Maundy Thursday, 14 Apr 22
Our first reading from Exodus chapter 12 tells of the original Passover of God`s First Chosen People – the Hebrews and it is an ongoing sign of the Saving Work of God for His People which culminates in the Great Triduum which we begin this evening because for Jew and Christian alike the days begins not with the crack of dawn but at sundown.
St. Paul in chapter 11 of his First Letter to the Christians at Corinth explains what he had received from the Lord and, in turn, passed on to his followers for he writes to them of the Eucharist or Great thanksgiving for that is what the word Eucharist means and he describes how Jesus on that night that he was betrayed took bread, thanked God for it and broke it saying those remarkable words: `This is my Body, which is for you: do this as a memorial of me.` In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, `This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.`
When we turn to this evening`s Gospel from John chapter 13 we find in the very first verse, according to the NRSV Catholic edition, these words: `Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.` We know the story so well but do we always remember the significance of it. The Lord`s last evening of freedom is both fulfilling the Law of the Hebrews – gathering with His friends for the Passover Meal having arranged for the meal he shows the divine hospitality. But then getting up from the table Jesus turns the rule-book upside down. He is the leader, the Teacher but instead of having had water poured and his feet washed. Remember too that a maidservant to a Hebrew household would normally have brought the water and a slave would have done the foot washing! Here, the Son of God undresses to his undergarments before taking a towel and showing that he is the Servant-King washes the feet of his disciples. Notice too the even though he knows who it is that is going to betray him he washes the feet of Judas Iscariot too. He does not wait until Judas has gone out to fulfil the promise he had made to the High Priest. No! He washes the feet of Judas showing forth both the constancy of his love for his disciples – all of them and his perfect humility. Here is the God-made-man of the substance of his Mother the Virgin Mary performing the most menial task possible. However, we notice that Judas says nothing.
Hardly had he begun this task the confrontation took place. Peter, known for being more than a touch hot-headed said to Jesus, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet ?” There is more than a hint of arrogance in the question and so Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Then Peter responds to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” As though to put Peter at ease, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” And, once again, Peter goes over the top: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” To this Jesus resonds, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” And Joh writes in his gospel `For he knew who was to betray him, for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Over the centuries many have questioned why Judas chose to betray Jesus. A likely theory is that he was disappointed that Jesus was a man of Peace and that he, Judas, had been looking for some great warrior-leader who would raise a revolt to overthrow the Roman occupying power. Though the portion of Gospel scripture that we have for this evening does not tell us what Judas did after he had left the Upper Room we know well enough. We have seen too a certain rebelliousness shown by Peter who during the night was to deny his Lord.
Like many people I often feel sorry for Judas because pride prevented him from returning to Jesus and ask for forgiveness instead we know that he took his own life in despair. Tough-guy Peter, later to be confirmed as the greatest of the Apostles – after the Lord had been raised from the dead – shows cowardice as he denies knowledge of his Lord some three times though his Gallilaen accent gave him away! Nevertheless in due time Peter and his brother Andrew both went to the Cross for Jesus. Perhaps on this very holy night we should be examining our own consciences asking when and how we have betrayed or denied our Lord by our own sin, selfishness or life-styles.
The great thing about what we hear and see in tonight`s scripture readings is the sign of God`s eternal love for us.
The passage from St. John is powerful in it very example of Divine love and humility as Jesus, having returned to the Supper Table asks the disciples, “Do you know what I have done to you ? You call me teacher and Lord – and you are right for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another`s feet. For I have set you an example, thagt you also should do as I have done to you.”