Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
This night, we have come to eat; not just any kind of food, but flesh – meat and blood. We are here, not because we have no food and drinks in our individual homes, but because there is a party, Jesus’ banquet where there is food and drink for everyone who cares to stop by. It is a dinner, a supper with a difference – we will eat and become what we eat, Jesus. It is not like our every day meal, it is an initiation meal, a covenant of lives – your lives and mine will become one with Jesus’ and with one another’s. At the end of this meal, although we came individually, we shall return home, no longer as individuals but as a family, a communion of lives and having a common identity as children of God.
We need a meal and a banquet because we are all hungry for love, for friendship and for appreciation. Just look at how fragmented our world is today! Our quests for wealth, power and influence have turned us against each other. At the very core of our being and existence, selfishness and egoism have blinded us to the dignity of other human beings and creation as a whole. We crave the success of our personal projects by idolizing our ambitions and using others as tools to achieve our purposes. The “other” remains relevant only as a means to an end. Today’s meal, the Last Supper, helps us to go beyond the self to encounter “life” itself – God. God reminds us through the Last Supper that we are not alone, that he is here with us, that we are all one body, the Body of Christ.
For Israel, in our first reading, the encounter with God came as a survival struggle. At the point when Israel’s extinction seemed evident and imminent, God found relevance in their lives. Pharaoh’s extermination attempt on Israel turned into a drama of survival through the unique action of the angel of death’s visit to all the houses of Egypt. The power of a meal which involved the spilling of blood and eating of bread and meat suddenly took off the addresses of Israel’s children from the executioner’s list. Salvation came to Israel through food and eating! The first Passover meal is the prototype of what we eat today, with a unique difference that animal blood and meat are being substituted for with the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
The Passover feast, for Israel, was a covenant of lives – God’s and humans’. After appearing to Moses as the “I am,” that is, the Being/Living one, Moses takes the good news that God alone guarantees life and living to Egypt, to a more or less condemned people of Israel. Today, that food of life is Jesus. Unlike the Israelites who had to prepare it themselves, Jesus gives it to us free of charge. Instead of Moses bringing the news of God’s guarantee of life, Jesus gives himself to us as food of life. After tonight’s food and banquet, every Christian is obliged to say, with St. Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). No one of us remains an individual, we are now a people – the People of God; we are now a Church – the Body of Christ; we are now a Community – a Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is your feet and mine that Jesus washes today, he recognizes you as a child worth dying for and worth serving. He introduces you into a communion of the divine – sons and daughters of God. Your Master and Lord becomes your servant, he shows you the power of humility and care and service of others. He teaches you and me the power of practical Christianity – it is what you do that proves your faith and Christianity. Indeed, Jesus shows us that greatness is not about oneself, but the dignity we accord to others, for the “other” is Jesus Christ himself. Yes, Jesus changes the Nigerian expression “I better pass my neighbour”! On the contrary, here is Jesus’ formula for us: “I am third!” Every Christian is “third” because God is first, our neighbor is second and every Christian is “third”. Let us conclude with a story that tells the power of unity and communion:
There was a man who had 7 sons. When he was at the point of death, he assembled his children around him. He requested the youngest to go into the bush to get 8 sticks. His son returned with the 8 sticks, which he placed right in front of him. Then he asked the youngest to take one of those sticks to break it, which he did with ease. Next, he asked the son to pick up all seven remaining sticks and to break them all at once; he tried, but couldn’t. Their father then addressed them: “my children, after my death, should you all go your ways individually, the enemy will break you just as your youngest brother broke that single stick; however, should you remain united, no enemy will be able to break you, just as your brother failed to break all seven sticks at once.
Creating Unity through Feeding and Caring for Others: Could Jesus Count on You?