Tonight, the great mystery begins. For weeks, the Lord has been telling his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer and die at the hands of evil men, but tonight the mystery truly begins.
Tonight, the meal in the upper room is like the meals of so many nights, but it’s different.
- Usually the disciples begin a meal by washing their hands of the dirt of the day. Tonight, the Master takes off his coat, kneels down and washes their feet.
- Usually, before they begin to eat, the Master thanks God for the bread and passes it around. Tonight, he breaks the bread, gives it to them, and says, “take this, all of you, and eat it, for this is my body.”
- Usually, when they’re finished eating, the Lord takes a cup of wine, blesses God, and passes it around to his disciples. Today, as he gives them the cup, he says:, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it…this is the cup of my Blood, of the new and everlasting covenant.”
Tonight the mystery begins. The master washes the feet of his disciples, breaks bread as his body will be broken, and passes a chalice of wine as he will pour our his blood from the cross the next day.
It is a night of fear, of suffering, and of meaning.
The Lord is afraid. He will cry to the Father with blood and sweat that this cup of suffering pass him by. The disciples are petrified. Every time, over the past few weeks, that he has talked about suffering and dying, they have tried to change the subject. Remember when Saint Peter said to him, “God forbid that you should suffer and die!” Even after Jesus is arrested, Saint Peter will deny him three times and each of those closest to him will run away for fear of suffering. At the end, only two will remain his mother and the youngest of the disciples. They are all scared to death.
Suffering and Meaning
It is a night of suffering. Of arrest, of humiliation, of scourging, and soon of crucifixion. Yet it is a suffering so overflowing with meaning that we are invited to join our suffering to his. For this cup of suffering is a cup of meaning.
- For after this night, when I get the diagnosis that it is malignant, I will know that I am being handed the same cup of which the Lord drank in Gethsemane;
- And after this night, when you find out your daughter has begun to use drugs again, you will not weep alone, but with the same tears as the Lord on the Mount of Olives.
- And after this night, when you lose the job, or can’t pay the bills, or you think you might lose the house, you will not despair like those who have no hope, but join your wounded soul to the heart that was pierced for you;
- And after this night, when the fears of old age, and a body that just doesn’t work anymore, or approaching death make you tremble, you will know that you have been invited to sit at the table in the upper room, and that Christ is turning to you and saying, “take this and drink from it;”
For from the day that you received communion for the first time, you have not been alone. For those who eat his Body and drink his Blood, suffering has meaning and life has hope..
He has promised it: that he will live in those who eat his Body, and they will live in him. Through this cup, the Lord transforms all suffering into the redemptive suffering of his cross, and transforms “a sinful world into a redeemed world, into a world of thanksgiving for the life the Lord gives us.” (St Basil the Great, Homily on Psalm 115,)
Pope John Paul II understood this lesson well. As that strong body began to shake and falter, as that famous voice became weak and uncertain, he must have suffered so terribly. So when he spoke in a trembling voice to all the sick of the world, they listened as never before when he said:
Yes, dear friends, Jesus is our strength! He is so especially when our cross becomes too heavy and, as happened to him, we feel anxiety and fear. (cf. Mk 14:33 cf. Mk 14:33) Let us remember then his words to the disciples: "Watch and pray.” (Mk 14:38) By watching and praying with him we enter into his paschal mystery: he lets us drink from his cup, which is the cup of his Passion, but above all, a cup of love. The love of God can transform evil into good, darkness into light, death into life.” (Pope John Paul II, World Day of the Sick, May 30, 1999).
That is the great good news of this night. That in the Holy Eucharist we are given the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. By his brokenness we are healed, and we will never suffer alone ever again.