My Body … for You

Holy Thursday
April 6, 2023

Today’s Readings:

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, the greatest act of love unfolds around a simple table, in the last rich hues of a Jerusalem sunset. No doubt the Twelve whom we are used to seeing in the paintings, and the many other who had sustained Christ’s journey by their service, sensed that this was an extraordinary Seder.

As you place yourself in the scene, you may wish to be one of the Apostles, or you may be the one who baked bread that would become His Body. You may be the one who decanted the precious wine to be His Blood.

Wherever you are in that ancient, yet living story – and wherever you are tonight, let the ancient awe fill your heart as you hear these astounding words:

Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, “This is my body that 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 death of the Lord until he comes.

1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

After the supper, to help us comprehend his incomprehensible Gift, Jesus shows us what Eucharist looks like in everyday practice. It looks like the selfless service of a tender foot washing, the humble bending of our hearts to tend another’s need.

So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.


So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “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, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Dearest Jesus, teach us the deep, deep lessons of these readings. Let them live in us in sacramental vigor poured over the world in Mercy.

As you walk now from the Upper Room toward the Agony of Gethsemane, let us walk beside you in trusting love.

Poetry: Loves – Scott Cairns is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Theology of Doubt (1985), The Translation of Babel (1990), Philokalia (2002), Idiot Psalms (2014), and Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (2015). Spirituality plays an integral role in Cairns’ writing; in an interview, he said, “I’ve come to think of beauty as how God woos us to himself. One doesn’t so much create it or illuminate it as partake of it. Thereafter, one participates, collaborates, in its endless development.”

One of the more dramatic poems is “Loves.” In the voice of Mary Magdalen it offers a strong critique of the separation of flesh and spirit: “All loves are bodily, require / that the lips part, and press their trace / of secrecy upon the one / beloved . . .


Of Love’s discrete occasions, we
observe sufficient catalogue,
a likely-sounding lexicon

pronounced so as to implicate
a wealth of difference, where reclines
instead a common element,

itself quite like those elements
partaken at the table served
by Jesus on the night he was

betrayed—like those in that the bread
was breakable, the wine was red
and wet, and met the tongue with bright,

intoxicating sweetness, quite
like ... wine. None of what I write arrives
to compromise that sacrament,

the mystery of spirit graved
in what is commonplace and plain—
the broken, brittle crust, the cup.

Quite otherwise, I choose instead
to bear again the news that each,
each was still itself, substantial

in the simplest sense. By now, you
will have learned of Magdalen, a name
recalled for having won a touch

of favor from the one we call
the son of man, and what you’ve heard
is true enough. I met him first

as, mute, he scribbled in the dust
to shame some village hypocrites
toward leaving me unbloodied,

if ill-disposed to taking up
again a prior circumstance.
I met him in the house of one

who was a Pharisee and not
prepared to suffer quietly
my handling of the master’s feet.

Much later, in the garden when,
having died and risen, he spoke
as to a maid and asked me why

I wept. When, at any meeting
with the Christ, was I not weeping?
For what? I only speculate

—brief inability to speak,
a weak and giddy troubling near
the throat, a wash of gratitude.

And early on, I think, some slight
abiding sense of shame, a sop
I have inferred more recently

to do without. Lush poverty!
I think that this is what I’m called
to say, this mild exhortation

that one should still abide all love’s
embarrassments, and so resist
the new temptation—dangerous,

inexpedient mask—of shame.
And, well, perhaps one other thing:
I have received some little bit

about the glib divisions which
so lately have occurred to you
as right, as necessary, fit

That the body is something less
than honorable, say, in its
... appetites? That the spirit is

something pure, and—if all goes well—
potentially unencumbered
by the body’s bawdy tastes.

This disposition, then, has led
to a banal and pious lack
of charity, and, worse, has led

more than a few to attempt some
soul-preserving severance—harsh
mortifications, manglings, all

manner of ritual excision
lately undertaken to prevent
the body’s claim upon the heart,

or mind, or (blasphemy!) spirit—
whatever name you fix upon
the supposéd bodiless.

I fear that you presume—dissecting
the person unto something less
complex. I think that you forget

you are not Greek. I think that you
forget the very issue which
induced the Christ to take on flesh.

All loves are bodily, require
that the lips part, and press their trace
of secrecy upon the one

beloved—the one, or many, endless
array whose aspects turn to face
the one who calls, the one whose choice

it was one day to lift my own
bruised body from the dust, where, it seems
to me, I must have met my death,

thereafter, this subsequent life
and late disinclination toward
simple reductions in the name

of Jesus, whose image I work
daily to retain. I have kissed
his feet. I have looked long

into the trouble of his face,
and met, in that intersection,
the sacred place—where body

and spirit both abide, both yield,
in mutual obsession. Yes,
if you’ll recall your Hebrew word.

just long enough to glimpse in its
dense figure power to produce
you’ll see as well the damage Greek

has wrought upon your tongue, stolen
from your sense of what is holy,
wholly good, fully animal—
the body which he now prepares.

Music: Tenebrae Music for Holy Thursday –  Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-94)

This musical meditation is based on the Lamentations in the Book of Jeremiah. The word “tenebrae” means “shadows”.

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