Mass of the Lord's supper (April 18, 2019)
Holy Thursday is the first day of the sacred Triduum. Today, we begin to celebrate three magnificent holy days. We celebrate the paschal mystery that is abbreviation for Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection -- his dying and rising.
Our Gospel is from St. John, the “different” Gospel. As we know, Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they follow the same general outline of Jesus’ life. While all three tell of Jesus’ gift of Eucharist on this night, john alone tells of Jesus’ washing feet. John saw the washing as so important that he featured the washing rather than the bread and wine of the Seder meal that the Synoptics emphasized.
How do foot washing and Eucharist relate to that pregnant phrase, “paschal mystery”? What do bathing-water, bread and wine have to do with death and rising? And, how does all this relate to you and me?
Each of us, in our normal development begins life as a helpless infant. As far as we know when we are very young, we are the center-of-all; a parent answers our cries promptly. What we want and what we need, we get. We also know that that state of center-of-all becomes increasingly curtailed as we grow, but the tendency to enjoy being waited on continues. We do not get up in a table to help the waitress or waiter, do we?
At this last supper with his disciples before his death, Jesus the teacher had two, final lessons for his disciples and for us:
First, john tells us that Jesus got down and became a foot-washing servant. Jesus taught them and us that our tendency to enjoy being served must die in order to be servant for others. The movement from being served to serving involves a death within us and a rising to new insight. When we stop and reflect on this teaching, we see that serving is what parents do for children. Years later, it is what we children do for our parents. It is what friends do for friends.
Also, Jesus dramatically modeled for his disciples and all of us as future leaders the mysterious paradox that to lead, we must serve. For Christians, service is the name for leadership. Leaders, in the tradition of Jesus come to serve, not to be served. Mother Theresa of Calcutta became a shining model who led by example.
The second lesson is from the Seder, celebrating the Jews’ liberation from the Egyptian captivity. It was the Seder that brought Jesus to the upper room and what became the last supper. Jesus said earlier that unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But, if it dies, it can rise and be made bread. He also said that he was the vine and his followers were branches who drew spiritual life from him, the vine. Wheat dies to become bread; grapes die to become wine.
At the Seder, Jesus took bread and wine and carried their death and rising to a higher level still. He took a piece of matzo-bread and said: this is I and gave himself to his disciples in the form of bread. Later, at the time of the third cup of wine – called the “blessing cup” – he took the cup, said the blessing, and then identified himself with the wine: this is me, and distributed the cup to his followers. The bread and the wine become himself and are consumed by his followers. He nourishes and enriches us with his mystical, physical presence. At a level unforeseen by nutritionists who say we are what we eat, we Christians may say, “We become who we eat.”
The paschal mystery of dying and rising is what we celebrate most especially during these days of the sacred Triduum:
• Jesus, in his washing of feet both teaches and models the dying of our will to be served and the rising to the intention of serving one another in love.
• Jesus, in his giving himself as bread that is broken and as wine that is poured out nourishes us by his word-presence and physical presence. Jesus, in that moment of intimacy gifts us with what is the greatest of gifts: the gift of oneself to another.
This is love
This is what we celebrate.
This is who we celebrate.
This is who we become.
This is what and who we have to offer to others after we are sent forth from Eucharist.