Ex 12.1-8, 11-14; Ps 115 (116); I Cor 11.23-26; Jn 13.1-15
“Jesus Christ gave a Lasting Memorial”
One of his Catholic disciples asked the controversial god-man Osho Rajneesh about the difference between Buddha the founder of Buddhism and Jesus Christ. He told a story to distinguish between Buddha and Christ. When Buddha was on his death bed, his disciple Anand asked him for a memorial and Buddha gave him a Jasmine flower. But as the flower dried up, the memory of Buddha also dwindled. But Jesus Christ instituted a lasting memorial without anybody’s asking for it by offering his body and blood in the form of bread and wine and commanding his disciples to share his divinity by repeating the ceremony. So Jesus continues to live in his followers while Buddha lives only in history books. On Holy Thursday we are reflecting on the importance of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and priesthood. Osho Rajneesh claimed himself to be another incarnation of God who attained “enlightenment” at 29 when he was a professor of Hindu philosophy in Jabalpur University in India. He had thousands of followers for his controversial “liberation through sex theology” based on Hindu, Buddhist and Christian theology
“You don't Recognize me, do you?”
There is an old legend about Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. In all of his paintings he tried to find someone to pose that fit the face of the particular character he was painting. Out of hundreds of possibilities he chose a young 19-year old to portray Jesus. It took him six months to paint the face of Jesus. Seven years later Da Vinci started hunting for just the right face for Judas. Where could he find one that would portray that image? He looked high and low. Down in a dark Roman dungeon he found a wretched, unkempt prisoner to strike the perfect pose. The prisoner was released to his care and when the portrait of Judas was complete the prisoner said to the great artist, "You don't recognize me, do you? I am the man you painted seven years ago as the face of Christ. O God, I have fallen so low."
The Last Supper
Tonight we enter into the most sacred holy days of our shared Christian tradition. From Thursday night to Sunday morning we are invited into the drama that is one of the mainstays of the world, one of the recurring themes of the universe. We are invited to watch it from the sidelines, or to stand up and enter into it ourselves – as much or as little as we can handle right now, this year, at this point in our lives.
And that drama is this. It has four parts.
Many of us go through our lives somewhat – or entirely – resistant. We resist things that are different, we resist new concepts, new food, new people, new places. We like what we know, we like our traditions, we like what is familiar and solid and dependable – and that’s fine. We can like, we can have preference, that’s fine. But when we resist as a knee jerk reaction instead of taking a moment to weigh and decide for ourselves if perhaps change is warranted in this particular situation – then we’re not being smart, we’re just being stubborn. We’re being… resistant.
Maundy Thursday invites us to embrace what is real, even if we don’t particularly like it. Depending on the gospel story, this is either the time that Jesus ate the Passover meal, and his final meal with his friends which we remember each time we have communion, or it is the time that Jesus, the teacher, bent down to his knees and acted as the slave and washed the feet of his disciples. Both stories required something of their first listeners, and of the people who figured in the stories themselves.
During dinner, Jesus had things that were difficult to say and difficult to hear, but they needed to be said. His disciples needed to remember, and they needed to accept.
Washing the Feet
Ordering his disciples to allow him to wash their feet was also hard for them to handle – it really was servant’s work, and they were appalled and humiliated on his behalf that Jesus would act in such a way. But that was his point, of which they were so resistant: Loving one another really is the most important thing, and that is how other people will recognize us – by our love. Still, it was hard for them to hear, and hard for them to do.
But that is Maundy Thursday, the first part of the drama. Non-resistance, or acceptance if you like.
All things die. All things end. This is a basic and fundamental truth of our Universe that we don’t particularly approve of. Instead we tell ourselves fairy tales of fountains of youth, and then we go and use Oil of Olay. We use euphemisms for death, like passed away, passed on, in a better place. But it’s not just people that die, it’s ideas, too, and civilizations, relationships, towns, religions, and vacuum cleaners. Things die. Things end. Life; and parts of life, draw to a close, and part of why it is so very, very, hard to deal with is because we haven’t yet accepted that it is part of the way the world works, independent of morality. Good people die, bad people die. Death is not a punishment for the wicked, nor is the death of a civilization or relationship or city punishment for sins. Things simply don’t last forever, and everything in this world comes to an end.
This is the second part of the drama we’re invited into. The first part is non-resistance, which is really helpful to master first, because the second part is death.
The third part is ritualized in the Easter Vigil, and it has no snappy name, except to say that it is the time between death and rebirth. It is the winter of the cycle where things seem to be dormant, and yet life continues on. And we are asked to continue to live, even when it feels like our hearts have been torn out. We are asked to continue paying the bills, even though our worlds will never be the same. We still have to eat and sleep and function, and we do, even though something important has just died, and we probably weren’t quite ready for it.
That is the third part of the drama – dormancy, might be a good way to think of it. So the first part is non-resistance, the second is death, and the third is dormancy.
Back to Life
This is the fourth part of the drama – the end, which will always ever circle back to the beginning again. And that is, rebirth in Christ and through Christ. We celebrate it on Easter Sunday, and every Sunday. It is the utter joy of something fresh and new, something vital and vigorous, like a sapling, or a baby, a new home, or a new hike, a new lease on life, or a new love… or a new hope for something better this time.
The Last Supper is the solemn occasion Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist reveals that our salvation begins with God, not ourselves. God offers Himself to man in Christ first. At the same time, as the summit of Christian spirituality, the Eucharist is man's supreme, grace-enabled, freely given offering of himself back to God through Jesus Christ, our high priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The union or intimate, personal fellowship between God and man realized through God's gift of Himself to man and man's faithful response, we call communion.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada