03 April 2015

Peering into Jesus' Last Hours

Mass of the Lord’s Supper
I invite you to close your eyes.  Take a deep breath in.  Breathe out.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Calm your heart, mind, and soul.  Put behind you the busyness of the day and just be with God.  Now, imagine for a second that you were going to die tomorrow, and that you only have a few hours to speak with anyone.  Who would be with you?  Would it be a spouse, your immediate family, or a friend?  What would you say?  What would you do?
We gather tonight, glancing in on Jesus’ last hours with His closest friends, the Apostles.  It almost seems like snooping.  The upper room is likely decorated in a noble, yet simple way, ready for the celebration of Pesach, the Passover.  Unleavened bread is on the table.  There are bitter herbs, charoseth, and wine in ceremonial dishes.  But the Passover, the sacred remembering that is more than just calling a past event to mind, is not supposed to be celebrated on Thursday, but on Friday night.  Still, Jesus knows that He will not be able to celebrate it with them on Friday.  As the Apostles enter the room, Jesus takes off His outer garment to wash their feet–feet crusted with dirt from walking, likely with some small sores from pebbles.  He, the Master, performs the task of the slave, giving the Apostles a command, a command they will not understand for at least three days, that as princes themselves of the New Israel, they are to follow the example of the Master and wash others’ feet.
Having finished washing their feet, Jesus begins the celebration of the Passover.  But before the breaking of bread and before the sharing of the cup, Jesus prophesies that one of the Twelve will betray Him, and Judas leaves.  Having, then, only the Eleven who are faithful, as faithful as they can be, Jesus institutes at the same time the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, as He, the Lord of the Passover, changes the Mosaic Rite and adds His own words.  But even in the midst of His most faithful, Jesus also tells St. Peter that he will deny Him before the cock crows.  And then Jesus begins His High Priestly Prayer, speaking to the Father in words so intimate that the Apostles must have simply sat there and listened and felt they were intruding on something that was profoundly personal.  
In His last hour, Jesus gathers His friends, not even His mother, and gives them a way to be connected throughout all time by establishing a presence through the Eucharist and a  presence through priestly ordination and configuration.  In His last hour, Jesus expresses His love and confidence to the Father, even as the powers of darkness are closing in around Him.  In His last hour, Jesus reassures his Apostles, His friends, and tells them not to let their hearts be troubled, and that while they cannot follow now, they will follow Jesus later, because He is the way and the truth and the life.  He promises them an Advocate who will defend them, even as the world hates them.  And then Jesus goes to pray on the Mount of Olives, exchanging the camaraderie of his chosen band for the utter loneliness of knowing what will happen next, as the Apostles sleep, exhausted from the weight and the power of those moments in the Upper Room.
Tonight we peer into that sacred moment.  We begin the three days that are one, the Triduum, with a Mass that will not be concluded until the dismissal at the Easter Vigil.  We recall, not simply in a retelling, but in an event that seems to take us back in time, the mandatum, the mandate of service in the washing of feet; we are connected to Jesus’ Passion once more in the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God, made present to us by the Eucharist, and offered by the Priest, configured to Christ the Head and Shepherd through Holy Order, to join the offering of the entire People of God to that of Jesus on the cross; we walk with Jesus to a place where we can feel the darkness closing in.  

We do not know when our last hours of life will be.  But if we did, who would we ask to be there with us?  What would we say?  What would we do?  As we enter into the last moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He gathers His closest friends, serves them, and establishes two ways that His presence would continue through them.  Tonight Jesus desires to be with us, to serve us, and have union with us through the Eucharist.  Will we watch and pray with Him?