In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Christ’s Last Supper in the Upper Room in Jerusalem took place in the shadow of the Jewish Passover, commemorating the Exodus from bondage in Egypt and the ongoing miracle of the Children of Israel through God’s particular providence right to the present.  Within that salvation history, Jesus’s mission was to accomplish a more profound deliverance – not from Pharoah, the Egyptians, and their army, but from Satan, sin and death.  And at this Last Supper, Jesus described his mission with two actions that shocked his followers and, were we not made used to it by centuries of repetition, would shock us as well.

First, Jesus got up, took off his robe and girded himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and stooped to wash his disciples’ feet.  They were taken aback, and Peter said so. Jesus replied that we have no share in him unless he washes us clean.  He also said he was setting an example, not simply of a ceremony, but of a new commandment, that we are to love one another as he has loved us.  “You are my friends,” he added, “if you do what I command you.”[1] 

Second, Jesus took bread and wine to reveal the meaning of his approaching death, the event his friends so dreaded.  His death, he said, was their life!  Giving thanks and blessing, he broke the bread and gave it to them to eat, saying, “This is my body which is given for you.”  In the same way after supper he took a cup of wine and said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Early in his ministry, Jesus had said “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”[2] We are what we eat.  Later Jesus called himself the Bread of Life and went on to say “the Bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”; and further, that those who “eat my flesh and drink my blood dwell in me and I in them.”[3]  Now they were tasting and seeing what he meant as they ate and drank the bread and the wine he gave them. They were, and we after them are, feeding on the embodied and sacrificed Word and will of God.

Every time we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we show forth the Lord’s death until he returns. Jesus is not only the Victim of the sin of the world hanging on the cross; Jesus is at the same time the Priest offering his Body and Blood for the life of the world.  We are included in this exchange.  Our sins are part of the dead wood of Jesus’s cross; and our sinful bodies and souls are cleansed by Jesus’s body and blood. This is our Holy Communion. Through this Sacrament, we are taken to the cross, and Jesus is here present; he dwells in us, and we in him.

But if we dwell in him and he is in us, we follow him.  At the Last Supper table, Jesus said one of his disciples would betray him, and that disciple went out into the night to fulfill the word.  There was time for Jesus to escape.  Instead he went out into the night as well, leaving the city for the Garden of Gethsemane. The Solemn Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose commemorates Christ’s journey there.  There, in an agony of sweat and blood, as Peter, James and John slept nearby, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”  Then came the high priest’s soldiers and a crowd with Judas Iscariot leading the way. They identified Jesus, arrested him, and took him to his trials before both Church and State, which would result in his judicial murder on the day mysteriously named Good Friday.

Tonight and tomorrow night and Saturday night are called the Triduum Sacrum, the Great Three Days, and are really one continuous liturgy. At the end of tonight, as the choir chants the psalms of lamentation, we segue into tomorrow as the the high altar and sanctuary are stripped, symbolizing Christ’s humiliation.  Before you leave, you may wish to watch before the Blessed Sacrament for a while.

[1] St. John 15:12-14, after Jesus leaves the Upper Room and crosses the Kidron Valley to go to the Garden of Gethsemane.

[2] St. John 4:31-34, at Jacob’s Well in Samaria.

[3] St. John 6:1-71, where Jesus, following the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, spoke of himself at length as the Bread of Life.

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