Feast of The Lord’s Supper
Holy Week is focussed on the central mysteries of our Christian faith. Beginning the Sacred Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we highlight the gift of the Eucharist re-presenting the Lord’s Paschal Mystery, the very heart of the Church’s existence.
Exodus 12:1-2, 11-14: The departure of the Israelites from Egypt – and how this key event is to be celebrated in all future times
1 Cor 11:23-26: Paul hands on the story of the Lord’s Supper and the words of Jesus over the bread and wine. Christians proclaim his saving passion and death in this sacred meal, which makes Jesus ever present with us
John 13:1-15: The Last Supper narrative, when Jesus washes his followers’ feet, requires us all to take this kind of humble, loving service as our guide to living the Christian life.
Thoughts for the Homily
The Lord’s Supper (Peter Briscoe)
1. The gospel tradition clearly situates the Lord’s Supper in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and the first reading in this evening’s Mass explains the significance of this feast. It was to be a memorial, recalling the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, the liberation from slavery. As such it can be used to open us up to the idea that God does enter human life to save, to set us free from whatever oppresses us. So “opened up,” we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving of God is done in Jesus Christ.
This evening our thoughts are directed to what St John calls the “hour” of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, the passage of Jesus from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. This new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to our petty self-interest and making us capable of that love for which we were originally created in the image of God.
Through his act of love-without-limit, Jesus achieved this by overcoming all human selfishness in his own utterly unselfish heart. Precisely this love, which it is the Father’s will for us all to have, is the heart of Jesus’ exodus. It is just this self-sacrificing love which Jesus wishes to be kept alive, recalling his life among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his sacrifice, giving himself to them in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From now on the celebration of this meal – our Eucharist – is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord’s saving act of love. From now on this is to be the way for us to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they may become fully human in God’s new creation.
2. The Eucharist achieves this as a special kind of memorial. In it we are not just “remembering” a past event, something which may inspire us but still remains only in the past. The Jewish and Christian traditions believe that these defining events in the life of God’s people never remain simply in the past, but continue to be life-givingly present through the memorial celebration. Sharing in the memorial involves us in the original event. As the Jewish Passover puts it: “In every generation we must so regard it as if we ourselves came out of Egypt… Therefore we are bound to give thanks… and to bless him who brought all these “wonders for our fathers and for us.”
So the Christian Eucharist is thanksgiving for what God has done for us in the “Paschal sacrifice of Jesus. We can highlight the importance of our involvement or participation in this event through the celebration. We commit ourselves by an act of faith to share in the sacrifice of Jesus; it is not something that has happened and which can be effective without our involvement. At the same time our sharing in this is not something that we do for ourselves but something that we let the Lord do for us, a gift to be accepted in gratitude.
St John brings this out in his own unique way. We are united with Jesus by allowing him to wash our feet, to perform for us his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to be effective in our lives. What Jesus does for us is an example of how we are to live: in some real sense, like Jesus, we must live “for” service of God and others. Celebrating the Eucharist is the living and life-giving memorial of what Jesus has done and is doing for us. A true Eucharist makes us into the Body of Christ, ready to practice in our lives what we receive in faith, the life-giving love of the Lord.
Jesus The Helper (Tommy Lane)
I have heard it said that mental health begins with serving others and mental illness begins with serving ourselves alone. Perhaps another way of saying this is that by helping others we improve our mental health. I am sure there is a lot of truth in it but yet to serve others we also need to look after ourselves so it is a question of balance and in our Gospel Jesus wanted his disciples to have that balance in their lives. On another occasion Jesus said to love others as we love ourselves so we have to love ourselves in order to also love others.
In our first reading the prophet Jeremiah pronounces a word of doom on the shepherds of Israel. He was talking of the kings. The kings in Israel were regarded as adopted by God as his son on the day of their coronation. They were to be a reflection of the love of God but unfortunately most of them were poor leaders who were more interested in looking after themselves than their people. And so in our first reading Jeremiah says, Doom to the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered. But there is hope at the end of the passage because God promises through Jeremiah that he will send them someone who will reign as true king and be wise, and that of course refers to Jesus coming as Messiah. We can see how our beautiful Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” is fulfilled in Jesus, the ideal future ruler promised by God, who was generous instead of selfish like many Old Testament kings.
In our Gospel we see Jesus doing the opposite to the Old Testament kings who only looked after themselves. Jesus looked after the disciples by taking them to a quiet place for a rest and then when he was besieged there by people looking for him he looked after them by teaching them at length. On another occasion Jesus said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). The new community, the kingdom of God, that Jesus came to found is to be characterised by serving one another, not by being served. So Jesus said we were to love our neighbour as ourselves and he said, By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. (John 13:35). We come to Mass to meet the love of Jesus but as we depart from Mass we are asked to go in peace to love and serve the Lord in those around us.
