The Jewish Passover, Jesus’ Last Supper, the washing of the disciples’ feet: those are our 3 readings tonight.
Tonight Jesus begins his own Passover. Tonight he sets out to bring the ancient Exodus of Israel to its final completion. It’s not a journey from one place to another, from Egypt to Palestine, but a journey from one way of being to another. It is, first of all, a journey of the heart. ‘Jesus, says the Gospel, knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father’. But how does he pass? ‘He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.’ He loved to the end.
And Jesus begins his exodus by taking bread, the unleavened bread of the Passover, breaking it and giving it to his disciples, saying, in the words we all know so well, ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body which will be given up for you.’. He begins his exodus by taking a cup of wine, one of the cups drunk at Passover, passing it to his friends and saying, ‘Take this all of you and drink from it. For this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ Jesus begins his Triduum, his journey, by instituting the Eucharist, and saying to his disciples, ‘Do this in memory of me.’
And why did he do this? Because he was thinking of us. On the night he was betrayed, on the night the forces of darkness were closing in and the only thing left for him to drink was the chalice of his suffering, on the very night he was on death row, as it were, he didn’t think of himself, he thought of us. He welcomed the Hour the Father had set, he took bread in his hands, he gave thanks to the Father, and he thought of us. The very night he could have asked to be fed with sympathy, he thought of feeding and comforting us. He wanted to share everything he was about to do. He wanted us to have himself, his Body and Blood, his death and Resurrection, his love and his life, his passing over to the Father. And that’s why, tonight, he made the bread his Body. He did it to take us on board, to take us with him. He did it to make us part of himself, one body with him. Tonight, Jesus founded the Church.
Forgive the comparison, but it’s as if tonight in the Upper Room Jesus made his Body a car, a bus, a train, a plane – a vehicle. Something we can board and travel in the power of, travel with him. On the threshold of leaving this life, he reinvented himself so as to keep us with him. He did it so simply. He did it – he does it – by making bread his Body and his Body bread. He did it by saying to twelve men, Do this in memory of me, giving them the authority to do what he did and to say what he said, thus bringing the priesthood to be, and keeping the Eucharist alive. He did it by saying, ‘Eat me, drink me.’ Thanks to this Sacrament, he multiplies himself, stretches himself, makes himself all-inclusive. Thanks to the Eucharist, day after day, year after year, generation after generation, in place upon place, he can enter into us and we can enter into him. Tonight, in the oily lamplight of the Upper Room, something new enters the world, three new things in fact: the holy Eucharist, the priesthood, the Church. And thanks to this, Jesus keeps his Passover with us. Thanks to this, we can pass with him from this world to the Father, from a dying world to a new one, from an old way of being and living to a new one. Thanks to this, we need no longer trample on each other. We can kneel to wash one another’s feet.
Tonight, Pope Francis, successor of Peter who didn’t want to be washed, will be washing feet in the Young Offenders’ Prison in Casal del Marmo, Rome.
‘He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was’.
Recently a group of French children were telling me why they wished to make their first Holy Communion. One boy said, ‘I want to receive the body of Christ to have the heart of Christ.’ Who could improve on that?
Tonight, Jesus begins his Passover. Tonight, Jesus institutes the Eucharist and the priesthood. Tonight, Jesus opens up that companionship we call the Church. Tonight, he washes his disciples’ feet. It’s all one. It’s a Passover from death to life. It’s a movement from domination to service, from contempt to love, from getting to giving. It is, very simply, having the heart of Christ.
May the Triduum we begin tonight end there, for each of us – end in a heart like Christ’s.