by Megan McKenna, Ph.D.
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-15
Every time, then, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes! (1 Corinthians 11:26)
The readings for this night are so familiar that often we do not catch the pathos, the expressed extremes of love and yearning that Jesus has to be with and remain with his friends—us—and to celebrate what he shares with us—freedom, friendship, and the fullness of forgiveness in life and in death—what we are given in broken bread and a cup of wine shared and taken together. Do we ever “understand what I just did for you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am. But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet” (John 13:12-15). This is the worship that God wants from us, as in Jesus’ own life: to serve one another and feed one another, despite betrayal, despite unfaithfulness, and despite our obsession with ourselves.
This is the bright night of freedom and friendship with God that is Jesus’ legacy and testament given to us. We no longer live in bondage, fear, and oppression. This night has often been called the Feast of Friends because Jesus has so desired to share this meal with us together—“He had loved his own in this world, and would show his love for them to the end” (John 13:1). In John’s gospel, this is Eucharist—the washing of feet, Jesus’ unique way of celebrating with his own. The other gospel writers give accounts of the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup with all. We need to remember both rituals as being bound in the other. The feasting and the bending before each other as servants—as our God in Jesus bends before us is worship done daily—and ritualized as liturgy.
This night is one of deep mystery. Someone once told me that you can see better in the dark! And until we are immersed in darkness and in the mystery of God’s love that is constant, day and night, in times of joy and sorrow, whether we are faithful and true or we are not, we do not know the Light that is blinding in both daylight and darkness. This is the Light of the Cross that stands starkly against light and beckons us to pass through as a doorway into God’s presence ever stronger and vast.
* This reflection appeared in The Light of Lent Through the Gospels: Reflections for Lent 2013, published by Pax Christi USA. See Megan’s new book, Listen Here! The Art and Spirituality of Listening, by clicking here.