DO YOU REALIZE WHAT I HAVE DONE FOR YOU? Jesus asked this question of his apostles immediately after having washed their feet. Obviously, they knew what he had done physically to them. His question concerned the meaning of his act. He had reason to believe they did not adequately appreciate the lesson he was imparting to them on this last night he was to spend with them on earth. What he would tell them at this solemn moment they would forever remember, as he well understood. The point he wished to make was of the greatest importance to him; accordingly, he stated it explicitly, unmistakably.
You call me Teacher and Lord, and you do well in speaking this way, for that it who I am. If then I, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you should do the same for one another. I have given you an example, so that as I have done to you, you should do for one another.
Here at this liturgy we have done just that, literally. Have we therefore complied with our Lord's mandate? Only if we perform it with the same meaning as motivated him. Clearly, he means for us, as he did for his apostles, to understand the act of foot washing as the symbolic enactment of an inner disposition, the disposition to be of ser-vice to others. We are to prove helpful even when other's needs seem to us to be humiliating, or when they compromise our sense of self-importance. He requires that we renounce our private prefer-ences as to how we use our energy and time so that we might be at the disposition of our neighbors and brothers. Often enough it even entails renouncing the realization of purposes and tastes that we know to be better than those that our neighbor insists upon, for the sake of charity. The one who loves more sees more clearly what the limits of his neighbor are at a given point, whether that neighbor is his wife, his child, his pupil, his brother in religion or simply an acquaintance. Such insight is an invitation from the Lord to imitate his example of self-giving in the service of another.
This doctrine is also at the heart of the Eucharist whose institution we commemorate today at this mass. St. John does not speak of the Eucharist at the Last Supper; however, he had done so earlier in his Gospel when he recounted an important exchange in which Jesus insisted to his disciples that he would give them his body to eat and his blood to drink. To reject this teaching, he affirmed, would be to reject him. He not only stated this truth, he reaffirmed it even when a number of his followers objected to it, and departed from him because he would not retract. He considered this teaching so important that he was prepared to maintain it even if it meant all his chosen disciples were to leave him alone. Peter, though, speaking for the twelve, confessed his acceptance of it. He saw clearly that to adhere to the person of Jesus in love means to place complete faith in him precisely in regard to this mystery of the eating of his body and blood. He made this surrender even before he grasped the significance of the future resurrection of Jesus. Faith in the resurrection and faith in the Eucharist are complementary. The resurrection throws light on the Eucharist that allows us to understand better its role in God's plan
Our Lord in this Gospel does not speak of the Eucharist as such in terms of the mystical Body and the union that exists among his members. This dimension of the sacrament is implied to be sure, but was to be appreciated only later. St. Paul, after the death and resurrection of the Lord developed in rather elaborate detail this aspect of the Eucharist. To partake of the body and blood of Christ is to enter into a deeply personal relation with him and with all those who share his life through faith and the Eucharist. Because the bread is one we who are many are one body, all who participate in the one bread (1Cor. 10:17).
Subsequently, this truth would be seen as central to the life and essence of the Church. The early theologians and preachers began early to comment on the significance of this sacrament in terms of the very nature of the Church itself. The Church is not merely a society of those who are saved by Christ and who are organized into a hierarchical social structure. While it includes these elements, it is essentially something more elevated than a social organization; it is the very mystical Body of Christ, Head and members forming a single, living whole, whose nature is a function primarily of the person of the Risen Christ.
Witnesses to this belief through the centuries are manifold. The twelfth century Cistercian Abbot, Baldwin of Ford, gave it telling expression. His words continue to speak forcibly of the same message that Jesus inculcated by the foot washing and the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Because we are made for God, in the image of His Son, we are to live for one another, for all who are his children. We do well to engrave them on our heart this evening as we commemorate the mystery of the Eucharist.
One bread is made of many grains; one body consists of many members. By love of neighbor we one bread, by love of God we, many as we are, are one body . Just as bread is necessary for the body's nutrition, so likewise is the love of neighbor essential for nourishing and giving growth to the love of God . Who are the many spoken of here? All who share in the one bread and the one chalice. With these words the Apostle indicates that participation in the one bread and the one chalice brings about the unity of fraternal society by means of which we live socially for the sake of Christ and are members of one another. He also shows the unity of Christ and his Church by which we are members of Christ, who is our head (Liber De Sacramento Altaris, PL 200: 717, 718).
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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