This night, is the night when Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover together for the last time and celebrated the Eucharist for the first time. They gathered together and ate together—the most powerful symbol of community has to be the meal. They got to the upper room and settled in, all the while there was a sense that something big, something different was happening. One of Jesus’ first actions of this night was strange to his disciples. When Jesus stooped down to wash their feet, the disciples were shocked. I imagine that most of them had no idea what to say. It had to be very uncomfortable for everyone. none but Peter spoke up. You see, for the Rabbi to wash the feet of the disciples was unheard of. The washing of the feet was work little suited for slaves, let alone the Rabbi. But Jesus did not see social status or religious regard as something to be exploited.
This night, in the meal, as Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said “I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” and “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus somehow knew that his life had lead up to this point. He somehow knew that he was going to be betrayed and arrested. Perhaps Jesus had some divine intuition (after all, he was God weather he knew it or not), or perhaps he had such an acute understanding of his mission and of the nature of righteousness that he knew that a life lived toward justice, in the face of oppressive religious and social authorities, would lead only to death. Jesus knew he was going to die, even during the meal this night and he still chose to serve. Jesus’ choice to serve his disciples by washing their feet was powerful enough in and of itself, but Jesus did it on the night before he died? Jesus began “emptying himself” long before the crucifixion. He was a servant long before he wore a crown of thorns.
This night, Jesus took a cup of wine and said, “take this and divide it among you.” He took the bread and somehow he gave thanks for it. He broke it and said to them, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” The bread and the wine became body and blood, they became physical reminders of who Jesus was—body and blood. They became symbols of God's act of meeting people in a meal and in sustenance and thus the bread and wine became the ultimate symbol of solidarity, both between God and people and between people and neighbor. Jesus became one of the poorest, the most shamed in society, a blood soaked body. Therefore when we remember him we must remember the poor, shamed, and broken. The bread and the wine, a symbol of blood soaked bodies, became Immanuel—God with us. When Jesus raised the cup he erected a “New Covenant”—a new culture of grace and unity.
This night, Jesus suffered the prayer: “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them (the disciples)… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.” He then prayed even for those who did not believe in him, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus, this night before his death, prayed for unity.
This night we remember Jesus and we remember our neighbor. We remember the life lived toward justice in the face of oppressive religious and social authorities. Jesus came to bring people together, he came for communion. He suffered as a poor servant to create a Eucharistic Kingdom—the Kingdom of God—into which all are welcome and all are accepted.
Tonight may you remember the suffering, servant-king and may you remember your neighbor.