The faith which we celebrate during these days of Holy Week has always had a down to earth dimension. Suffering, struggle, and failure have been the fabric of our history, fashioning our identity.
The Passover feast which Jesus was celebrating with his disciples at the Last Supper commemorates the night of the departure from Egypt and the great trek towards the land of promise, towards their God. It involved new beginnings, sustenance on the journey, and solidarity together. At the Last Supper the little community of disciples was falling to pieces. There was a strange sense of foreboding in that upper room. There was mention of betrayal, lack of trust, who is it? Is it I Lord? Just when it all seemed hopeless Jesus performs the sacrament of hope. He took the unleavened bread into his hands saying “this is my body given for you”. He asked his disciples to take it and eat it, to take inside themselves (in the manner of food) his whole way of living. He signalled a new beginning; it was food for their life’s journey; it was a statement of solidarity as one people.
Equivalently Jesus is saying: this is me, this is who I am, this is how I have lived, take me within yourselves and feed your minds and hearts on my lifestyle. Jesus is summarising his total life, he was “given” to others, he lived “at the service” of others. He saw himself “like bread”, in that people fed off him, were nourished by listening to him, by paying attention to him. The bread was a symbol carrying something far richer, his whole person, character, and approach to life. Eating the bread is a way of declaring openly one’s acceptance of the life and mind of Jesus.
Jesus’ action speaks of loving kindness, mercy, tenderness or compassion. It speaks of a God whose heart was capable of being deeply moved when confronted by human suffering and need. This is a God with “a heart of flesh”. This is a love that washes feet; it speaks of a body that is given for us. It speaks of someone who is true and faithful. Jesus expresses the constant fidelity of God’s love for us, a love on which we can afford to depend, a love that could be trusted.
In the context of the Last Supper, John has Jesus perform an action. This action underlines the meaning of the Eucharist with a basin and towel. With the water he washes the feet of his disciples wiping them with a towel. In the culture of the day, washing of the feet was a welcome into the home and life of the one performing the washing. It becomes for Jesus a profound offering of intimacy and communion.
This is re-enacted not just when we celebrate our Eucharist, but also when we gather to share what we have, when we do even small things that speak of human dignity and hope.
In our wounded world faced with our fragile limitations we need to be guided towards our final goal. That goal is Christ himself who conquered sin and death and who makes himself present to us in a special way in the Eucharist. Eventhough we remain aliens and exiles in this world, through faith we already share Christ’s life. In the Eucharist he comes to the aid of our freedom as we continue our journey.
Each one of us can identify at various times with the uncertainty and confusion of the disciples at the Last Supper whether as parents, married, separated, single, religious or priest. We bring with us to our Eucharist various crosses and crises, disappointments and frustrations, worries and anxieties. In a time of disorientation and uncertainty over the directions of our journey we need the sustaining, supportive presence of the Eucharist.
Only within the challenges of life do we humans uncover the divine dimension of compassion, forgiveness, love, and joy that lie in the depths of our hearts. It is in this sense of discovering the riches within that in the Eucharist we “meet the God” in whose image and likeness we were created.