‘I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’ John 13:15
Tonight’s readings do not seem to match up. The first two readings describe two Passover meals – both the Jewish one and the new Passover celebration instituted by Jesus in the Eucharist. The Psalm talks about a cup of salvation and the death of a faithful one; whilst John’s gospel seem to go off on a tangent, describing how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet whilst they ate their last Passover meal together.
Through these readings, however, there are two common threads. The first is the focus on the Easter events we are celebrating from tonight – the death of Jesus as the faithful and obedient servant of the psalm; the New Covenant with God wrought in his Blood; his eventual resurrection as the vindication from God of Jesus’ faithfulness; and the memorial of these events established in the Eucharist as ‘a sacrifice new for all eternity’ (Collect, Roman Missal). The second thread uniting these readings is perhaps a little more difficult to tease out and it’s the theme of loving one-another according to the example left to us by Jesus. But what is this model? Should we just go about washing other people’s feet all the time? Then what about the other readings and their focus on the Eucharist?
The theme of love for one-another is present all of the readings. In the gospel Jesus shows his love by doing for the disciples something that only a slave would have done, then he establishes this as an example of Christian service that we must copy, that we must put into practice out of love. Through the other readings, we are led to meditate on the institution of the Eucharist – prefigured in the Jewish Passover meal, and fulfilled by Christ through his self-giving as new Passover lamb. We are invited to both see this Sacrament as an example of what Jesus does for others and to replicate its self-giving love in our lives.
‘This is my body, which is for you.’ says Jesus. Likewise, as we approach the Eucharist we have to learn to give ourselves helping others; freely, selflessly, and repeatedly for the good of others. ‘This is my body, which is for you.’ says Jesus and with these words he gives his own very self, broken and shared, so that others may find nourishment and sustenance. I am sure each of us knows individuals we can help, occasions for us to do good, and circumstances in which we can volunteer putting one-another’s love above self-love. If we approach the Eucharist recognising in it Jesus’ greatest act service for the world, we will not fail to do likewise.
All that I am trying to say has been put quite nicely and concisely by St Augustine as he meditates on the book of Proverbs. Augustine writes,
This is surely what we read in the Proverbs ‘If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself.’ (Cf. Proverbs 23:1-2) What is this ruler’s table if not the one at which we receive the Body and Blood of him who laid down his life for us? What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? …What does it mean to stretch out our hands, knowing that we must provide the same kind of meal, if not [that] as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for [others]?
Tonight we begin the Easter Triduum and we begin by looking at the example of service Jesus has left us, so that by imitating it we too may be vindicated by God as his faithful servants, and so come to enjoy the eternal Eastertide God has promised for us.