As the younger generation would say, this is awesome – this evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, this first moment of the Paschal Triduum. It has so much atmosphere. It’s all at once enchanting, festal, luminous, ominous, heart-breaking, intimate and universal. It begins with a ringing of bells and ends in silent adoration. Perhaps it brings back memories of childhood and of people who have passed away.
There’s so much than ourselves here. Spring is here, even though wrapped in a cold wind. It’s no coincidence Easter coincides with the (northern) spring: when lambs are born and the nomads of the Near East would begin their annual exodus from their winter camp. The moon is here, almost full, to light the way for ancient Israel leaving Egypt. The Jewish Passover is here, finding its fulfilment. The Last Supper is here. The apostles are here. Every Mass that has ever been celebrated and ever will be is here in embryo. Every priest that has ever been or will be ordained. The whole Church in heaven and on earth. We, who are physically here, are just the front-men. There’s an unseen multitude among us. And at the heart of it is Jesus, invisible in himself, visible in signs, drawing everything to himself. He is here: Priest and Victim, Shepherd and Lamb, the Servant King, a combination of opposites. Outside darkness is falling. It’s the darkness of Egypt, the night the Israelites left. It’s the darkness of Jerusalem, the night our Lord was betrayed. It’s the darkness of chaos that’s always threatening. And we are drawn in, out of the darkness. We come from our houses and homes into this circle of light and love in the Upper Room. We come together like the families gathering for Passover, and we find that Jesus is our Lamb, and his blood is here to protect us and his flesh to strengthen us.
Then he kneels down and washes our feet.
Yes, it is awesome. There is so much here.
And how beautifully the liturgy, the readings lead us:
- from prophecy to fulfilment, from the Jewish Passover (1st reading) to the Christian Eucharist (2nd reading);
- from grace received to grace lived, from the sacramental meal to the washing of feet (the Gospel);
- from contemplation and praise (‘You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am’) to action and service (‘I have given you an example to copy’).
Here is the grace of this Paschal Triduum, beginning tonight. It’s a turning around of our life. Our life, now, isn’t an endless going round in circles. It isn’t a wander to nowhere. It’s a journey opened up for us by Someone Else. It’s the God-given, God-guided journey the Bible and our languages call the passage, Passover, Pesach, Pascha, the Pasch, Paques, Pasqua, Pascua. It’s the journey from sin to grace, from confusion to purpose, from isolation to connection, from sterility to fruitfulness. ‘This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’ (Lk 15:24). It’s life with a horizon and direction. It’s the journey Israel began and Jesus completed. ‘It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father.’ It’s love to the end. This is the journey that he opened up. He did so alone, terribly alone. But he did it for us and he’s desperate, even, for our company. We learn that tonight. He is so desperate, so intent on our company, our companionship, that he devised the Eucharist – the sacrament of unity, the bond of charity – and ordained a priesthood to maintain it and multiply it, here, there, anywhere until the end of time. Desperate to gather brothers and sisters around him, to incorporate them, make them part of himself, to take them with him to the Father. Eager not just to die and rise for us, outside us, but with us and in us, ‘so that the love with which you, Father, have loved me may be in them, and I in them’ (Jn 17:26). ‘Here I am, he wants to say to the Father, with the children you have given me’ (cf. Heb 2:13). Here I am, not just Bridegroom but Bridegroom and Bride. Not just Head, but Head and Body, the whole Christ, Head and members. Not just Vine, but Vine with branches. ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, lives in me and I in him’ (Jn 6:56). ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’ (Jn 6:54). Our Communion hymns sing of all this: the mystical union of us and Christ – so that we can pass over with him.
Then he kneels down and washes our feet.
In a moment, the bishop will do that for twelve men. But they are only the front-men, and so am I. There’s so much more than ourselves here. And in the setting of passage, Passover, Pesach and Pasch, what sense it makes that he should wash our feet and want us to wash each other’s! Feet are for walking. When Jesus washes away our blisters and corns and cuts and dirt, it’s so we may continue the journey with him. And washing each other’s feet means helping each other carry on the journey: not lose hope, not lose sight of the goal, not turn aside but keep going, even with a limp. Poignant to think that the first thing the disciples did with their Jesus-washed feet was to scatter, run away. It’s such a pattern. It happens with First Communion and Confirmation. But think of the painting by Eugène Burnand on the front of the latest Light of the North: Peter and John running to the empty tomb. Think of Peter’s first miracle: the cripple at the gate of the Temple: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!’ (Acts 3:6). Think of the feet of the apostles, with all the energy of Pentecost in them, pounding the roads of the Roman Empire, missionary disciples. ‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings glad tidings’ (Is 52:7). Think, more deeply, of all the humble love and service that have flowed from the Cross and the Eucharist. The patient suffering, the care of the poor, the non-recrimination. Think of all the works of charity which Christians have done and do, all the washing of the feet of the world – so that it can stand again and walk towards the light. It all began tonight. It’s the Eucharist in action.
Every Lent, every Triduum, every Easter, Jesus washes our feet. Let’s not do a Peter and protest! Let’s let him take away our sins, direct our hearts, join our hands, put a song on our lips. Let’s let him make us his Body and let’s live in it, live in his grace, from this day on. Let’s rise and go and, as we do, wash each other’s feet.