April 6, 2023
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:1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
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.
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”.