Jesus' Parting Gifts For Us
Maundy Thursday - Lent
1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Exod. 12:1-14; Jn. 13:1-15
When Our Lord was preparing Himself for His Last Supper with His apostles, what was on His mind? He was going to abolish the Old Covenant and establish the New Covenant to leave Himself with us in the Holy Eucharist. He was also going to ordain His first priests who would continue His work on Earth. Much was to be done in that short space of time! And He knew, of course, what would happen tomorrow. Even though the Crucifixion was His victory over Satan it would cost Him His very life. As a man He was scared and frightened.
Even for Our Lord things did not go as He planned. He found His apostles were squabbling as to which one of them was the greatest. You would think that after being with Our Lord three years they would have known better! With so much on His mind, we have to admire Our Lord's patience. He gave them a very practical example in proving that the greatest among them is the one who serves.
It was the custom on entering a house after a journey to wash the feet of a guest: the Palestinian roads were either dusty or muddy, depending on the weather. For this reason water pots were always to be found at the door and a servant or member of the family was there with towel to wash the soiled feet of the guests.
Now Jesus' little company of friends had no servants. The duties which servants would carry out would have to be shared among them. It appeared on this night, when Jesus was having His last meal with them, that none wanted to do this task. So Jesus in a very vivid and dramatic intervention washed their feet. "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and you call Me Lord, and you are quite right to do so, for so I am. If then I, the Teacher and Lord have washed your feet, so you ought to wash each other’s feet, for I have given you an example that as I have done to you, you too, should do to each other.”
Why should Our Lord give us this lesson of brotherly love just before He gave Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist? It was to teach us the connection between the love of God and the love of our neighbour. The two must go together. You cannot have one without the other. Jesus is saying, 'How incongruous it is to receive Me in Holy Communion and not love your brother or sister! It is not a question of liking people, but loving and forgiving them and being caring.'
Jesus is not asking us to live in one another's pockets. He knows we are not going to change other individuals, who are cold to us and cannot be civil. But He is asking us to be kind, gentle and loving, teaching us that Christianity means "I serve."
Non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics often say of us Catholics, 'See them going to Church every Sunday, even every day but they are a lot of hypocrites. They're at the altar receiving Our Lord and the next minute they back-bite, gossip and think nothing of double crossing their neighbour.' If this criticism is true it is a tremendous scandal and the last thing Our Lord wanted. This is precisely why He gave us this lesson of charity before He instituted the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus then went on to give us what no other person could give to another. He left us His real presence under the signs of bread and wine. He knew that after His Ascension His glorious risen Body would be at the right hand of His Father in Heaven and we would have nothing tangible to which to cling. So He took bread and said, "This is my Body." He took the wine, and said, "This is my Blood. Do this in commemoration of Me." In doing this He left His sacramental presence with us for all time.
Do we appreciate what Jesus did for us? If we don't go to Holy Communion every day when we can, and if we get to Heaven there will be great regrets when we see Jesus, 'Lord, You are wonderful! How stupid, how cold, how ungrateful I was not to receive you every day in Communion when I could. To think I could have made Heaven begin on Earth and I didn’t. Oh what opportunities I’ve missed!'
When Jesus said the words, “Do this in commemoration of Me,” He gave to particular men, note that not a woman was present, the power of changing bread and wine into His risen self. This power was handed on to priests at their ordination down the centuries. That is why today is a very special day for priests all over the world: we remember Jesus giving this power for the first time to His apostles.
How we should love and admire Jesus, Our Lord, on this night of all nights. Under so much stress and afraid of what He had to undergo the next day, what wonderful things He did - the lesson in brotherly love, giving Himself in the Holy Eucharist and ordaining His first priests.
Lord Jesus, let our hearts be full of gratitude for Your love and friendship, thanking You for giving us a vivid example of brotherly love. Forgive us our coldness and perhaps our lack of awareness of Your daily presence in our churches. Above all this evening help us to reaffirm our commitment to love You and make You the centre of our lives.