Holy Thursday: The Last Supper

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A summary of the meaning and significance of the events on Holy Thursday:

Mystical Supper 

At the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room Jesus gave a radically new meaning to the food and drink of the sacred meal. He identified Himself with the bread and wine: “Take, eat; this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New Covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28).

In the Eucharist, the distinctively unique human food – bread and wine – becomes our gift of life. Consecrated and sanctified, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

This change is not physical but mystical and sacramental.

In the eucharistic meal God enters into such a communion of life that He feeds humanity with His own being, while still remaining distinct. 

In the Eucharist we receive and partake of the resurrected Christ. We share in His sacrificed, risen and deified Body, “For the forgiveness of sins and life eternal” (Divine Liturgy).

Washing of the Feet 

The events initiated by Jesus at the Mystical Supper were profoundly significant. By teaching and giving the disciples His final instructions and praying for them as well, He revealed again His divine Sonship and authority.

By washing the feet of His disciples, He summarized the meaning of His ministry, manifested His perfect love and revealed His profound humility. 

The act of the washing of the feet (John 13:2-17) is closely related to the sacrifice of the Cross. Both reveal aspects of Christ’s kenosis.*

While the Cross constitutes the ultimate manifestation of Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:5-8), the washing of the feet signifies His intense love and the giving of Himself to each person according to that person’s ability to receive Him (John 13:6-9).

Prayer in the Garden 

The moving events in the Garden of Gethsemane dramatically and poignantly disclosed the human nature of Christ. The sacrifice He was to endure for the salvation of the world was imminent. Death, with all its brutal force and fury, stared directly at Him. Its terrible burden and fear – the calamitous** results of the ancestral sin – caused Him intense sorrow and pain (Hebrews 5:7).

Instinctively, as man, He sought to escape it. He found Himself in a moment of decision. In His agony, He prayed to His Father, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).

His prayer revealed the depths of His agony and sorrow. It revealed as well His “incomparable spiritual strength (and) immovable desire and decision . . . to bring about the will of the Father.”

Jesus offered His unconditional love and trust to the Father. He reached the extreme limits of self-denial “not what I will” – in order to accomplish His Father’s will. His acceptance of death was not some kind of stoic*** passivity and resignation but an act of absolute love and obedience. He learned obedience and fulfilled the divine plan (Hebrews 5:8-9).

The Betrayal 

Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, the sign of friendship and love. The betrayal and crucifixion of Christ carried the ancestral sin to its extreme limits. In these two acts the rebellion against God reached its maximum capacity.

The betrayal of Judas reveals that sin, death, and self-destruction are also due to love, but to deviated and distorted love, love directed at that which does not deserve love.

Here is the mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy, where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which depends the eternal destiny of each one of us.

But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal.

Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. “And it was night” (John 13:30).

Why does he leave?

Because he loves, answers the Gospel, and his fateful love is stressed again and again in the hymns of Holy Thursday. It does not matter indeed, that he loves the “silver.” Money stands here for all the deviated and distorted love which leads man into betraying God.

It is, indeed, love stolen from God and Judas, therefore, is the Thief.

When he does not love God and in God, man still loves and desires, for he was created to love and love is his nature, but it is then a dark and self-destroying passion and death is at its end. And each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light and depth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us:

Do I respond to Christ’s love and accept it as my life

OR

Do I follow Judas into the darkness of his night?

*Kenosis: noun

(in Christian theology) the renunciation of the divine nature, at least in part, by Christ in the Incarnation.

**Calamitous: adjective

1 involving calamity; catastrophic; disastrous: such calamitous events as fires, hurricanes, and floods.

***Stoic: noun

1 a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.

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