One of our Eucharistic Acclamations after the Consecration is When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory. That is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:27). How can we say that when we gather for the Eucharist we proclaim Jesus death? When we gather for the Eucharist it is to be an act of love, reflecting the love of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross for us. If we gather for the Eucharist and we really dont care about each other then our Eucharist is meaningless. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.
This evening is a fine occasion to recall the prayer of St Francis, with its fine focus upon the loving service of our neighbour:
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Institution of the Eucharist (Alex McAllister)
There are few occasions in the Roman Missal when the rubrics give an instruction as to what must be preached. In fact I think Maundy Thursday is the only occasion when such an instruction is given. It says: ‘The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood and Christ’s commandment to love. Well if you’ve got all night –
This evening we celebrate first and foremost the institution of the Eucharistthe Last Supper of the Lord before his passion, death and resurrection. In this meal Christ was in an extraordinary way able to sum up all that was about to happen and leave it with us ever after as a constant reminder and link with those wonderful events.
In the mass we are united with Jesus in a most powerful waythose events of his death and resurrection are made present and he continues to share his body and blood with us in the most intimate communion there could ever be.
The watchword for us Catholics down through the centuries, especially in times of persecution, has always been: Its the mass that matters. In this simple phrase we hold the core of our faith.
We take those words of Jesus seriously: Do this in memory of me. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist we bring him and his message of love not only to mind but also made present on the altarHis body and blood hidden under the form of bread and wine.
This deep and powerful connection that we have with Our Lord in the mass helps us to keep true to everything he taught us, it helps us to keep faith with him and to constantly rededicate our lives as his present-day disciples.
We reverence the Eucharist because we believe that in the Eucharist Christ is present among us in a most powerful way. And we who are Priests hold the Eucharist especially close to our hearts because it is our privilege and duty to preside at it day by day, week by week. And together with our special ministers we have the honour of distributing the Eucharist to those who approach to receive the Lord.
At the Last Supper, Jesus showed his disciples how to exercise their ministry. He put on an apron and went around and washed their feet. In this way he provides us with the model for all Christian ministry and shows us that the greatest among us is the one who serves. Imperfect though our lives might be, we are not afraid to follow his example because by doing so we are sure that we will learn to become more like him.
Eucharist and Washing of Feet (Munachi Ezeogu)
Life in Palestine in the time of Jesus was hard. The popular means of transport was your feet. People walked long distances on rough, dusty roads to go from Galilee to Jerusalem, for example. Travellers often arrived their destinations with sore and aching feet. As a sign of hospitality, the host would see to it that his guests were given a warm foot bath and massage as a way of relieving their aches and pains. This was usually done by the house servants or slaves.
This service of bathing and soothing the tired feet was also provided by the rest houses or inns found at strategic locations along the major roads and highways. Travellers worn out along the way could go into these rest houses and have food and foot bath. Their energy thus restored they would then be able to continue and complete their long journey. That is how such rest houses along the way got the name “restaurants” – they restored strength to tired and exhausted travellers on the way. The disciples would have understand Jesus washing their feet in light of this cultural background. And for us it is a pointer to the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate.
Understood in light of the washing of feet, the Eucharist is a place of restoration for people on the way. The life of a Christian in the world is a pilgrimage, a long, hard journey. Along the way we get tired and worn out and we are tempted to give up and turn back. But Jesus has provided us with the Eucharist as a place where we can go in to bathe our aching feet and to be refreshed in body and soul for the journey that is still ahead. When we give communion to a sick person we call it viaticum which means “provisions for a journey.” The Eucharist is always a viaticum: in the Eucharist we derive strength to continue our upward journey toward God.
In the story we find that Peter was uncomfortable with having Jesus wash his feet. Peter, who was somewhat of an activist, would have preferred to see himself doing the washing, washing the feet of Jesus and even of the other disciples. Sometimes it is harder to remain passive and allow someone else to bathe us than it is to bathe someone else, as every toddler can tell you. But having our feet washed and washing the feet of others are two sides of the coin we call the Christian life.
The first and most essential part is to let the Lord wash us. As Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me (John 13:8). First, the Lord washes us clean so that we belong to the Lord. Only then are we qualified and empowered to wash the feet of our sisters and brothers in the Lord. When this truth dawned on Peter, he overcame his reluctance and cried out, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head.” (v. 9). For this to happen all that the Lord needs from us is simply for us to be there, to present ourselves to him and to let him wash us.
The other side of the coin, which is equally important, is that after our feet have been washed by the Lord, we must go and wash the feet of others. After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, he said to them:
Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).
Jesus establishes a close link between him washing the disciples’ feet and the disciples washing the feet of others. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we ought to wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.
First Reading: Exodus 12:1-2; 11-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Gospel: John 13:1-15
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.