To read the texts click on the texts: Ex 12:1-8,11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
The English word Maundy comes from the Latin Man datum which means a command. What is this command? And who gives this command and to whom? The command is the command to love. The command is given by the Lord Jesus; and the command is given to his disciples and through his disciples to the whole world. Throughout his life, Jesus has lived a selfless life. Throughout his life he has lived a life of giving, of reaching out, of encouraging, of boosting up. Throughout his life he has led a life of unconditional love which requires nothing in return. He has lived a life of love that only wants to give. And now, on this Maundy Thursday, he brings together his entire life through two symbols.
I direct you to the first of those symbols found in Mk 14:22-26. It is the scene of the Last Supper. And Jesus knows that the time has come for him to depart from this world and to go to the Father. So what does Jesus do in symbolic form? In symbolic form he brings together his life through two symbols, of bread and wine, to the symbol of the Eucharist. The English word Eucharist comes from the Greek Eucharistene which means to thank. So at the Last Supper in this Eucharist which he celebrates with his disciples, Jesus gives thanks to the Father. Thanksgiving even though he knows that he is going to die. Thanksgiving even though he knows that his body is going to be broken on the cross and his blood shed; thanksgiving because he knows that the Father always does what is best for him and for the world. And while they were eating, Jesus breaks this bread and identifies the broken bread with his body. He shares the cup of wine and identifies the wine with his blood, and the command here is to do this breaking and shedding of body and blood in remembrance of the Lord. The symbol will remain at the level of symbol unless it is transformed into reality. In the case of Jesus the reality of his life was brought together in these symbols and from the symbol taken to the cross. Is the Eucharist the centre of my life? When I use the term Eucharist or Mass, what do I mean? Do I refer to the ritual that is celebrated in the Church? Am I one of that who hears Mass and forgets about it later? Am I one of those who goes to the Sacrament of the Eucharist only to fulfill an obligation or because I am scared of punishment by God? Does my Eucharist end in the Church or is my life a Eucharistic life. If I have to be a true disciple of Jesus I cannot let the ritual end in the Church. The ritual has to be transformed into reality. Like in the case of Jesus, the symbols of bread and wine became in reality his body and blood, so in my case whenever I participate in the Eucharist I need to be transformed. I need to become a better person, I need to give and to reach out and to love. If not, then I need to ask myself whether I am really participating in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist you will be celebrating today every single sacrament is contained Every single sacrament is brought forth, the sacrament of reconciliation, the sacrament of community, the sacrament of baptism, the sacrament of giving and of giving till it hurts. And so my plea to you be that as we celebrate the Eucharist this Maundy Thursday, that you ask God to keep your mind open to the grace that he wants to pour therein, that your Mass, that your Eucharist will be celebrated on the altar of the world and that the bread that is broken and the wine that is shed will be your own giving of yourself, a giving till it hurts, a giving even when there is nothing to give; a giving which will go beyond everything that you have ever done before.
A second symbol which is used by Jesus in the gospel of Jn 13:1-12 is a symbol of the washing of the feet, and even though washing of the feet may be interpreted as the sign of humble service, as the sign of doing humble labour, as a sign of choosing the lesser place, it goes beyond. Because it is not merely humble service or choosing the menial job, it is a prophetic gesture. Jesus does not wash the feet of his disciples before the meal like may have usually been done but Jesus begins to wash the feet of his disciples when they are in the midst of the meal in order to open their eyes. So already, when he got up from the meal they would have been confused, they would have been wondering what he was doing. If he had washed their feet before they began the meal, we could have interpreted it merely as humble service. However, because it is in the midst of the meal that Jesus gets up from the table, he wants to give a completely different interpretation to this prophetic gesture. Later on he explains what he means when he asks his disciples to do what he has done. “If I then your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also must do likewise, which does not mean merely physically washing the feet, but which means living the life of Jesus. And that is why when Peter refuses the washing, Jesus says “unless you let me wash your feet you’ll have no meros. Meros is heritage, meros is something which you leave behind, meros is legacy, meros is translated as a part. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus if he doesn’t serve you and you do not accept his command to love and to serve forever.
And so as we enter into Maundy Thursday, as we listen to the mandatum, to the command of the Lord inviting us to a fuller life, let us realize that it is in giving that we receive, it is in reaching out that we are reached out to. It is in dying to our ego and ourselves that we will have life eternal.