Jn 13:1-15 – Holy Thursday, 2008

We should not let the Protestants put us to shame because we do not know our Bible.

In the 4 Gospels, there are only 3 accounts of the Last Supper – in St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke. But, there is a reference to it in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

Only in the accounts of St. Luke and the reference to it by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians is found the command of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Greek word used is anamnesis. There is no real equivalent of the word in English; the closest word in English is “to re-enact or relive.” The word anamnesis comes from the Greek play on stage. When a story is acted out and it comes alive, then there is anamnesis. The people in the audience identify themselves with the actors to such an extent that when an actor or actress weeps or laughs, the audience also weeps or laughs. The Greeks believed that this purges the human emotions of what is bad and they have a word for this: catharsis. The root of the meaning of the word anamneses is not from Greek culture but from Old Testament culture. After saving the Jews from slavery from the Egyptians to freedom, God commanded the Jews to “re-enact or relive” every year the event of the Passover, i.e., from slavery to freedom. The Jews in celebrating the Passover meal (meal before God sent the angel of death to kill all the first born babies of the Egyptians) re-enact this act of God saving them. The Father of the house tells all members the story of God saving them from slavery to freedom and they eat a roasted lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Jesus purposely chose the Passover Feast to celebrate His Last Supper before his passion and death to pattern His saving act of dying and rising for us to the OT’s saving act of God. Like God who told the Jews to re-enact His saving act, Jesus also commanded His apostles to re-enact or relive the event. Therefore in the Eucharist, we should re-enact the life, passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in such a way that it becomes alive for us.

St. John does not have the Last Supper account. He did not feel the need for it since it had already been circulating among the Christians through the three Synoptic Gospels. Instead, as usual in his style of writing, he gave us a deeper meaning to the whole event of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist or Mass. St. John obviously felt no need to repeat what others had already recounted, so he put in what others had not done: the washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus. The centre of the institution of the Eucharist is SERVICE: like Jesus, we must serve others to the point of laying down our lives for others out of love.

St. John has injected another very important meaning into the whole passion, death and resurrection of J Christ: In the Eucharist, Christ is broken, as bread is broken, for us. St. John, so to say, telescoped or fused together 2 events: the Last Supper and the multiplication of loaves in chapter 6. The words of Jesus that follow the multiplication give the real depth of the meaning of the Eucharist. After the multiplication of the loaves of bread, the Jews asked: “What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness… (Jn 6:30-31). Jesus replied that He is “the bread of life” come down from heaven and unless they eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, they will not have life. The crowd, I quote, “murmured at him.” Jesus did not withdraw what He said and repeated it the second time. Again I quote, “The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” Once again Jesus refused to retract what he said and repeated it the third time and in stronger terms: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…” You know that this is a reference to the Eucharist – the eating of the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ. Then all, except the apostles, left Jesus saying, “This is a hard saying; who can believe it?” Jesus did not tell the apostles left behind, “Oh no, they have misunderstood what I was saying. What I meant was that it was symbolic and not real eating and drinking my blood.” Instead, Jesus turned to the twelve apostles and asked them, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter, the usual leader of the apostle, replied in the name of the others and said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  For St. John, the ultimate expression of the love of God is not the Son of God dying for us on the cross but His giving of Himself – the bread of heaven – to us as food in the Eucharist, a re-enactment of the Last Supper in which Jesus said, “Take and eat, this is my body” and “Take and drink my blood poured out for the world.” Because of this, we Catholics, unlike many Protestants, believe that Jesus Christ truly changes the bread and wine offered by the priest into His own body and blood in such a way that when we receive them, we receive His divine life.

Hence, whenever someone tries to convince you that you are superstitious to believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you have chapter 6 of St. John to help you refute him or her. And you can add that with us humans it would be impossible to do what Jesus did and does; but with God, Our Lord Jesus, nothing is impossible (Lk 1:37; 18:27; Mk 10:27; Mt 19:26) If it were not possible to God, then He would not be almighty or all powerful and therefore, He would not be God but a fiction of our human mind.

So, come to receive communion with the greatest reverence because you come to receive the body or life of Christ our God. Just as God the Son, Jesus, came to share our human nature, so in sharing the body and blood of Christ, we share in the divine life. We become, in a true sense, divinized by Christ.