17 March 2014
For the last six weeks we’ve been preparing for the Easter Triduum that starts tonight. These next three days are the most holy and important days in our Christian faith. Without the Easter Triduum, Christianity makes no sense.
The Triduum begins with the Last Supper; the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was killed, and finishes on the third day with the Resurrection; Jesus reveals himself as the Risen Lord in his glorified body in a way that is beyond our experience and knowledge. In these short hours from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Sunday we get a close look at Jesus, the man who suffered as so many of us will in our lives, and at Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose from the dead offering each of us the hope of eternal life.
At the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist. “That this and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.” Through the Holy Eucharist, we are able today, some 2000 years later, to experience, worship and adore the Real Presence of Christ.
I’m sure many of us have been asked by Catholics and non-Catholics alike to explain the importance or meaning of the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ. Why did Jesus do this? Why does he make himself present, body and blood, to us in the Eucharist?
As a doting Grandfather I can think of a simple example that to some extent explains the significance of Jesus wanting to be real and present in our lives. Joshua, my 19 month old grandson lives with his parents in Cape Town and I get to see him just about every day. I am a real presence in his life. He loves spending time with me and trips over himself to get to me and into my arms whenever he sees me. If I lived far away from him, while he would no doubt hear many stories about me from his parents, and see me in photographs and perhaps on Skype, none of that could adequately substitute for my real presence.
In the Holy Eucharist we are blessed to have Jesus deeply, lovingly and truly present to us. When we begin to understand the Eucharist as a time when Jesus is not remote from us but is right here; not inaccessible to us, but is available to us very personally; that Jesus dotes on us intimately, tenderly, compassionately, only then can we truly appreciate the glorious significance of what Jesus did at the Last Supper.
In John’s telling of the Last Supper that we heard in tonight’s gospel reading, Jesus does something else that is quite remarkable. He strips off his outer garment, gets down on his knees and washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus is teaching them what discipleship really means. This is an act of love, humility and service. Jesus says to them and to each of us this evening “Do as I have done.” That’s our mandate as disciples of Christ. There is no service too small, no act of kindness too insignificant, and no moment of love too modest in our service of Christ’s kingdom.
This is exceedingly difficult.
The altar servers will now place 12 chairs on the steps of the altar and in a few minutes we will have a symbolic enactment of the washing of the feet. Few of us here will find this part of the liturgy uncomfortable or embarrassing. The 12 parishioners have volunteered and Fr Harrie will not literally wash their feet. Had he intended to actually wash their feet, I think we’d have had great difficulty in finding volunteers. There’s something quite personal and intimate in touching someone’s feet; it’s a gesture of affection, humility, service and forgiveness,
Notice that Jesus washes the feet of Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him and the other 10 of which nine will desert him, within hours.
For a moment let us select from our memories, 12 people who in our lives have loved us, or hurt us, betrayed us or deserted us and place them in the 12 chairs. Perhaps there’s a parent or grandparent, a brother or sister, son or daughter, lover or friend, employer or colleague, teacher or student, neighbour or spouse. And now let us imagine kneeling in front of each of them, one at a time, and taking one of their feet into our hands, gently and lovingly washing it; washing off any bitterness, anger or hostility and if it’s someone who loves us then we are telling them in our actions how much they mean to us. That is our mandate.
Jesus is saying that it’s not good enough to know who he is and what he did and said; we have to act as he did.
In the words of St Ignatius of Loyola “Love shows itself more in actions than in words.”