10 April 2017
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
What would you do if you knew you had 24 hours to live? What person or persons would you want to see? Where would you want to go? What unfinished tasks would you try to complete? Most people never have that foreknowledge. Even when a person is older, and knows that death is soon coming, we never quite know when. But what if you did? What if you knew, right now, that at this time tomorrow you’d no longer be a part of this world?
Jesus was in that very boat; He knew that less than 24 hours from that first Holy Thursday, He would be buried in the tomb. St. John reminds us of this fact: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” With whom does Jesus spend His time? Where does He go? Does He try to finish any incomplete tasks?
Jesus spends His time with His Apostles. He celebrates His Last Supper with those whom He had chosen to govern His Church, and to act in His Name. And He begins, as we heard in tonight’s Gospel, by washing their feet. He teaches them that, though they are called to act with Jesus’ own power and authority, that power and authority is given to them to serve the entire Church. Jesus washed the feet of all twelve of His apostles, even Judas. In one of the last acts of His earthly ministry, Jesus serves the one who will, that same night, betray Him with a kiss.
After washing their feet, and after Judas leaves to set in motion his betray, Jesus begins to celebrate the Passover with His apostles. But He changes it radically. He says those words that had been passed down to St. Paul, which he, in turn, passed down to us: “‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” And “‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Already startled by Jesus announcing the betrayal of Judas, who leaves shortly thereafter; and by Jesus announcing that Peter, the leader of this small band, would deny Jesus, their senses are heightened, and they realize Jesus is doing something new. And in the act of breaking the bread and saying the new words of this new rite, and in the act of passing the chalice and saying the new words of this new rite, both the sacramental priesthood and the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist are instituted.
Then begins a long, beautiful, poetic prayer of Jesus to the Father, even as He also speaks to His apostles. We call those words the Last Supper Discourse, and they are an expression of Jesus’ love for His Apostles, His first priests, but more importantly, Jesus’ love and unity with the Father, which will sustain Him even as it seems to escape Him in His Passion. Nothing seems forced in these words; nothing rushed. Jesus knows what He wants to say, and how He wants to say it. At this point in the night, there is no anxiety, no troubled soul, but only the intimacy of a Master and His chosen friends who will continue His work in His Name.
In His last 24 hours on earth, Jesus does what He did for all the hours of His earthly ministry: He gave Himself, according to the will of the Father, for His people. While we know how much His human nature shuddered at the thought of the price He would have to pay to redeem His people from sin, He gave of Himself nevertheless.
Psalm 116 tonight asks, “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” How can we repay God, who has given us everything that we need, and even more beyond that. No matter what we give God it would never be enough to repay our debt. But there is one acceptable gift that God desires: all of who we are. We are invited to do the same thing Jesus did: to give of ourselves out of love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus gave us His all. Can we give Him ours?