Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Last Supper: Gospel of John 13:1-15

Today we really start to get into the last part of the climax of our liturgical year. During the last forty days we have been on a journey towards these decisive moments, all attention in heaven was as it were fixed on the events being unfolded.... even although much of the world did not even notice this decisive moment in salvation history...

The Gospel for Holy Thursday, the institution of the last supper, is taken from the Gospel of St. John which focuses on Jesus' washing the feet of His disciples. The passage starts with the opening phrase "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (Joh 13:1 RSV) and this straight away sets the tone, everything is centered on love: "for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Joh 3:16 RSV). Now the time has come that this is going to be fulfilled, and when Jesus is really showing the disciples what real love is for "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Joh 15:13 RSV). It is a love of complete self abandonment, completely giving yourself for to sake of others.

Maybe it is a good idea to reflect a bit on love during these days, what love really is? The modern definition of love is possibly a very disfigured and diminished idea of what real love is. This is something we have to reflect upon, to think about. It is not a fuzzy feeling, or just a emotional sentiment as the result of a chemical reaction in the brain when we meet somebody of the other sex. It is much much deeper and more beautiful than that, and Jesus shows us that in these days. The only way to discover this is to develop an intimate relation with Jesus for "God is love" (1Jo 4:8 RSV).

One of the things Jesus does when He washed the disciples feet is that He shows them that although "you call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am." (Joh 13:13 RSV) it is to show that it is not about authority as the world knows it, but that it is about love, He is teaching them the real meaning of love. The Jews expected Jesus to be the royal Messiah when He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but now it becomes clear what He is really about. By washing the disciples feet he becomes the servant of all, and he instruct His disciples to to the same: "if I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (Joh 13:14 RSV).

That is one aspect the Lord is trying to teach His apostles, that love is not serf centered, but being a servant of others, it is to be in communion with each other, in order that "that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one" (Joh 17:22-23 RSV). The Lord is inviting us to discover the depth of this relationship, and during the Last Supper the Lord invites us to come forward, and to come in communion with Him. He invites us into this intimacy that "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Joh 6:56 RSV). And so when He says during the last supper He says "Take, eat; this is my body" (Mat 26:26 RSV) and "drink of it, all of you; this is my blood of the covenant" (Mat 26:27-28 RSV) He means it as He is "the bread of life;" (Joh 6:35 RSV) and only through Him can we taste and discover the fullness of life.

A bit later He commands them to love as He loves: "that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (Joh 13:34 RSV) and also that by this "all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Joh 13:35 RSV). He introduces them to the unity which we need, and not the disunity we see so much around us. It can be difficult to grasp the fuller meaning of love, but He says "you do not know now, but afterward you will understand", so we might have to be patient.

Finally there is the point of "he who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." I think we can look at this from the point of view that we have to recognise that we are failing regards the call in the above, to love as God loves, and that we constantly need to be washed white in the blood of the lamb (cf. Rev 7:14).

These days, as the days before Christmas, are traditional days in which confession plays an important role. We need to acknowledge our failing before the Lord so His grace can abound in us and help to become better people and to return to unity. By our baptism and choice to follow Jesus we are saved, we are made clean, we are washed in the waters of baptism and as such "he who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over;" (Joh 13:10 RSV). Here we can see that we can choose not to be clean, to accept God's gift of washing us from our sins, as Jesus refers to Judas when He says "but not every one of you".

We need to recognise however that we always have our feet dirty though as we are falling short during our daily lives, we fall short to the love God is calling us to, to love as God loves (cf. Jn 13:34). By recognising our faults and failing the Lord is washing our feet and helping us to be clean once more, and to be reconciled with Him in love.

These days, and especially from tonight till the Easter Vigil, should be a time in which we reflect on what really happened during this time. The most important time in history should not go unnoticed, and it is really during these days that we can profoundly deepen our understanding of the love we are called to. Let us also try to reflect and (re)discover the real way of love during these days, and take time out to reflect on what really happened at this time when all the heavenly eyes were fixed on Jerusalem. Let us be different from the rest of the world who did not have any notion of this great triumph of love when entering the heavenly Jerusalem...

As last note, our Holy Father explained last Sunday to the young people in St. Peters Square that on the cross "Christ defeated sin and death by the total giving of Himself. For this reason", he concluded, "we must embrace and adore the Lord's cross, make it our own, accept its weight as Simon of Cyrene did, in order to participate in the only thing that can redeem all of humanity. ... Become ever more worthy of the cross and you will never be ashamed of this supreme sign of love".

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