In these days we celebrate the core events of our salvation.
Gospels contain various accounts of what happened at the Last Supper and
on Good Friday – but we don’t have a real understanding of what was
really going on.
We struggle with the vocabulary that was available to
the Jewish listeners 2000 years ago and seek to make sense of the huge
questions of death, sin, forgiveness, redemption and resurrection.
the best we can say is that we cannot know the full import of the
events that we celebrate – and yet we cannot not try to speak of them,
for these occurrences in Jerusalem are the still point around which our
whole understanding of who we are revolves. This is where the axle turns
that drives our faith, hope and love.
The vocabulary that the Gospels give us has to do with a solemn
liturgical meal celebrated once a year, and refers to eating Jesus’ body
and drinking his blood. There is talk of sacrifice and of a new
covenant in his blood – and St John’s Gospel talks about Jesus washing
the disciples’ feet, just before he is arrested. And Jesus invites his
followers to do certain actions again in memory of him.
So what is happening here this evening that brings us together to remember these events of 2000 years ago in Jerusalem?
Firstly, our faith deals with the mystery of who we are and places
our lives in the context of a transcendent God. But Jesus asked more
questions than he gave answers. So much of what he did and said burst
the bounds of normal, agreed, sensible vocabulary. Indeed, even after
the Resurrection, the apostles seem not to understand what Jesus had
been trying to do.
Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, he did not leave a
nicely worked out religion. Rather, he proposed an outrageous childlike
relationship with the God of the universe – and a message that he had
borne the weight of human sin on the Cross. The Eucharist is a mystery
to be delved into, to be savoured, to be enjoyed. In it, we come into
contact with the mystery of what has done for us in Jesus on Calvary.
Through the pinhole of Good Friday we glimpse something of heaven’s
dream for us as revealed in Jesus, God made man, the Word made flesh.
The Mass is sacrifice and meal and communion and covenant and
celebration and consecration. It is none of these on its own. We do the
scriptures an injustice if we over-emphasise one or leave out another.
For God’s work among us cannot be imprisoned and chained in one image.
It is no wonder that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is now so
widespread. Amazement and worship are the most natural responses to the
God who so loved and loves the fractured world in Jesus.
Secondly, the washing of the feet makes it clear that, because of the
God made man in Jesus, love of God and love of neighbour are intimately
connected. There have been times in history when the emphasis went too
much in either direction. But love of God has been the driving force for
so many renewal movements and religious congregations. Those who seek
to know God cannot but share something of the same passion that Jesus
had for the welfare of the lost sheep and the sick. Faith is not an
escape from social engagement but an incentive to it.
But as we see from Peter’s reaction to Jesus, it can sometimes be
easier to minister to others than to let others minister to us. Pride
and mistaken understandings can hold us back. It takes humility to let
others minister to the needs that we might not like to recognise. Let
Jesus minister to you – and do not be afraid to let others know where
you need to be touched and healed.
Thirdly, the emphasis on our receipt of the Body of Christ – so that
we can become the Body of Christ – points to the centrality of community
in Christian faith. In this country we still have a strong sense of
belonging, of rootedness. That intricate web of relationships provides
great shock-absorbers when it comes to dealing with tragedies and
crises. We know from recent events in this diocese and city that we
possess great resources of grace to help us process the challenges that
we face so often.
A me-centred culture that emphasises things and
superficiality actually does huge damage to our ability to flourish as
human beings. The faith community is thus a pointer to both the
possibility of having a deep relationship with God and the capacity that
we have to build supportive and liberating communities.
The absence of
God is an impoverishment of our humanity. All revolutions will remain
unfinished business with place for the vertical and horizontal
relationships that make us deeply human.
So what we celebrate tonight is not some mystery that is so heavenly
that it is no earthly good. The Eucharist invites us to delve into the
mystery of our being loved and forgiven by God in Christ. This is the
mystery of our liberation by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of
Here we are present at the heart of the world’s salvation.
And adoration is the only real possible response.