Guess Who Came to Dinner?

The Real Last Supper

The Passover (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14) was the signature event in Israel’s history. Yahweh delivered them from oppression and bondage. It makes us think of other events that liberated people. God cannot abide oppression and exploitation. The patriots liberated America. Sandinistas liberated Nicaragua. The stories of liberation course through history.

The lamb is the key symbol of the Passover. It was easy for the early Christians to see Jesus as the Lamb of God. He delivered us from the oppression of sin and death. Like a lamb, He was nonviolent as he resisted the powers and principalities.

This day Jesus would initiate a new meal, the New Passover meal. We call it Eucharist. Eucharist means to give thanks, to be grateful. We share bread and wine and give thanks because Jesus has delivered us from the bondage of death. Think how death dominates life. Jesus death and resurrection tells us to stop letting death dominate our lives in so many insidious ways and to start living like death does not matter. One example, our fear of death leads us to place a priority on security and military might which, in the end, can never make us secure. Our only security is in Christ Jesus. Death no longer matters. We live risen life in the person, power and presence of the Risen Jesus. Death where is your victory? Where is your sting?

Eucharist is also a Kin-dom meal. It is a meal where all are welcome and all are fed as a sign of God’s justice.

Paul (1 Cor 11:23-26) supplies the account of the institution and purpose of the Eucharist in today’s liturgy. John does not have an institution account as such. The Eucharist is a comm-union with the blood of Christ. We eat and drink in memory of what Jesus did and indeed is still doing sacramentally. In Mark, the disciples, who have consistently failed to get the message and meaning of Jesus, are Being invited to participate in the death and resurrection journey of Jesus as they travel up to Jerusalem. Only when they rendezvous with the Risen Jesus in Galilee will they get it. They will have fled and abandoned Jesus. Judas will hand him over. Peter will deny that he even knows him.

An excursus on Judas. Paul, who wrote the earliest account of the Last Supper does not mention Judas. Beginning with Mark and expanding as later Gospels are read, Judas (Judah) comes to be the symbol of the “Jews” who rejected Jesus. This scenario grew as the Jesus Community tried to distinguish itself from Judaism during a time of persecution. As “the Jews” were vilified, demonized more and more anti-Semitism became acceptable practice within the church. I highly recommend Bishop Spong’s recent essays on the crucifixion for a a fuller treatment of Judas ( ).

Back to Holy Thursday. All too often we get hung up on definitions and theological explanations which in the end divide people. The Eucharist is a meal. Jesus calls us to share in his life. Jesus calls us to embrace and work for the justice He is bringing to earth to counter imperial domination systems. We must remember that one of the main criticisms of Jesus was that he ate with tax collectors and sinners. A few days ago we read that he dined at the house of a leper. Who do we dine with?

John (13:1-15) tells us that Jesus got up from the table and washed the feet of the people gathered there. Some bishops have issued decrees that priests cannot wash the feet of women on Maundy Thursday. Who are they kidding? Do they really think that the women who followed Jesus faithfully were not at the Passover Meal? Do they not think that Jesus would have washed their feet also? Who was there when the men had fled into the night? The women.

We have to love Peter. “You will never wash my feet!” After Jesus rebuked him, Peter went all out, “Wash my feet, my head, my hands. Wash me all over.” Do not miss the baptismal significance of this account. Here Jesus is teaching us how to live as his disciples, how to participate in his death and resurrection. The Suffering Servant is teaching us to serve in humility. The mandatum to celebrate the Eucharist is not the only “mandate” at the Passover Meal. Jesus also “mandates” that we wash one another’s feet. The Kin-dom values presented are service, humility, foot washing hospitality and reverence, and letting go of self, especially the false self which serves empire and its distorted values.

In order to do as Jesus requests, we must work with the grace of God to shed our false selves. Commenting on Merton, Trappist James Connor says:

We are much more aware of that “false self” which is identified with all our efforts at situating ourselves in a hierarchy of power, prestige and greatness (“like unto God” – Gen. 3:5). This “false self” is preoccupied with whatever will make us “look better” in the eyes of others and of ourselves.

As contemplative union draws us closer to God, we shed our shadow false selves and come to our true selves. Merton sees the true self as God living within us, in the very depths of our being. Shedding false self pretence, we come to grips with our own nothingness. God’s love fills the abyss of our utter poverty before God. We share in the very life of God. We are empowered to wash feet and serve.



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