Holy Thursday – 5 April 2012
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Cor 11:23-26
In a recent television interview a famous Muslim scholar said that ultimately there is only one sin and all others come from that sin. What would you name as the worst sin? He was quite clear that the greatest sin of all is forgefulness. According to him if we forget Allah (or for us, God) we forget who we are, what we are about and where we are going. We are like people wandering about without any goal in life, being blown this way and that by whatever prevailing wind blows – pleasure, drugs, money, etc.
I think he is correct as a year or so before my good mother died she had Alzheimer’s disease, e.g. loss of memory. My mother couldn’t recall who had visited here 5 minutes earlier, when she had eaten last, she forgot to turn off the gas – very dangerous, you’ll agree. It was very hard for us to see her like that. She had forgotten the most important things, through no fault of hers.
Tonight’s feast, the celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper is all about remembering. Remembering who God is, who we are, what we are called to be and above all a call to gratitude or thanksgiving which is the Greek word for Eucharist. In the first reading, the Jews are warned not to forget one of the greatest events in their history – the Passover Meal. This meal still is for Jewish communities around the world a commemoration of the Jews as God’s people, namely their liberation from slavery in Egypt. For us as Christians it is a re-enactment of our Passover from slavery, the slavery from sin to the freedom of the children of God.
On the night before he died Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, which became our Eucharist. The account is taken from John’s gospel. John himself does not have a Last Supper scene in his gospel, rather he assumes the Christians know about it and so he interprets the meaning of the Last Supper for us. The love of Jesus for us in giving his life and in instituting the Eucharist is bound up with the idea of service – the washing of the feet. This was the work of a slave at the time of Jesus, but Jesus the Lord and Master tells us that leadership among his followers is a leadership of loving service. To be a leader, to have authority in God’s church is to serve others in love. Serving not in any kind of condescending way but a service among equals.
When Jesus went down on his knees to wash the disciples’ feet Peter was appalled. And he cried out ‘you shall never wash my feet’. Here Peter reveals the mentality of those, and surely we can count ourselves among them at times, that the master never serves but is served and obeyed. But Peter has to learn that in God’s kingdom it is the leader who is the one who serves. It is a message for bishops, priests, religious, parents, teachers, employees, managers, chief executives, in fact for all of us. And yet most ordinary people I know do this, parents in taking care of their children or aging parents, mothers preparing meals, fathers trying to earn enough to take care of their families etc.
If God got down on his knees before you or me here tonight would we have the fundamental poverty needed to accept this graciously? So the incredible love and humility of Jesus in getting down on his knees at the last Supper was just another expression of what he did on the Cross the next day. Each action was a total offer of love, self-sacrifice and service for us.
So the Eucharist must be also at the same time the celebration of a loving, caring, serving community. If there is no community there is no Eucharist. If there is no unity, mutual respect and love for all present, then is not the Eucharist a mockery? Our Eucharist only becomes real after we leave the church. If the celebration of the Eucharist stops at the church door it is a sign and celebration of nothing. It is a failure by those who claim to recognise Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine to fail to see and serve him in those around us. The Eucharist if it is to be real is essentially the sign of a living, loving caring community of brothers and sisters which celebrates and strengthens and what it is through the Eucharist. Jesus told us to do this in memory of him. Let us continue to do it not just inside the church but equally so when we go outside.
‘Lord Jesus help us to practice by service and love what we claim to celebrate at the Eucharist. Amen’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA