Jn  13.1-15                       Ex 12.1-20             1Cor 11.17-34

As we well know, the Last Supper has inspired many artists throughout Christian history, to depict the scene in many diverse ways.  Leonardo Da Vinci’s 1495 classic mural in Milan is probably the best known and copied, but Salvador Dali’s surreal “Sacrament of the Last Supper” runs a close second, and he delighted in the fact that reproductions of this painting outsold virtually every other modern painting. (He even claimed it was 100 times better than all of Picasso’s works put together!!)

Then there have been copies of Da Vinci’s original created out of rock salt, postage stamps, toast, chocolate sauce, butter, spiderwebs, spools of thread, vegetables, Rubik’s cubes, dryer lint; Jesus and the street children is another take, and Andy Warhol’s multiple versions, where he obsessively produced nearly 100 variations on the theme.  So there’s no lack of popular awareness of what we celebrate this evening!

John’s Gospel doesn’t even mention the breaking and blessing of the bread and sharing of the wine at the Last Supper, so concerned is he with conveying the final words of Jesus, in his long, long farewell discourse (John 14-17).  He has a whole theology of Eucharist as the Bread of Life earlier in his Gospel (John 6), so it’s not as if Eucharist is not fundamentally important as food for the journey of Christian life, and Bread for the Broken, as we all are.  But the follow through is clearly of a call to service in the world around us, not just a private devotion, which also has its place in our Catholic Tradition of prayer, meditation and adoration, for which there is time afterwards this evening.

Holy Thursday also evokes an ominous anticipation of the injustice of it all, as the darkness closes in on Jesus, who has been the man for others all the way, and whose integrity and truth have shone through, against the hypocrisy, self-righteousness and jealousy of the religious leaders of his day, in particular.

We might wonder how Judas could have come to the point of betrayal, as it was not as if he was predetermined to give the Judas kiss, as it has become known, just for the 30 pieces of silver, whatever that might have been worth.  As we know, he realized his guilt and the depth of his sin, once he had the so-called reward, which meant nothing to him in the end, as all was lost, including his own life, as he couldn’t forgive himself.

Then there is Peter, whose enthusiasm is reflected throughout the Gospels, yet who also falls short when the heat is on, and he not only retreats into the darkness once Jesus is arrested, but then denies he even knows him, perhaps understandably in some ways, as who wouldn’t be frightened and uncertain of the consequences, if he admitted the truth?  And so I reiterate this suggests there’s hope for us all, particularly in our weaker moments of failure, fear and doubt in our own lives.

‘Doubting’ Thomas too is worth a mention, as he is honest enough to express his doubts and fears out loud, which the others are afraid to mention.  Then he steps forward in faith, as Jesus reassures him, in the darkness of it all, that he remains “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, whatever is to befall him.

And then, it does seem to be John, who stands firm to the end, with the faithful women at the foot of the Cross, but that’s for tomorrow.  This evening, we focus on the words and actions of Jesus as he shares a final meal with his inner circle of closest friends.  Some ask if there were in fact women at the Last Supper, and the answer remains we’ll never know, but it’s a possibility, particularly given Jesus’ close association with women all through his public ministry, counter to the practices of the religious leaders and teachers of his day.  He treated them as friends, and forgiven, particularly where society of the time saw some of them as unredeemable outcasts and sinners, as there was not the same understanding of forgiveness and mercy as Jesus demonstrated.

Despite the reassurances of Jesus at the time, those present must have had apprehension and uncertainty about what was to come next, and what their future role might be, if Jesus was to disappear from their lives, as events unfolded.  John’s farewell discourse summarises Jesus’ fundamental teaching of the law of love, calling us his friends, if we do as he commands, maintaining unity in the face of adversity, in a sometimes hostile world.

The whole event is more than just a historic memory for us to commemorate, but an experience of his ongoing presence among us, not only in the bread and wine of Eucharist, but also in his Word and where we gather in his name as a faith community of his friends.

American priest sociologist Andrew Greeley puts it this way: “The followers of Jesus were not likely to forget that at the Last Supper Jesus washed their feet. Nor were they likely to forget that on the next day he suffered and died for them. God, through Jesus, had revealed a love for his creatures which meant that he would serve them. The secret of keeping the community together after Jesus had gone would be to continue this generous, self-giving service which, in Jesus, reflected the love of the heavenly Father for all his creatures. If God had served unselfishly, so must they – WE!!”   And so now we remember him and his call to love and service in his name.

Well, after a 4 year break, we’re back to washing the feet on Holy Thursday, with COVID restrictions and precautions.  There have been all kinds of variations over the years, with just how to convey the meaning of Jesus’ washing of the feet of his disciples in a contemporary way.  One suggestion to simplify things was to wash the hands, rather than the feet, which I felt was a rather bad idea, given that’s what Pontius Pilate did as a symbol of passing the buck for the responsibility of Jesus’ wrongful conviction, suffering and death!

Certainly, the symbolism is of a call to service of others, and also a sign of humility, that no job is too menial where another person is in need.  For Jesus, the washing of the feet was a very clear demonstration of humility and service, a culmination of his ministry to others, whoever or whatever their circumstances, so here we go again, with representative members of our community involved in various aspects of service in parish life!  So it’s shoes and sox off in the front line!!

john hannon                                                                                    28th  March  2024

View All