Mass of The Last Supper
Picture: cc Kim MyoungSung
Sisters and brothers, do you remember the last time you did the laundry? What did it involve? I’m not sure if it’s the same for you. But when I do my laundry, it usually involves at least three things. Let me begin with the end result. When I do the laundry, what I expect to get out of it at the end is a fresh start. A batch of clean clothes. And, of course, to achieve this, the soiled clothes need to be put through a process of washing and drying. Requiring not just water. But also detergent. Something to remove the dirt.
A fresh start and a good wash. Those are just two things. I said there were three. Can you guess what the third one is? It’s actually something that I do first of all. Even before I put the soiled clothes into the washer. Perhaps some of you do it too. It’s to turn the clothes inside out. These are the three things that happen when I do the laundry: There is a refreshing, a washing, and turning of things inside out.
But why talk about all this tonight, when we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper? On this solemn evening, when we recall how Jesus embarked on the final phase of his mission on earth, by first gathering his disciples in an upper room? Why talk about doing the laundry, when what we are celebrating is an intimate farewell meal?
The reason is not difficult to guess. It has something to do with the fact that meals are typically not just about eating. They usually have deeper meanings. And our Mass readings help us to penetrate the deeper meaning of the Last Supper. The deeper meaning of the Eucharist. And, strange as it may sound, the readings do this by pointing out to us three things that are very similar to what happens when we do the laundry.
Again, we begin with the end result. To make a fresh start. This is why we do the laundry. This is also what the Last Supper is really about. By having a final meal with them, Jesus is telling his disciples that what he is about to do is to help them to make a fresh start. And not just them, but all of us as well. Through his Cross and Resurrection, Jesus helps the whole of Creation to make a fresh start. Much like how God helped the people of Israel in the first reading.
The Israelites, as you know, were slaves in Egypt. Oppressed by Pharaoh. And God set them free. Gave them a new beginning. Which they are then instructed to commemorate every year. By gathering to eat the Passover meal. In a month that becomes for them the first month of their year.
A new beginning. A fresh start. This is what the Last Supper is really about. And this is also what we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist. We celebrate the different ways in which God continues to set us free from our slavery to sin. And to all the other weaknesses that oppress us. So that we might enjoy the dignity and freedom that belongs to us. The children of God.
But in order for this fresh start to take place, there must first be something like a washing. A cleansing with the most powerful of all detergents. In the gospel, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet with water. But that washing with water symbolises something far more potent. It points to the same thing that the Israelites used, in the first reading, to mark their lintels and doorposts. The same thing mentioned by Jesus himself, in the second reading. When the Lord offers his disciples the cup of wine at supper. And the same thing that we sang about just now, in that beautiful response to the psalm. The cleansing that the Last Supper signifies is effected not just with water, but with blood. The blood of an innocent, spotless lamb. Put to death to set a people free.
A fresh start brought about by a washing in blood. This is what the Last Supper is really about. This is what we celebrate every time we gather for the Eucharist. But that’s not all. As it is when we do the laundry, so too with the Last Supper. So too with the Eucharist. There is also a turning inside out. Perhaps even upside down. What do we mean?
Typically, in many religious celebrations, it is the people who offer sacrifices to the gods. It is the people who have to wash themselves, in order to be fit to enter into the presence of their god. Even in the first reading, it is an animal that is killed. A goat. Or a sheep. So that its blood can be used as a sign to God. So that God might pass over the people. Without doing them harm.
But notice how, at the Last Supper, all this gets turned inside out. And upside down. At the Last Supper, it is not people who wash themselves, but God who washes them. At the Last Supper, what we find is not so much a sacrifice offered by the people to their god. As much as it is a sacrifice offered by God to the people. Jesus gives himself as a sacrifice. Offered to us. To show us just how much we are loved. Just how much God loves us. Which is why the gospel tells us that, at the Last Supper, Jesus showed how perfect his love was.
At the Last Supper, it is not a sheep that is sacrificed. But the shepherd. The Chief Shepherd himself. Christ the Lord. Who goes to his death, not just to show us how much we are loved. But also to beg us to allow ourselves to be loved. This is my body… broken for you… This is my blood… poured out for you… Won’t you eat it? Won’t you drink it? Won’t you share in the life I am offering you? The life that I am now going to lay down for you?
At the Last Supper, something is turned inside out and upside down. God prepares to die. So that we might live. And so that we too might allow ourselves to be turned inside out. To exchange our selfishness for God’s love. And to spend our lives doing the same for our world. Replacing oppression with service. Hatred with compassion. Conflict with peace.
Sisters and brothers, if the Last Supper is indeed similar to doing the laundry. Then what must we do to continue allowing ourselves and our world to be turned inside out today?