Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday - Communion leads to Humility and Service and Perseverance

Holy Thursday

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed 
on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." 

Matthew 26.26-28

The Institution of the Holy Eucharist

“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22.14-15).

Recall that Moses and Elijah had appeared in glory with Christ and “converse with him about his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. (Luke 9.30-31)

Once Jesus entered Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple, the city was all abuzz with many pilgrims in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover and Jesus had attracted much attention – he had been teaching and working miracles. But especially since he had cleansed the Temple, there was a plot to against Jesus owing to the people’s messianic hopes and yet the Temple authorities knew the Romans would not tolerate such rioting or insurrection. The religious authorities cooperated with the Romans in order to maintain their status, position, and privilege.

Immediately after Jesus had instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, he reveals that one of the twelve will betray him! And the disciples begin to debate among themselves who among them would do such a thing. (Lk. 22.23).

Then an argument broke out among them about which of them should be considered the greatest! (Mk. 10.41-45; Mt. 20.24-28). Luke 9.46; 23.24 

“Deny yourself,” “Take up your Cross,” “Lose your life for my sake” yet in Lk. 9.46 “An argument broke out among them about which of them should be considered the greatest.

Can we imagine? He is giving his last lecture, his last teaching, and farewell address, and the disciples are arguing about their place at table and the prestige they ought to be afforded!

Rivalry among the disciples themselves – jealousy, petty arguments – even among Jesus disciples and Christian followers. And immediately after they receive the Eucharist from his very hands. Lk. 22.23

The competition – an argument broke out?! Jesus had already covered this topic in Luke 9.46 and even in Matthew 20.20-28, the mother of James and John – Salome – the wife of Zebedee – actually came to Jesus with the request that her sons sit at his right and left.

Jesus has warned his disciples against ambition (Mk. 9.33 and Mk. 10.33-40) 

Jesus summoned them and said to them,“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10.42-45).

Discipleship isn't about power or authority.

Jesus then reiterates the teaching that they would serve and be servants!
“…Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves (Luke 22.26-27).  

“The greatest among you must be your servant” (Mt. 23.11).

Even those who partake of the Holy Eucharist can be guilty of ambition and have the infectious disease of ambition and seeking of position and prestige.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke – and even Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes about the Eucharist:

"Is not the cup he cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 cor 10. 16-17).

Tradition of the Institution.

"For 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. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor. 11.23-29).

Luke relates: "Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you" (Luke 22.19-20).

In John, like the synoptics, he does celebrate a Passover Meal, but it is not the traditional meal, it is Jesus’ new Passover.

Jesus dies on the preparation day for Passover, for He is our Paschal Lamb. (The Paschal Lamb is not a sacrifice of atonement, but one of sealing and renewing the covenant with God).

Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on the institution of the Holy Eucharist ; John has already dealt with the Eucharist in John 6:

Jesus declares: “I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6.35).  “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day. (John 6.40). “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”(John 6.50-51).

“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6.52-58).

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? – (John 6.60-61)

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6.66-67).

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

 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.” 

John 13:14-15

The Washing of the Disciples Feet

John’s Gospel – Chapter 13

The farewell discourse.

He 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…to hand him over. So during the 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….”

“Love is the path to God, but in John’s gospel Jesus’ depiction of love is very specific: laying down one’s life for others.” – Scott M. Lewis (Collegeville Biblical commentary series).

Saint John knew that Paul and the Synoptic writers had related the institution of the Eucharist in their writings, so he focuses on the Foot Washing at the Last supper, whereby our Blessed Lord is continuing to teach the disciples about service to others, dying to self, and what Eucharist should lead all believers to do….

If the Eucharist is significant, it will lead to humility and service to one another.

Kenosis / Dying to self 

The Incarnation leads to self-abasement

Only a slave was to wash feet. (The Son of God emptied himself and became a slave Phil 2.5-11).

He gives us a pattern of self-giving love.

Jesus is shattering the world’s idea of greatness and worldly honor, domination and making others subservient.

“He replaces it with a new model for human relationships: loving and humble service and laying down one’s life for others.”

