Fr John's Homily - Holy Thursday

18 April 2019 | General Interest


Jn 13.1-15 1Cor11.23-26 Ex12.1-14

Googlepix has something like 800 images of artwork depicting Last Supper, so it’s a long lasting and popular enduring theme for artistic depictions, this one night in history, which we celebrate in faith, as followers of Jesus in doing as he instructed us!

Leonardo Da Vinci’s provides the standout template, with his 1495 Last Supper fresco in Milan as one of the world’s most recognizable paintings, with Salvador Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper” of 1955 as most popular in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and one of Dali’s most popular compositions, reflecting his post-War increased interest in science, optical illusion and religion, during the period even becoming a devout Catholic (I’m not so sure for how long he sustained his devoutness!), in what he described as this era of his work as ‘Nuclear Mysticism’. He himself describes the picture thus: “The First Holy Communion on Earth is conceived as a sacred rite of the greatest happiness for humanity.”

So much artwork has been based on this theme, and in particular, on Leonardo’s interpretation. An extraordinary amount of different media have been tried to represent it. Let’s start with my Goan tapestry in front of the altar, followed by 10 examples worldwide, in rough order of time: Rock salt (Poland 1936), postage stamps (Texas), toast (Surfers’ Paradise Australia), chocolate sauce (Milan-California), butter, Spiderwebs (Surfers’ again!), spools of thread, vegetables (Paris-Beijing), Rubik’s Cubes (Toronto) and dryer lint (Orlando Florida 2009), so on it goes.

Then there is the Holy Grail evolution from the Last Supper cup or chalice to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table searching for it, to the unlikely exploits of Indiana Jones to ‘The Da Vinci Code’ of Dan Brown, a ripping yarn.70% well researched plus 30% absolute fictional fantasy! (A bit like the alleged ‘Crown of Thorns’ relic, saved from fire in Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris!! Let’s not worry about the reality, but the story’s a good one.) Remember, Dan Brown is professor of how to write a good book that will sell, with the film to follow. He has certainly done that. (There is even a book titled “Who Cooked the Last Supper? The Women’s History of the World’ by Rosalind Miles.)

But our story is one of faith, not relics or souvenirs, and it goes back to the heart of our Eucharistic celebrations ever since, particularly in the Catholic Christian tradition.

Richard Leonard SJ quotes a French Jesuit poet Didier Rimaud: “In remembrance of you, We take the bread of Easter in our hands, This bread do we consume: It does no longer taste of bitter herbs, nor of unleavened bread. It is the bread of a land promised where we shall be set free. In remembrance of you, We take the wine of Easter at our feast, This wine do we hold dear. It does no longer taste of bitter springs, nor of dark salty pools. It is the wine of a land promised us where we shall be made whole. In remembrance of you, From exile we return! In remembrance of you, We walk across the sea.” Leonard states: “Jesus’ personal and religious identity was inextricably tied to the Passover and Exodus… metaphors for what God is doing for us all in Christ… The Last Supper gives us ‘food for the journey’… The service and hospitality of the Eucharist establish the pattern of our daily lives, remembering that by journey’s end we will, in Christ, inherit the land promised us, where all creation will be made whole and we will be set free."

The 1986 film ‘Babette’s Feast’ is a classic metaphor for Eucharist (confirmed by my liturgist and theologian friend Frank O’Loughlin), in the way the locals in a remote Norwegian village are transformed by the sumptuous meal put on in gratitude by Babette. From judgemental frumps and grumps, yet having done the right thing taking her in, as a refugee fleeing from the dangers and fears of the 1871 Parisian riots. The best of everything is provided by Babette for poor and rich alike, as she brings life to a bleak community through bringing them together to celebrate life and the good things associated with it, an incredible transformation, reflective of what Eucharist should be, as we remember, give thanks, and acknowledge his Real Presence in the bread broken and wine poured out for us.

Paul’s letter to Corinthians provides the earliest account of the Last Supper, as we know it. He’s not happy with their tendency to apply the Roman custom of classify guests socially, even when gathering for Eucharist in their homes, and giving little to those considered inferior. It seems there were divisions, factions and wrangling going on, with inadequate Christian response. The well-off were still more into self-gratification, with scant attention to the needs or rights of the poor, who worked all day without enough food. For Paul, there was no Eucharist if there was not love one another for authentic believers, gathering for table fellowship, as Jesus so often did, prior to his Last Supper.

Authentic remembering and imitation of Jesus is not just limited to gathering for the commemorative meal, as John’s Gospel highlights the practical demands of service for disciples. The washing of the feet is a sign or symbol of hospitality and humility for all to take to heart and apply, at a challenging and ominous time, but the mission is to go on, in proclamation and living of this Good News.

This is more than just memorial, but an existential reality, as the meaning of Eucharist is his Real Presence in our faith tradition. Jesus’ literal self-sacrifice demonstrates the need to counter selfishness, and ongoing self-examination is required for me and you.

Yet, human weakness is to the fore, with the betrayal of Judas foretold and then the denial of Peter, the supposed designated leader. And it is honest (as I call him), moreso than doubting, Thomas, who is game enough to ask the obvious question of how to face the future without Jesus’ physical presence, both here and after the Crucifixion.

There is underlying concern in Jesus’ words, for communities facing external hostility, not just in terms of what was to happen to him, as he moves out into the darkness of betrayal, denial and death, following his long, long farewell discourse here in John’s account. It’s a rough and tough world out there. Hard times of rejection and persecution are to follow in the life of the early Church communities, and then throughout the ups and downs of Christian history as we look back, and around us now as well. It is said that John’s account of Jesus’ is not so much about ecclesial authority and organization, but of inclusion of later community members, as is Paul’s concern with Corinthians and the other groups with whom he engages in proclaiming the Gospel and breaking the bread of Eucharist for all.

On the practical side, I also believe this is a time for us to reflect on and appreciate our diverse parish community groups and services reflecting the call to discipleship in reality, as we reach out in hospitality and generosity of spirit, giving of ourselves in time and energy. I acknowledge with gratitude, the involvement of so many volunteers in the areas of parish administration, music and liturgy, pastoral care and Eucharistic Ministry to the sick, Baptism families, Senior Friendship Group, St Vincent de Paul Society, those involved with our parish school, among others, and also our generous support of Project Compassion, looking beyond the local scene. Over the last few weeks, as I visited many who are on our sick and elderly list, at home and in places of assisted care, who can’t join us for Eucharist, I had a real sense of appreciation for the connection provided by those who regularly visit with Eucharist and friendship. Thanks to all involved.

And so, as a symbolic reminder of the call to service in humility for all, we now move to the annual ritual of the washing of the feet of 12 of our faithful parishioners, young and old, female and male!


john hannon   18th April 2019


To read more of John's homilies click here