The Three Mysteries.
On this evening, over two thousand years ago, during the course of the last few hours Jesus would spend with his disciples, he inaugurated what one writer described as three “indispensable mysteries of the Christian faith.”
First, Jesus inaugurated the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
In the earliest written account of the Last Supper,
says that Jesus, as the president of the meal, took bread, gave thanks for it, broke it, and then identified it with his body. In the same fashion, after the meal, Jesus took the cup of wine, and identified it with his blood, which was to be shed for the new covenant. Through these remarkably simple gestures, Jesus commanded his disciples to “do this” in “remembrance of me,” a reliving of his sacrifice until he comes again. (1st Corinthians 11:23-25) Saint Paul
Thank goodness Jesus told his disciples to “take and eat,” and not “take and understand.” Because since then, sacramental theologians have tried, without complete success, to explain literally what happens.
Rather than allowing the disciples to drink from their own individual cups, Jesus, at the end of the meal, passes his cup around the table. In normal Jewish meals, it was customary for the president at the meal to pass his own cup, and not to just anybody, but to someone he wished to point out for special honor. Because, drinking directly from the president’s cup allowed the person being honored to share in the blessing the president had said over the cup. Now, by his giving his “blessed” cup to all of his disciples – including Judas, who would betray him, and Peter, who would deny him three times – Jesus makes all the disciples recipients of the blessing and benefits of his death and resurrection. Regardless of any merit they might, or might not, have possessed, all the disciples are honored by Jesus. As a result, they literally consume his blessedness and aliveness into their own lives. And, at every Eucharist, as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so do we.
Second, Jesus inaugurated the institution of the priesthood.
Jesus’ command to the twelve disciples, “do this in remembrance of me,” has been cited as that text in which Jesus instituted the priesthood.
At first glance, we might think that Jesus is only setting up, what would become, the ordained priesthood. However, Jesus’ command to “do this,” was not limited only to those who were present. It is a command given to the whole Church. Those ordained, as well as those not ordained, are included in the command to eat the bread and drink from the cup. Certainly, the president – an ordained priest or bishop – presides, but the whole community consumes and celebrates the mystery together.
In fact, it is in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist where the nature of the “priesthood of all believers” is derived. By sharing in the bread of blessing, and by drinking from the common cup of blessing, the whole community of faith participates in and receives the blessings of Jesus.
However, what is most important, is the fact that, when we do this, we experience what one writer called “the great in spite of.” That is, in spite of the fact that “there is no health in us,” nevertheless we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." We are people who have been called out of darkness, into the marvelous light of Christ. And we take in to our very lives, the Eucharistic grace: that, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1st Peter 2:9-10)
Third, Jesus inaugurated the love commandment.
One of the marks of the Maundy Thursday service, is that it puts side by side, for easy comparison, the greatness of Jesus and the sinfulness of humans.
Let me give you an example. At the very moment when Jesus faces the looming horror of
Gethsemane and the Cross, one would expect the disciples to be especially caring, providing Jesus with all the pastoral support he needed to face that ordeal. Not a chance. Jesus, in the last evening he would share with his beloved disciples, not only does Jesus have to endure the agony of Judas’ betrayal, but he also has to endure the heartbreaking reality that all the disciples will ultimately prove disloyal. As if that were not enough, consider the sad emptiness Jesus must have felt, watching his disciples compete with each other to establish who was “the greatest” among them.
And, at that point, we might expect Jesus to respond in anger and indignation; but he didn’t. Instead Jesus enacts perhaps the strangest behavior of his three-year ministry. The Gospel of John says that he gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around himself, pours water into a basin, and then begins to wash the feet of his disciples’.
In this way, the “sacramental nature of servant-hood” is revealed. The revealing of agape love is made manifest as twenty-four dirty feet are washed and wiped clean. And in that action is revealed a new kind of power. It is not a power - over, the way of domination and control. It is not a power - against, the way of confrontation and coercion. It’s not even a power of mutual collaboration and cooperation. Rather, it is a power of servant-hood, which is Jesus’ path for us towards freedom and peace.
The way of servant-hood, does not mean Christians are co-dependent. It does mean that, like Jesus, we are to “lose” our lives, believing with wholehearted trust, that Christ’s love is unconditional and unfailing. It means that we have given up trying to “save” our lives by “winning”, but, as Paul said, by running the course. It means that, through the power of the Spirit, we can realize our potential, as human beings, to its fullest: That is, Christ has freed us, to be able to serve, without first trying to decide if someone is “worth it”; -- to serve, without worrying how our service is going to be perceived; -- to serve, without concerning ourselves over what “results” will be forthcoming. Remember - God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Ghost already know. So why worry?
On this evening, over two thousand years ago, three important things happened.
Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, so that we might forever share in his blessings. Some of us call it Communion. (Meaning Common
Union with Christ.)
Jesus instituted the priesthood of all believers, so that we might remember that each of us has been equally commissioned to do the work of Christ. This does not mean that we are all ordained Priest, but that we all have the responsibility to do the work of Christ.
Jesus instituted the love commandment, so that we might remember that there is no one who should be beyond the reach of Christ’s love and compassion, as expressed through each of us.
Fr. Charles Lindsay came to Chapel Hill as a retired rector. Currently he serves as Curate at St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church, Chapel Hill North Carolina.
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