Tonight, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This year that phrase might seem a bit ironic as our churches remain closed to us and to the celebration of the Eucharist. We are fasting from the Lord’s supper everywhere across the diocese except in this small chapel. Yet we will still celebrate and our scripture readings will highlight this night of the year as a time when we focus on the breaking of bread and the washing of feet for what it means to those of us who call Jesus Christ our Savior.
Perhaps the circumstances of this year’s celebration give us an opportunity to reflect even more deeply on the mysteries of our faith. In the absence of that which we celebrate maybe we can appreciate in a new way the significance of that which we are missing.
Each Sunday that we come to Church we hear the same words time and again. “Do this in memory of Me”. The image is that of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples telling them that after he is gone, they should do likewise, break bread in remembrance. But Jesus also wanted them to remember that it was not just how he broke bread but about how his whole life was offered to us as he was devoted to overcoming injustice in the world, to freeing prisoners, restoring sight to the blind and healing the lame?
The scripture passage from John’s Gospel is so important in understanding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. In his story John doesn’t even get to the breaking of the bread. Instead he spends his time describing the period before the meal.
The disciples, having come from all directions through the dusty streets of Jerusalem, arrived at the upper room. There was probably an awkward silence as each disciple hoped the next would look after the task of fetching water so that the meal could commence. None was willing to lose face in the group, as there was already an unspoken competition as to who in the group deserved to be ranked above the others.
In the midst of this social chess match Jesus quietly and unassumingly went about giving them something to remember as he placed a towel around himself and proceeded to wash their feet.
That a man would wash another man’s feet was something to be avoided. That a master should wash the feet of his followers was a scandal and Peter reacted accordingly. Yet that was the way with Jesus, upsetting the status quo to make his point about what it really means to love. Jesus took on the role of a servant to show to his disciples that to truly love another means more than using words to express nice sentiments.
To love someone requires action, and quite often action that is very difficult. It takes sacrifice. As I look around the communities where I visit, I see this kind of sacrifice every day. Grandparents open their homes to their Grandchildren when parents must leave town for work. A worn couch in an already crowded home is offered as a refuge to someone who has no place to stay. Food harvested and brought to the elders so that no one goes hungry.
It was this commitment to personal sacrifice out of love for one’s neighbour that Jesus wanted his disciples to remember as they came together and broke bread. It is a commitment that we need to practice if we wish to be called Christian.
I have received many emails and phone calls about the state of our churches during the pandemic. I understand the frustration and the hurt because I feel it myself. We want to celebrate our faith together and to receive the gift of the body and blood of Christ that he gave for us.
But we have been given another gift this year. The opportunity to truly practice that which we have become because of the Eucharist, to be servants. To be willing to sacrifice something that we love for the greater good, to forgo that which gives us strength so that we can do our part to ensure the health and safety of our elders and the most vulnerable.
The churches are not gone, they are waiting. Waiting for us to return as the disciples returned to tell of all the good works they performed in the name of Christ. Let us enter into our Triduum celebration acknowledging the longing in our heart but knowing that we follow the path that Jesus walked first on his way to the cross and the resurrection.