what the prophets said about the matter.)

He will give himself to Herod,
or try at least — though wealth and power won’t receive him;
it can’t believe he was serious (much less literal!)
when he said “sell everything,
give the proceeds to the poor,
and follow me.”

He will give himself to Pilate,
or try at least — but the procurator-philosopher
will need more imagination to see “what is Truth”
when Truth himself stands right in front of him.

He will give himself to the crowds,
or try at least — though they liked him better
earlier in the week, when they saw him fit for a crown of gold.
A king who wears a crown of thorns
is one they just can’t seem to follow.

And he will give
whatever is left of himself
to his Father,
not understanding in that moment
why he feels so lost,
so abandoned, so alone.
But the Father, who has given him first,
will receive him in the end,
and with him, will receive the whole world —
the world for which he was first given,
the world to which the Father
continues to give him,
again, and again, and again.

Three days hence
two disciples will make their way to Emmaus,
numb from these events,
wanting to forget them forever.
They will be joined along the way by a stranger
something of an amateur scholar of the Law and the prophets,
one who is apparently ignorant of all these goings on.
They will walk, and they will talk;
this self-appointed rabbi will break scripture for them
and in so doing, soothe the hurts of their hearts.
Night will fall; the rabbi would make for further down the road,
but the disciples will press him,
“Remain with us for it is evening;
the day is almost over.”
And so at table he will take the bread:
And there’s something about the way he takes
and blesses and breaks and gives it;
something in the doing of it . . .

something unmistakably him,
still giving himself away.



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7 responses to “Giving Himself Away”

  1. Austin Fleming Avatar

    Very fine work here, Cody – a real gift to those of us who preach and seldom hear another preacher’s words. Just linked to this on my blog – very much worth sharing!

  2. Linda Reid Avatar
    Linda Reid

    Reading this homily and hearing the sung Marcan passion in one morning is inspiration of the highest level. Thank you!

  3. Katherine Lapsley Avatar
    Katherine Lapsley

    Many thanks for the inspiring text.

  4. Phil Ewing Avatar

    Thanks Cody- These are very beautiful reflections here.

  5. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Thanks from me too, Cody. It is very good to have a forum in which to share material of this quality.

  6. Cody C. Unterseher Avatar

    Thank you all for your kind words.

    I don’t share homiletic materials here because I think I’ve done a particularly good job writing or preaching — regardless of how many times Rita Ferrone compares me with John Chrysostom! Rather, because I believe preaching is integral to the liturgical experience, I think it’s a good thing to see what real people are doing on the ground running in particular communities (and not just in idealized commentaries and homily helps, which, however fine, are nonetheless meant to reach a broad and under-defined audience).

    If my homilies do serve communities beyond my own, then great! I’m thrilled for that. But, I try to post homilies for feasts and commemorations that are particularly difficult to preach — Christmas Day; Holy Name. In this case, I was preaching to a group about half of whom would experience all the movements of the one, distended liturgy of the Triduum, while the other half would be absent from one or more of the commemorations in church; further, in this community, silence and a musical meditation follows the Passion on Good Friday, so no homily would be preached. I felt compelled to preach the whole Triduum on this occasion, and it was, I think, mostly successful — or at least (in the words of Douglas Adams) “mostly harmless.”

  7. Fr. Ron Krisman Avatar
    Fr. Ron Krisman

    Giving himself away…

    Cody, may the angels lead you into paradise.

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