Today is about ritual. It is also about remembrance. And it is about service. But perhaps most importantly, it is about love.
On the eve of their escape from bondage in Egypt, the Israelites were given quite explicit instructions on how they were to prepare for their journey. They were to share a final meal, standing up to eat, staff in hand, ready at a moment’s notice to flee the oppressive Pharaoh. They were to mark the entryway of their homes as a sign of protection from a terrible and final plague. They were to mark these events as the beginning of a new year—indeed a new era—in their lives and in their relationship with God. And they were to commemorate these events every year, lest they forget.
On one such commemoration, Jesus invites his friends to share in his final meal. But before they sit down to eat, he kneels and washes their feet. A humble act of service left for servants or slaves to perform. He would soon be handed over to those who would kill him, and yet this is no time for strategies of escape, no place for heroics. For Jesus, only humble service would suffice. His actions are to be the actions of those who would follow in his footsteps.
At table, amid the roasted lamb and bitter herbs, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks to God, breaks the bread and says, “This is my body, given for you.” After the meal he raises the cup of wine, “This is my blood of the new covenant. Drink it, in remembrance of me.” These blasphemies would surely not have escaped those around him. Drinking blood? Eating human flesh? Jesus has become the new passover lamb, given to his people as a sign of victory over death, a sign they would not fully understand for another four days.
Later that evening, Peter, James, and John would follow their master to a garden. Hardly the time of day to enjoy the delights of a garden! Indeed, they could not, for sleep made their eyes heavy. Jesus would have to keep rousing them. This was no garden of pleasure, but one of the utmost agony. Knowing what would befall him, Jesus prayed to his Abba, daddy, that he be able to do God’s will. In his extreme moment of testing, his friends took a nap.
That next morning after the mockery of a trial, Jesus suffers the supreme indignity: he is stripped of all clothing and nailed to a cross. Sweaty, bloody, bruised, and torn, his humanity is laid bare for all to see. No one would give comfort or solace to the altar of his body. His shame becomes our shame. Or, rather, ours becomes his.
Four short vignettes. Rituals, really. Remember them. Share them in service to others. And, above all, love one another. For Christ gave to us Divine Love. We can do no less.