Text of Bishop William Murphy's Mass of the Last Supper Homily 2012
Simon Montefiore in his new book, Jerusalem – A History, gives a vivid picture of that city during Passover in the time of Jesus. Crowds milling about, sheep being led to slaughter, visitors and pilgrims from everywhere, a whole potpourri of sounds and smells and activity. In the midst of that cacophony, Jesus has been going up to the Temple to pray and to teach. The crowds are fascinated and the people are divided. The leaders are concerned and the tensions are heightened. Who is he? Will he come to the Temple? Is he the one to free us from the Romans? Did he really raise Lazarus from the dead?
Listen to John, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end: usque ad finem; eis telos”. What does that mean? How will he show this “love to the end”? Tonight, you and I enter the upper room with the first disciples, those first best friends of Jesus. Tonight, surrounded by the whole drama of Jewish tradition and Jewish ritual, Jesus loves his own to the end. As they gather at table to share this last supper, he opens his heart to them. He tells him of the Father’s love for him and for them. He invites them to dwell in Him, to know the joy that comes from union with Him. He tells them he will die but this is for them even though they do not understand why. He prays for unity and then he does the unexpected. He gets up and washes their feet.
We have just heard their reaction. We’d do the same. We have heard his explanation and his admonition that they have become clean, all but one of them. And then he opens their eyes to what it means to be his disciple, his friend, his apostle: Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, your teacher and master have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. Lord and master has become servant because he loves them even to the end. Lord and master does not cease to be who he is but he takes who he is and places his whole being totally at their disposal because he so loves the world that he gives up his life for them, for us, for all humankind!
He knows who he is and he knows what he is asked to do. Fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was going to God, he wishes to show this love by what he does and by what he gives. So he then took bread and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said: ‘this is my body for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” In this way does he give those apostles then and does he give us now, His Body. This is this greatest gift he could and did give us. The noise of Jerusalem of old we still here around us today. In our time of cacophony and confusion with sheep, real people, being led to the slaughter, this timeless act of love continues to call us, reassure us, comfort us.
This is love to the end, a love that reveals three truths about Him, truths that transform us and give our lives their real meaning, their real value, their eternal dignity. First His love is love to the end by his dying, giving up his life on the cross for us. Second His love is love to the end in that it is the ultimate possible expression of divine love in human terms: he, the Son of God, one with us, undergoes the most cruel and painful of deaths and turns that death upside down by using to express a love that is unending, a love that is total, a love that embraces, forgives and redeems each and everyone of us, all of humankind.
But the third truth is implicit in these two. He loves us into our proper end. We would be caught into the blind alleys of meaningless human existence. We would have an end without hope and without satisfaction without Him who restores our life and elevates our dignity. Our human end has a new goal, a destiny given to us by Him who loved us to the very end. Now we receive life in all its fullness because, thanks to Jesus, we now can realize and achieve the true end God wants for us all: life, the life of union with God, the life that goes beyond the grave to the life of peace and joy in Christ Jesus now and forever. He gives us back what we had lost. And he gives it to us forever!
This night you and I have come to know him intimately. We know the depth and the extent of his love to the end. We know he feeds us with his own body and blood: he, the good shepherd who knows his own; he, the lamb of sacrifice. In the Book of Exodus, God promises the Chosen People, on this same night I will go through Egypt striking down every firstborn…but seeing the blood of the lamb of sacrifice on your doorposts I will pass over you…no destructive blow will come upon you.
Now Jesus offers himself as the true lamb. And this night he gives us his body, his blood so that sharing it, we may be one in Him and he one in us. Seeing the blood of the true lamb, not on doorposts, but on the lips that proclaim his victory over death, we become the ones loved by Him who in turn have learned to love him and one another as he has loved us. For that is why he gave us this Eucharist: that we might be one in Him and he one in us and all of us one as his Body the Church.
If knowing us, he loved us to the end, that end that fulfilled God’s plan, that end which is love that is endless, that end which is death on a cross. Now we too who know him must love him in return and do as he has shown us. We must wash one another’s feet as he washed the feet of the apostles. We must act as brothers and sisters of the one who gave his life as a ransom for many. We must be one in our defense of religious freedom and freedom of conscience not just for us but for everyone. We must defend the poor and marginalized, the child in the womb and the elderly person alone. We must do what he has done, act as he has acted, live as he has made it possible for us to live: in the unity and the charity that He has accomplished by his death on the cross: in the unity and charity that marks our lives as this community of communion: His Body here on earth.
This night we are one in that love. This night we are one in sharing his Body and his Blood. This night we pledge to imitate him who is Lord and Master, now become servant to us all by washing our feet, not with water, but with the water and blood that will flow from his side on the cross.
For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you also should do.