Holy Thursday 2016




For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

 

Pope Benedict XVI, in his trilogy about Jesus Christ, offers his opinion that the Last Supper was probably not a Passover Meal. Familiar with the best scholarship of our time, he prefers the chronology of Saint John. The Fourth Evangelist placed the crucifixion on “Preparation Day,” the day before the Passover when the paschal lambs were slaughtered.  

In his telling, Jesus knew there was a conspiracy against him and he knew his enemies would make their move before the Passover, especially because the festival fell on the Sabbath that year. Enormous crowds would soon descend upon Jerusalem. The authorities feared that a “Messiah” might grab the opportunity to call for insurrection; and then all hell would break lose. Although his enemies conspired in secret there were no secrets in Jerusalem. The city was charged with rumors, intrigues, cabals, expectations and fears. Jesus, “knowing the hour had come” used the familiar prayers and songs of the Passover during his last meal, much as a dying man might celebrate Christmas with his family several days early.

With the Passover in mind, however, he made several huge changes in the ritual. First, he washed their feet. Perhaps Jesus was struggling for words as he tried to instruct his disciples. Overcome with emotion and desperately wanting to show his clueless friends how tenderly he loved them, he grabbed a bowl of water and a towel and began to wash their feet. The disciples were astonished speechless. Only their spokesman dared to say anything, the ever-impulsive Peter. What was he doing? What did it mean?

It was something physical, intimate and compelling. He had to touch them; he could not keep his hands off them, like a mother with an injured toddler or a husband with his sobbing bride. We can only imagine tears streaming from his eyes as he caressed their calloused heels and scabrous toenails.

Only afterward, days and weeks afterward, did they put it all together. The physical contact of washing their feet and his physical death on the cross and his physical resurrection: it was about love. There is no other word but even that word hardly says it.

Is it possible that he died on the cross because he loves us? Did his resurrection complete the gesture that began with his washing our feet? What did he say at that time?

This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me….
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Jesus – or any lover – must do something physical when he shows his love. Words, as eloquent as they might be, are not enough. The affection must be felt in one’s hands, feet, face and mouth. It must overwhelm and command and be undeniable. It cannot be routine and should not be misunderstood. Such is the way of any human lover. But God’s love must be all the more powerful, beautiful, gentle and subtle. It cannot overwhelm because that would destroy. It cannot compel because that would enslave. God’s love is shown through subtle signs laden with meaning and explosive and beautiful.

Such is the Mass for those who attend.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.