Friday, 22 April 2011

Easter Reflection: Everything Was Made New-In That Upper Room

Holy Thursday draws all of humanity together. The mystery that is the infinite value of our lives; the unfolding drama of humanity, is drawn into the ‘Upper Room’ in Jerusalem, where Jesus had asked his disciples to prepare the Passover.

It is, surely, the most poignant of meals. Everything in the history of mankind has been leading to this meal-This Passover- in an upper room in the outskirts of Jerusalem. Throughout His public ministry, Jesus was aware that it was to be in Jerusalem that the redemption of human history was to be accomplished, and where God ‘would make all things new’. The gospels tell us as the days drew near ‘He set his face for Jerusalem’ The centrality of love and mercy are at the heart of the redemption. But the courage of Jesus, in His human nature, is, by any measure, beyond the extraordinary. Perhaps this is because courage is the virtue in which love and mercy are reflected- as in a prism.

Holy Thursday is the prelude; Good Friday the culmination ,and Easter Sunday the definitive vindication of the redemptive love of Jesus.
 All of the scriptures, and all of the teachings of Jesus, and the ‘sign’ of Lazarus being raised from the dead after four days in the tomb -demonstrate unequivocally- that the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate reassurance of life after death, and in particular, of our life being with Him, and in Him. It all began in the 'Upper Room'.

Why is Holy Thursday so full of gentleness and so full of strength? Saint John’s gospel provides an unsurpassed insight into the reasons for this: ‘The Passover’ meal that Jesus longed to celebrate with his friends-that friendship-and the betrayal of that friendship-and the forgiveness of that betrayal. Saint John's account of the last supper conveys, as only one who was there could convey, the gentleness with which Jesus ‘loves his own and loved them to to the end’ The sense of urgency with which He reassured them that although ‘’He would not be with them much longer’’ He was never the less going to ‘prepare a place for them’  is palpable.

Even in the face of what He knew was confronting him in a matter of hours, and all that he had to accomplish, his focus is on them: His reassurance that he would send the ‘Comforter’ to them- as he did at Pentecost.

Saint John’s gospel resonates the utter integrity of what was unfolding within the upper room- no metaphor or allegory: the last supper and the ‘new Covenant’ in all of it’s infinite , and emotionally charged reality.

The relationship with the 12 who were there is utterly compelling: The sincerity and the hypocrisy (‘Not I Surely’) The master who had shepherded his disciples for three years confronting His imminent betrayal- by one of those disciples whom he had shepherded .There is a sense of emotional turmoil in His acceptance of what is happening all around him-and then that extraordinary priestly prayer for unity which leaves no doubt about  the transcendence of the love to which his disciples are called, which is a reflection of Christ’s own love for his Father.

All that is most important, that is best In our lives, is being made wholly new in ‘The Upper Room’ On Holy Thursday.

The ‘last Supper’ is culmination of the first Passover, set out in Exodus. It is what Isiah foresaw seven hundred years previously was to be accomplished by God- through  the ‘Suffering Servant’. To read, and to reflect, on the ‘Suffering Servant’ and on the reality of the sense of abandonment of Jesus ‘emptying Himself’ of everything-Which is so well captured by Saint Paul, is to confront both the truth and the nature of God. It transcends all arguments, and makes them redundant. Only in reading them can one begin to understand the truth of this.

In taking a basin of water, getting to his knees, and washing the feet of His disciples, Jesus provides the definitive example of leadership which consists essentially of service to   others in our lives- which Jesus specifically identifies with Himself. Our failure to understand this point, to which he drew such attention in the ‘Upper Room’ at his last Meal, helps to explain why our world is the way it is.

In taking a basin of water, getting to his knees, and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus- their ‘Lord and teacher’ provided the defining example of leadership. Today we see this as a ritual.In the ‘Upper Room’ it was something so radical that even Peter tried to push the demands which it made on him away. Jesus was wholly emphatic saying to Peter ‘If he did not allow him to wash his feet, he could not be a true disciple of Jesus’. He simply didn’t get it. It was no ritual, It was a lived example, seen for the first time and turning all of their preconceptions upside down. That He chose consciously to do this, and in His last meal with them, and with so very little time left, tells us just how important His leadership was to them and to us.

The example is powerfully reinforced by what the Priest at this evening Mass pointed out to us. Namely, Jesus washed the feet of All Twelve, Including the feet of the one who was to deny him three times and also the one who was-Shortly- to betray him. Now that is indeed, unconditional love- nobody is excluded. It is telling us -we have no right to exclude others either, whoever they are, or where-ever they are coming from.

On that Holy Thursday, in the Upper room, Jesus instituted the priesthood of the ‘New and Eternal Covenant’. Covenant means promise and participation by all of his followers in His priesthood, exercised by the successors of those gathered by Him in the upper room.

The institution of the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of the Passover celebrated by Jesus in the upper room. ‘The Passover’ celebrated the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery. Jesus, in instituting the Holy Eucharist transforms utterly the Passover. It is in the Holy Eucharist that ‘He showed the depths of His love’: The Eucharist being the memorial of the passion he was about to undergo. In his divinity, His final and defining gift could never be less than His whole self, It was after all, His whole self He offered up on the cross.
The Holy Eucharist was prefigured by the Manna with which God fed to His people after their deliverance from slavery.
The Holy Eucharist  raised this ‘food’ to the transcendent gift of God to the people- whom Jesus, through His sacrifice on Calvary, would  deliver from the defining slavery of  humanity. In fact, reading through the events of His public ministry, it is possible to see the minds of his disciples prepared for this gift: in the feeding of the five thousand - as well as in His statement that the food that he would give was ‘real food’ that would raise them up on the last day: Many were scandalised and went their way. But it was this gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist that he bequeathed to them in the hours before he set out to Gethsemane on such an occasion,-in that Upper Room.
 God would Hardly do less, than give Himself- albeit under a sacramental form.

In that Upper Room, on that Holy Thursday everything ‘was made new’ .

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