And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this.
A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.
“You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
About Tonight's Meditation Prompts
Sweet and poignant and difficult and true and timeless and sensate, the Last Supper evokes profound emotions, not to mention diverse intellectual and theological improvisations on its themes. But in Holy Week I'm thinking about the paradox of Jesus' isolation and his giving up of himself to his crazy idea of love. He could have slipped out over the Mount of Olives and into the desert toward the Jordan Valley and gone back home to teach and heal. Instead, he sits with his friends at the Passover meal, brooding, perhaps (Suzanne's Meditation, below). Day by day and all over the globe this meal is commemorated at any given moment. But why?
Because intimacy with the Divine is what humans most desire.“From the bottom of our souls” we long for the intimacy for God that God planted within us, says Romano Guardini (Meditation One / Introit), a relationship as necessary as food and drink.
The poet and memoirist Mary Karr (Meditation Two / Insight) takes her readers inside the turn-around from thirst to interior garden. I physically gasped when I read the last line of her poem Disgraceland.
The mood of the Last Supper is captured, I think, by Aiden Kavanaugh (Meditation Three / Integration). Every meal, however civilized, has its dark side – sacrifices, blood, “the quiet violence of the garden” the reality of life. Not to acknowledge the shadow side of things poses a danger to our humanity.
May Holy Week open you to your deepest hungers and thirsts. -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Longing For Intimacy
As the body desires food and drink, just so closely does our individual life desire to be united with God. We hunger and thirst after God. It is not enough for us to know him and to love him. We would clasp him, draw him to ourselves, hold him fast, and, bold as it sounds, we would take him into ourselves as we do our necessary food and drink, and thereby still and satisfy our hunger to the full. …
In deepest reverence, and yet without fear, let us acknowledge the longing which God himself has planted in us, and rejoice in this gift of his exceeding goodness. “My flesh,” Christ says to us, “Is food indeed, and my book is drink indeed... He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him … As the Father hath given me to have life in myself, so he that eatest me, the same also shall live by me.” To eat his flesh, to drink his blood, to eat him, to absorb into ourselves the living God – it is beyond any wish we might be capable of forming for ourselves, yet it satisfies to the full what we long for, - of necessity long for, - from the bottom of our souls.
-Roman Guardini 1885-1968 Sacred Signs
This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share the hope of Passover. As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere. This year we celebrate here. Next year in the land of Israel. Now we are all still bond. Next year may all be free.
A Passover Haggadah LTP p9 Triduum vol 1
The Quality of Bread and Wine
Bread is food. It is wholesome, nourishing food for which we never lose our appetite. Under the form of bread God becomes for us even the food of life. “We break a bread,” writes Saint Ignatius of Antioch to the faithful at Ephesus, “we break a bread that is the food of immortality.” By this food our being is so nourished with God himself that we exist in him and he in us.
Wine is drink. To be exact, it is more than drink, more than a liquid like water that merely quenches thirst. “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man” is the biblical expression. The purpose of wine is not only to quench thirst, but also to give pleasure and satisfaction and exhilaration. “My cup, how goodly it is, how plenteous!” Literally, how intoxicating, though not in the sense of drinking to excess. Wine possess a sparkle, a perfume, a vigour, that expands and clears the imagination. Under the form of wine Christ gives us his diving blood. It is no plain and sober draught.
Eventually, I lurched out to kiss the wrong mouths, get stewed, and sulk around. Christ always stood to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away. When my thirst got great enough to ask, a stream welled up inside;
some jade wave buoyed me forward; and I found myself upright in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish. There, the arbor leafs. The vines push out plump grapes. You are loved, someone said. Take that
and eat it.
-Mary Karr vs. 5, 6, and 7 of the poem Disgraceland Sinners Welcome
Meditation Three (Integration) "a grip on the human condition"
detail, Last Supper, Pietro Lorenzetti, c.1320
To know Christ sacramentally only in terms of bread and wine is to know him only partially, in the dining room as host and guest. It is a valid enough knowledge, but its ultimate weakness when isolated is that it is perhaps too civil. … However elegant the knowledge of the dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, in the slaughterhouse; amid the quiet violence of the garden, strangled cries and fat spitting in the pan. Table manners depend on something's having been grabbed by the throat. A knowledge that ignores these dark and murderous human gestes is losing its grip on the human condition.
-Aidan Kavanagh The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation quoted from Triduum, vol 1, Liturgy Training Publications p. 46
The Last Word
How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the LORD.
-Psalm 116: 10-11
That Passover Meal had to be more chaotic than the Da Vinci Last Supper or our subdued Maundy Thursday services would suggest.
Background noise : children, past their bedtimes, weary from travel, whine or, second-winded, run around randomly, eluding capture. Pinches, threats, the crash of a plate, a spill, a cajole for the spill. Stage whisper arguing about who forgot what and who will go back out for it.
The disciples who tend to drink too much do so, either raucously or by drawing into themselves, each according to his nature. The disciples who habitually command attention opine and brag. The generous behave amiably and the stingy hover over their plates. With the gathering of relatives all over town for the feast, stories abound with a constant hum of urgent sharing of news from the north.
What is Jesus thinking in the din of celebration? Does he remember the Mount of Transfiguration, discussing with Moses and Elijah his “exodus” emotional eons ago in the safety of Galilee? (Luke 9:31). Or is he already agonizing over “the cup” he must drink. He will try that metaphor again in a prayer in Gethsemane, but only silence will respond. Does Jesus still think his death will be some kind of Passover? Perhaps the metaphors already begin to fall away in physical sensations of shudders and fear-sweat. Judas goes out into the night. Do their eyes meet? Or not?
Choked with his own anguish, Jesus probably finds it hard to get a word in edgewise, let alone express the profoundly disturbing metaphor about his body, his blood. Perhaps he hopes his friends and companions might extrapolate from ragged memory the memorial he means to leave them. Perhaps they might even go beyond metaphor and learn to cross time someday, and find mystical unity with him, with each other, with God, in some future and sacramental iteration of “the breaking of the bread.”
But for now, they are all bound by time, especially Jesus, who, in this hyper-conscious moment knows that no mere metaphor will offer him comfort.