“The foot-washing symbolizes the salvific death of Jesus….[and it also] likely invokes the baptism that is the rite of passage into the community and a sharing in the Jesus’ death.”

“As teacher and lord, Jesus was willing to wash their [the disciples’] feet; how much more should they be willing to do the same for one another

The foot-washing is given as a model or paradigm not only of humble and loving service, but of self-sacrificing love. he is not proposing an anemic [cold, stilted, purely ceremonial] Holy Thursday ritual, but a pattern or model to be imitated in every aspect of life, from small acts of kindness to sacrificial death! It only has the power to bless when it is understood and put into practice.” – Scott M. Lewis

Pope Benedict XVI writes of the condescension of God in Christ, whereby He reveals what God is really like: “He divests himself of his divine splendor; he, as it were, kneels down before us; he washes us and dries our soiled feet in order to make us fit to sit at table for God’s wedding feast.

"He loves us to the end and draws us out of our self-centeredness and pride
With the sacrament of the Eucharist, He renews us from within, and unleashed a new life within us.

“Jesus’ action becomes ours, because He is acting in us.”

As Saint Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus who lives in me” (Gal. 2.20).

"Their is a connection between humble service and glory: It is in Jesus a downward path in his abasement even to the Cross, that God’s glory is seen...."

In the act of the Eucharist, "Breaking and distributing: it is the act of distrusting that creates community….the archetypal human gesture of giving, sharing, and uniting acquires an entirely new depth in Jesus’ Last Supper through His gift of Himself….this gesture of Jesus has thus come to symbolize the whole mystery of the Eucharist: in the Acts of the Apostles and in early Christianity  generally, the ‘breaking of the bread’ designates the Eucharist. In this sacrament we enjoy the hospitality of God, who gives Himself to us in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Thus breaking bread and distributing it—the act of attending lovingly to those in need—is an intrinsic dimension of the Eucharist.

“’Caritas’ (charity) care for the other is NOT an additional sector of Christianity alongside worship; rather it is rooted in it and forms part of it. The horizontal and the vertical are inseparably linked in the Eucharist, in the ‘breaking of the bread’.

"The Eucharist is also a visible process of gathering…it involves entering into communion with the living God, who inwardly draws people together. The Church comes into being from the Eucharist. She receives her unity and her mission from the Eucharist. She is derived from the Last Supper, that is to say, from Christ’s death and Resurrection, which he anticipated in the gift of His body and blood. [pages 132-144 Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week].

Jean Vanier wrote: “Washing feet is related to the Eucharist” – “to receive communion is to be in communion with Jesus.

“Communion at the Table of the Lord cannot be separated from the communion lived in washing each other’s feet.”

Noted Preacher and Scripture Scholar, Fred Craddock, notes: The Passover Lamb binds one in covenant with God, it offers a new kind of freedom, release from sin and death, and those who share in the covenant are joined to one another, life to life, as signified and sealed in the cup shared among themselves—binding disciples together in a congregation, as members of one another.

William Barclay argues, [as I do], that the argument scene in Luke 22.24 may well have precipitated the foot-washing in John 13. Here in the shadow of the Cross, His disciples are still arguing who is the greatest of all.

"A desire for prominence and prestige versus the greatness of service.

"Sometimes people get all bent out of shape because they are passed over for a promotion or a place of prominence in church. Some people sulk and brood if they are given even an unintentional slight. Either that or they explode in anger.

"We can fall into the trap of getting focused on our rights, our prestige, but then we see the Very Son of God kneeling on the ground washing our filthy feet.

"The foot-washing is two-fold – it teaches humility and service and the importance of Baptism. Unless you pass through the waters of baptism, [die and rise with Christ and enter the Church], you cannot partake of the life of Christ and the Church. Baptism is the entryway to the Church.

"If one is too proud to be baptized, or too proud to confess that he is a sinner, then he cannot have a share in Christ. We also cannot be too proud to admit that we have a need for a savior. The savior saves from sin; if we say we are not sinners, then we claim to have no need of a savior.

