APRIL 13TH, 2017: EUCHARIST OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
"This month shall stand at the head of your calendar;
you shall reckon it the first month of the year.
Tell the whole community of Israel:
On the tenth of this month every one of your families
must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household.
If a family is too small for a whole lamb,
it shall join the nearest household in procuring one
and shall share in the lamb
in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it.
The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish.
You may take it from either the sheep or the goats.
You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month,
and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present,
it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight.
They shall take some of its blood
and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel
of every house in which they partake of the lamb.
That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh
with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
"This is how you are to eat it:
with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand,
you shall eat like those who are in flight.
It is the Passover of the LORD.
For on this same night I will go through Egypt,
striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast,
and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt—I, the LORD!
But the blood will mark the houses where you are.
Seeing the blood, I will pass over you;
thus, when I strike the land of Egypt,
no destructive blow will come upon you.
"This day shall be a memorial feast for you,
which all your generations shall celebrate
with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution."
Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him,
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
Simon Peter said to him,
"Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him,
"Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all."
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."
So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do."
It’s more than interesting that the problem which triggered tonight’s I Corinthians pericope was still around at least 35 years later and also triggered our Johannine passage. Writing as a frequent Eucharistic presider, I guarantee the same problem is still front and center today; it’s never gone away.
Someone recently complained to me that the new priest in their parish habitually celebrates a “robotic Mass.” He simply rattles off the prayers and performs the required actions. There’s almost no eye contact with the participants, no spontaneity in the celebration. The church building itself is configured in the usual “hallway pattern:” altar in front, pews tightly positioned on either side of the center aisle. We’re so accustomed to that configuration and that kind of Mass that most of us find it hard to imagine the ideals that prompted Paul and John to compose today’s second and third readings.
Early Christian Eucharists were thought to be the central place in which people of faith encountered the risen Jesus. Among other biblical passages, Luke’s chapter 24 story of the disciples Easter Sunday chance meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus provides us a prime example of that theology. “They recognized him in the ‘breaking of the bread.’”
None of our ancestors in the faith believed that the risen Jesus appeared magically, just because someone said the right words or employed the correct gestures. They were convinced that just as Jesus died prior to his resurrection, so they had to die prior to experiencing him. As always, their death revolved around giving themselves to others – in this case, in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
It’s clear in the second half of I Corinthians 11 that Paul is more than uptight about some in the community who are refusing to wholeheartedly include the poor in their celebrations. That’s why he reminds them not only of what Jesus said and did during his Last Supper, but also of their obligation in their recreations of that meal to “ . . . proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
The problem of Eucharistic giving of oneself for others is also a problem for John’s community. That’s why the evangelist brings up the foot washing during his account of Jesus’ Last Supper. His Jesus not only shows the depth of his giving by engaging in this menial action, but through his confrontation with Peter, he also shows that he expects his followers to be just as giving. Peter is basically saying, “If I were in your place, I wouldn’t do this.” Jesus, on the other hand, informs him, “It’s my way or the highway!” (I often remind my communities of something a friend once mentioned: “It’s pretty nigh impossible to wash someone’s feet when you’re standing on a pedestal.”)
Just as our Jewish ancestors were expected to recreate the particulars of the Exodus in their Passover celebrations, so we Christians are expected to recreate the particulars of Jesus’ giving of himself in our Eucharistic celebrations. Difficult to do given some of our church’s liturgical restrictions.
I’ll never forget the comment one of our parishioners made during our first celebration of the Lord’s Supper after we replaced our pews with chairs and set them up in a semi-circle around the altar. “This is the first time I’ve actually seen people’s faces during Mass,” she remarked. “Usually I just saw the backs of their heads.”
Perhaps tonight of all nights, we might at least make a special attempt to look people in the eye during the celebration. After all, if we’re serious about giving ourselves for them, we’re actually looking into the eyes of the risen Jesus in our midst.