Loving to the End

by Fr.Austin Milner O.P.

20 March 2008
Holy Thursday


Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household is too small for a lamb, then a man and his neighbor next to his house shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

"This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

John 13:1-15

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean."

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Fr. Austin Milner writes of the depth of God's love shown to us at the Last Supper.

This evening the Church begins its celebration of the Paschal feast, of Jesus's journey from this world to the Father bringing with him the host of redeemed human beings united to himself in one body. This is the central theme of our celebration and it is announced by Jesus in the opening words of the Gospel passage.

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

We are about the celebrate the supreme act of Jesus's love for all those the Father has given him, an act through which the very nature of God shone forth in our world as never before, an act which he holds up to us as the example and pattern to which are lives must be conformed.

Jesus himself entered into this act with the sublime confidence of one who knows he is the beloved Son, 'knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God.. . .' But from the human point of view it is a dark and dismal night on which sinful human beings unite in various ways with the powers of hell to perpetrate a great injustice.

Not only had the devil already put it into the heart of Judas to betray him, but Luke tells us that even at this solemn hour the disciples were still arguing about who was the greatest among them. Not only was Peter about the deny any association with Jesus, but all were about to desert him in his hour of trial. How can he bring this ignorant, fickle, and sinful group to grasp the depth of the mystery in which he has involved them?

On three different occasions Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples for the events which were now imminent, of his arrest, his cruel execution and his triumphant resurrection, but they had shown themselves unwilling and unable to understand him. Now in his last meal with them he uses prophetic actions which they will remember and through which they will eventually come to understand the meaning of this great event. We too in our turn, through the repetition of these prophetic actions of Jesus, must learn not only to understand but to unite ourselves with his passing from this world to the Father.

In the first place, as St. Paul tells us,

he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'

Flesh and blood, these are the elements of sacrifice. They were to understand that the ghastly execution which was to take place the following day, was not simply a tragedy of human wickedness but a sacrifice, the sacrifice in which the blood poured out seals the new covenant between God and human beings, a covenant by which God will put his law within them, and will write it upon their hearts; and he will be their God, and they shall be his people, and know him, from the least of them to the greatest, for he will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more.

As they ate their portion of the bread which he had made into his body, he joined them to himself in one body, so that he could offer them in himself on the morrow as the fulfilment of the work which the Father had given him.

Saint John tells us that he performed a second prophetic action. He humbled himself, making himself their slave and washing their feet. He portrays his coming agony as the work of a servant who cleanses them for the heavenly banquet by plunging them into his own death and raising them with him without stain or wrinkle. Later in his talk with them at the table he will compare the agony of his death to the work of a servant who prepares rooms for the guests. He came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the multitude.

Jesus has left us an example that would have been familiar to his readers from the stories about the Jewish martyrs in the time of the Maccabees. If he loved us to the bitter end of his passion and death, then we must love one another, because it is precisely through such love that we shall be alive with the new life which he has won for us.

In the coming days we are called to share by faith in Jesus's knowledge of his Father's plan and our place in it, to understand the meaning of his death into which we have been plunged through baptism. Uniting us with himself through the Holy Spirit, Jesus has enabled us to share in his own love of his human brothers and sisters to the bitter end. In that love, following his awesome example, we are to live and know the blessing of true life. 'If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.'

About the Preacher:Fr Austin Milner teaches Christian Worship, Sacramental Theology and Church History at Blackfriars, Oxford.

This article is reproduced with the Permission of Electronic Publishing House of the English Province of the Order of Preachers,the Dominicans

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