Then after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.30). 

When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.

He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?

Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

Matthew 26.40-41

The Agony in the Garden 

Jesus had prophesied his death three times in the gospel. And now Jesus is face to face with the hour….

Jesus said, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass me by, but not my will, your will be done.”

It is interesting to note that the horror of the Cross and all the evil that will be visited upon Jesus is, even for him, nearly too much to bear, for he asks to be delivered from it…

It is the one time he asked to be delivered from the Cross. So we see that Jesus was truly tempted.

Jesus’ true agony…he is saddened that Peter will not stay awake and keep watch in prayer with him.  Jesus refers to Simon-Peter as Simon – the old Simon – for he had slipped back into his original character, his old identity.

Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass me by, but not my will, but your will be done.”

This is the Agony in the Garden.

Jesus tells Simon-Peter to “Stay awake”.

Pope Benedict XVI, wrote about Jesus Agony in the Garden: “[Jesus took] Peter, James, and John...[and asked that these three disciples stay awake and pray with him in the Garden, and] even though they are repeatedly overcome by sleep, are the witnesses of Jesus’ night of anguish. Mark tells us that Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled”. The Lord says to his disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch” (14:33-34).

“The summons to vigilance has already been a major theme of Jesus’ Jerusalem teaching, and now it emerges directly with great urgency. And yet, while it refers specifically to Gethsemane, it also points ahead to the later history of Christianity.

“Across the centuries, it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the Evil One. Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth.

“In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence. Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God’s closeness and the looming forces of darkness, is what gives the Evil One power in the world.

“On beholding the drowsy disciples, so disinclined to rouse themselves, the Lord says: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” This is a quotation from Psalm 43: 5, and it calls to mind other verses from the Psalms. He is praying from the psalms.

"In the Passion, too—on the Mount of Olives and on the Cross—Jesus uses passages from the Psalms to speak of himself and to address the Father. Yet these quotations have become fully personal; they have become the intimate words of Jesus himself in his agony. – [From Pope Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, pages 185-187].

Jesus experiences great anxiety and anguish – Jesus throws himself down and lies prostrate.

Jesus is face to face with death and asks “If possible, let this cup of suffering pass me by….”  He doesn't desire it, but he freely accepts. 

Jesus is rooted in his intimacy with his Abba. His humanity and divinity are fully united into the divine will “Your will be done” “Thy will be done”

And He is resolved to fulfill his Father’s will and freely accepts this death.
(He could have easily escaped the Garden of Gethsemane, and he had passed through his enemies hands on other occasions, but not tonight)

Jesus surrenders to the Cross.

What was Jesus’ first temptation–avoid the cross, avoid the cross, avoid the Cross.

Satan offered him three shortcuts away from the Cross. Bread, possessions, material comfort, pleasure; the fantastic, the spectacular, of jumping off the temple roof, you’ll be popular; and the temptation to power, control. All three temptations were for Jesus Christ to avoid the Cross, to abandon the cross.

And, by the way, those three temptations are our temptations as well.
And here again in the Garden he is face to face with the temptation to avoid the cross! To abandon the Cross!

But let us be honest: we too have our own chalices of suffering – it can be difficult to embrace our pain, it can be difficult – very difficult – to pray when we are in pain, or ill, or dying. Yet we can place our trust in the loving hands of Abba, Father.

Jesus is totally honest – honest with his Father – and with his disciples. He expressed his feelings humbly to the disciples: “My soul is sorrowful-even to death. Remain here with me and keep watch.”

I wonder if there were people who could see Jesus on a collision course with the powers that be – I wonder if his suffering and death were expected by some of the observers of his day – because his love and his mercy is so good – and the world viciously attacks that which is good.

Yes, Christ Jesus knew the bitter poison in the chalice of suffering that awaited Him. Yet, he accepted the death. He did it for each of us.

And he arose from his prayer, resolved and strengthened to embrace His Cross.
He must drink the cup and the face down evil.

Jesus is strengthened by his prayer. 

And now He rises to take up the Cross.

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