By Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD.
Then take the towel, and break the bread, and humble us, and call us friends. Suffer and serve till all are fed and show how grandly love intends to work till all creation sings, to fill all worlds, to crown all things. (CP 442, verse 4) Amen.
One of the final days of the pilgrimage I took with my brother to Israel in January 2020, we were taken to the Golan Heights Winery. We toured their facilities and saw vineyards before being taken inside to a tasting room. Our group was seated around a table and we each had 6 different sized wine glasses at our place along with a small plate and fork to sample the cheese, crackers, and olives to cleanse the palate between wines. The sommelier spoke about each wine we were to sample, then poured for each of us. The more we consumed, the more relaxed the group became, and the merrier and louder the conversation and laughter grew. The wines were exceptional. The next day, the final day of our tour, we headed south towards Tel Aviv and Jaffa, our final destination. Our first stop that day was at Cana in Galilee, the reputed site of Jesus’ miracle turning water into wine. We visited a Franciscan Wedding Chapel, built on the site of a church originally built by St. Helena in the 4th century, so there is a long history attached to this site. The church housed a small museum with some artifacts from the site, including a winepress, a cistern, and vessels of various dates. One old jar was said to be one of the six jars used for the miracle!
Around the church were souvenir shops eager to sell us some of their authentic Cana of Galilee wedding wine and other gewgaws. If there hadn’t been a connection with the miracle of water into wine from John’s gospel, then I wish we hadn’t stopped there. The wine was awful. It was like the miracle had happened in reverse for we’d sampled the best wine the day before and the worst had been saved for last!
From there we continued south and stopped for lunch near Haifa. I had a large plate of beautifully creamy hummus; it was the most hummus I’ve ever eaten in one sitting, accompanied by fresh-made pita bread, and French fries. One of the other memorable meals on the trip followed a tour and tasting through the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. An Israeli chef guided our group through the market, and we sampled many delicacies. Then he instructed us in cooking our dinner which we then sat down to eat together, gathered around another table. Today we remember another truly memorable meal, a Passover meal with bread and wine eaten around a table, which began with basin, water and towel, and ended with a teaching.
When I was in University, a professor provided this Aristotelian triptych to help guide us when writing papers. 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them. 2. Tell them. 3. Tell them what you told them.
1.Tell them what you are going to tell them. Basically, it is the introduction where you lay out your thesis or case, as simply as possible. In University, we also had to do a precis of our article or paper which came before the introduction with only enough to entice people to want to read the whole thing. 2. Tell them. The body of the paper where your content is laid out and you can explain the details as compellingly as possible. This is also where you can put your heart into the message or points you want to convey so that people not only agree with the logic of your arguments but also get a sense for why it is important or urgent to agree with you. 3. Tell them what you told them. This is the conclusion of the paper in which you reiterate your essential points and conclusions so that people agree and then implement your recommendations.
This is what I found in the gospel for Maundy Thursday: Jesus said, 1. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 2. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 3. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Beautiful, succinct, and compelling. The teaching is set in the context of a Passover meal: a meal that God directed Moses and the people to keep that would mark the Passover of God throughout the land of Egypt. They were to slaughter a lamb and take its blood and paint it upon the lintel and doorposts of their houses. The blood was to be a sign of sacrifice so that God would pass their houses by when God struck Egypt with the final plague. They were to eat the Passover meal hurriedly, with their loins girded, sandals on their feet, and staff in their hand; ready to go. They began their exodus from Egypt marking the end their years of bondage in slavery while all Egypt keened in mourning. They were to keep Passover as a perpetual ordinance throughout their generations, and they have to this day.
Jesus was with his disciples at a Passover meal in an upper room when he took a towel and basin and some water and washed the disciples’ feet and told them to do likewise. After washing their feet, bread and wine was passed from hand to hand, but imbued with new meaning as Jesus told them, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And again, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ A new covenant of love in breaking bread and drinking wine together in this and every meal. The disciples would have understood the reference to Jesus’ blood and linked it to the sacrificial lamb of Passover. Partaking of the bread and wine, the lintels of our hearts are painted consecrating us to God, drawing us into deeper union with God and each other. After the meal, the one who was to betray him left the table. Then Jesus taught them leading to deeper understanding of God’s love. A set of three actions like the Aristotelian tryptic:1. Humble service; 2. A sacramental meal with companions in union with one another in God; and 3. A teaching on the word of God. Like the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, these simple actions set out the essential message Jesus wanted to convey to the disciples, to us. It’s not a dramatic overthrowing of an oppressive regime but everyday actions and objects which have the capacity to be revolutionary. We assign the ritual actions of sacred meal and most of the teaching to the leadership in the church by giving of chalice and paten, and bible at ordinations. Is the washing of feet or other acts of humble service to one another, somehow seen to be beneath us?
The holy is here, all around us, within us, in this community gathered together in Jesus’ name in our prayer, work, shared meals, and life. Christ’s new commandment is to live by the Spirit of Love which transcends and includes all the Laws of the original covenant. Love is revealed in the actions we take which shows our love for one another, if love is our desire, our intention, our focus. When we eat the bread and drink the cup and hear the teachings of Christ and do so in remembrance of Christ, do we continue in the same Spirit of Love in the rest of our life? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The message of love is clear: “Then take the towel, and break the bread, and humble us, and call us friends. Suffer and serve till all are fed and show how grandly love intends to work till all creation sings, to fill all worlds, to crown all things.” (CP 442, verse 4). Go and do likewise. Amen.
*Image from: https://zeenews.india.com/malayalam/astrology-religion/today-christians-will-observe-as-maundy-thursday-facts-behind-maundy-thursday-56965