Today we move from the focus on the Bridegroom that dominated the first three days of Holy Week to the Mystical Supper, which the Lord celebrated with His disciples on the eve of His passion. The Gospel readings describe how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, was betrayed by Judas, and was arrested. But the central theme is the Passover meal that He held with His disciples, and which became transformed into the memorial of His own death and resurrection, which, from this point onwards, would form the Church’s central liturgical act and become the Eucharistic Liturgy as we know it today.
It is in this Eucharist that Jesus Christ gives us the meaning of His coming Passion.
‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’
In the Eucharist and on the cross, Jesus Christ hands His life over to us. He gives Himself to us – He gives His life for the life of the world. This divine self-gift is already seen when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, kneeling before them and taking on the humblest of tasks. Indeed, it is already seen in the incarnation when, in the words of Saint Paul, He ‘did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.’
In handing His life over to us – in giving Himself to us – Jesus Christ presents us with a challenge. Will we receive Him into our lives and allow our own lives to be transformed by Him?
Let us all approach the mystical table in fear, and with pure souls let us receive the Bread. Let us stay at the Master’s side that we may see how He washes the feet of the disciples and wipes them with a towel; and let us do as we have seen, subjecting ourselves to each other and washing one another’s feet. For such is the commandment that Christ gave to His disciples.
Matins of Holy and Great Thursday
The Holy Gospel according to Saints Matthew 26:1-20; John 13:3-17; Matthew 26:21-39; Luke 22:43-44; Matthew 26:40-75; 27:1-2:
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult among the people.” Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover.
When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.” When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.” Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter declared to him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples. Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor.