I always thought of the Last Supper as a somber event because it is the last supper of Jesus before he was arrested, tried, and crucified. But what I overlooked was that what we honor as the Last Supper was also the celebration of Passover, which is not a somber event, but a cause for celebration, a time to remember and give thanks for God’s deliverance of the Jewish people after years of slavery.
I attended my first Passover Seder on Tuesday, thanks to the kindness of Jonathan and Susan Knopf, and the Synagogue of the Summit. The Seder was led by Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb and took place at the Senior Center. By my rough approximation, there were at least 150 people, families young and old, friends, and guests. It was anything but somber. As would be expected for an event remembering God’s deliverance of a people from slavery, it was a joyous event. And I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to experience it.
But it also got me thinking about another Passover dinner, two thousand years ago. What I have always thought of as a sad event, because Jesus knew what faced him, was by Jewish tradition a night of thanksgiving for God’s goodness. I tried to imagine what it must have been like at the final Passover feast for Jesus and his disciples.
Instead of breaking the unleavened bread to remember God’s provision during the Jews’ quick flight from Egypt, Jesus’ asked his disciples to accept this bread as his body, given up for them. And the wine they consumed would become the blood of the new sacrificial lamb of God. The blood that was shed for all of us.
Wondering about Jesus’ final Passover supper sent me to the Gospel of Saint John. In Chapters 13-17, I read how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as an example of how we should serve others with love and humility. Afterward, as it finally dawned on the disciples that this would be the last night they would share with Jesus, he offers them consolation. In a soliloquy that is the longest passage of Jesus’ speaking in this gospel, he tells them over and over of how much he loves them, of his inseparability from God, and tells them that he will not leave them alone, but send the Holy Spirit to console them.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Live within my love. When you obey me you are living in my love, just as I obey my Father and live in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your cup of joy will overflow! I demand that you love each other as much as I love you.” (St. John 15:9-11)
After attending my first Passover Seder, I am grateful for the Jewish heritage of my beliefs. I am grateful for the way in which God, in his wisdom and eye for beauty, wove together a tapestry of history and miracles that would link us forever in admiration and respect. Our Christian faith does not exist without the first covenant given to the Jewish people, or the Christ child born to a Jewish couple.
From today, I will view the Last Supper as a very special Passover feast. A second Passover, in which God once again redeemed, freed, and delivered us. Not from a physical slavery, but from a slavery to the sin which separated us from God. Jesus became the Paschal lamb who took away the sins of the world, his death became that holy sacrifice of the unblemished lamb. Therefore, Holy Thursday and Good Friday are solemn: When we see the altar stripped, and sit in that unholy silence of a world in which Jesus is dead, we feel a desperate longing for him.
When Jesus Christ rose from the dead, on Easter morning, he fulfilled the Old Testament requirements of a prophesied Messiah. Not one who came to rule a nation, but one befitting of the Son of God, who came to save the world.
I am sometimes asked how I can believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that this is my chosen religion among so many others. It is because I see in Jesus someone who taught us to be our best selves. He taught us to love God, to love one another, to serve rather than to be served. Yes, I believe it all. His birth to the Virgin Mary, his miracles, his crucifixion and resurrection. I believe he is the Son of God, one part of the Holy Trinity. But what compels my love for him is his goodness, his love for each of us, no matter how undeserving we are, his love endures.
I am grateful for the Jewish heritage of my beliefs and the opportunity to participate in my first Passover Seder. I am grateful for another Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
I stand in the entrance and look at the empty sanctuary, the images of Jesus and Mary are draped with purple cloth. Even now, before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week, an atmosphere of reverence has entered the church without notice, because no invitation is needed.
Although the coming week will find me in church nearly every day, I long to be there, not to miss a moment although I have attended these same services for years. The days of this week will be filled with sorrow, passion, and suffering but with equal measures of love and gratitude. This week is the reason for our faith, in God, in Christ, and the basis for our hope in ‘things unseen’.
We know there is a history-changing triumphant ending only seven days away. We will travel with Jesus, entering Jerusalem hailed as a king. But what awaits are not banquets fit for royalty, but a humble Passover dinner in which bread and wine will be consecrated and become the body and blood of our Savior.
Instead of a crown of gold and precious gems, our Lord will be crowned with thorns that pierce his skin. He will be beaten until his body is covered not with royal robes, but with the outpouring of his love for us.
At the start of the week crowds line the streets shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!”. By the end of the week, when given the opportunity to save Jesus’ life, they will call for his crucifixion. So unreliable are we, it is a miracle that God would love us in spite of ourselves.
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
From king to crucifixion these seven days are the holiest days of our liturgical calendar, filled with sorrow for the suffering that Christ endured. Yet, they are the most precious seven days. A time when we feel suffused in the significance of our Christian faith and what it means to be loved by God.
There is a moment, after the Last Supper is honored on Holy Thursday, when the altar is stripped bare, when the Holy Sacrament has been taken from its place and moved to another room, when I have the feeling of what it would be like if Christ had never come into the world. The desolation is overwhelming. I understand how darkens pervades the world without the presence of Christ and how apt the name ‘light of the world’ is for him. Later I will sit with others where the Blessed Sacrament has been placed and feel as if we are keeping Jesus company as his disciples were asked to keep vigil during his sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I stand ready to walk with my savior to the cross, though I will only be a witness to his suffering and though my love for him is a pale reflection of his love for me, still my heart aches at the thought of what he endured on my behalf, on our behalf.
But because of his sacrifice, I can come into this church and sit in the quiet and be present with him. This week is about sacrifice, about laying down one’s life for another, about a father who loved his children so much that he sent his only son to die for us. Which is why this week is about love, God’s love for us, and our love given back to him.
I want to sit alone in this empty church and soak in God’s love and reflect it back to him. But Jesus has called me and you and each of us to do more with this powerful gift we have received.
Christ’s death and resurrection was not the end of his mission. I believe he meant it to be the beginning of a journey in which we experience and share an active loving relationship with God with the world. When we listen to someone in need, we become the ears and heart of Christ. When we speak to a person who lives in isolation, we become the bearer of Christ’s love. When we take meals to the hungry, we share Jesus’ miracle of feeding the five thousand. When we serve in our church and our community, we carry God’s message to people who might not otherwise receive it.
During Holy Week spend quiet time with Jesus, reflect on his sacrifice with love and gratitude. And then ask how we can work with him, to grow in our relationship with him, and share the love of that relationship with others in our community.
Like resolute hikers, we move into the mid-point of our Lenten journey and deep enough into the woods to wonder why we started. Perhaps we have even forgotten our destination.
Here, we are ‘hemmed in behind and before’ by a shadowy thicket of tree trunks. We look over our shoulder and wonder if it would be less taxing to turn back – return to the comfortable sameness of our lives.
“I gave up meat on Friday’s,” my friend said with an annoyed wave of her hand. “But I don’t really see the point.”
We are tired. But most disturbing, that curmudgeonly voice in our head tells us this journey is without meaning, representative of outdated liturgies, and a silent God. Certainly, we must turn back before we waste another minute or before evening arrives and the outstretched branches turn ominous and we lose sight of the path home.
There is a pillar of wisdom which states that what we give our attention to, grows. This applies to gardens, fear, and faith. When I volunteered to Ben that I would like to write about faith, I considered myself above average in what I knew, believed, and loved about God. Now a year of columns later, I understand how blithely naïve was that belief. But I also discovered my life’s purpose and passion. When a friend recently asked if I’d run out of topics to write about, I guffawed – yes, I guffawed – and said I’ve only begun to plumb the depths of my pursuit of God. Purpose and passion are the linchpin of any endeavor.
I would like us to pause here in our darkened woods. Not turn back, but pause and take stock. Why are we doing Lent this year? Are we moving with automaton efficiency from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday without paying attention?
Purpose is the attention we must pay. As we pause on the trail, let’s be very brave and ask why for that matter, we attend church each Sunday? Is it an obligation we fulfill and then like getting the car washed, tick it off our list of things to do?
If you are sleepwalking through the forest of your faith, stop. Now. It’s not too late give meaning to this expedition. But you must act on your own behalf, you must consider: what is the point?
Because in the dark woods we stand on sacred ground. This barren wasteland in our Lenten journey is where we encounter Jesus Christ during his forty-days in the desert before he began his mission to save the world. This is where we encounter God, who loved the world so much that he sent his only son to save us. This is where we encounter the Holy Spirit who will pray on our behalf when words no longer convey our desolation.
Let’s see our Lenten journey as a miniature of a lifelong walk of faith. During Lent, we vow to walk with Jesus to the cross. To stand by his grave until his resurrection on Easter morning. But afterward with a sigh of relief, we return to our lives grateful to have completed our task.
This week, let’s take thirty minutes to sit quietly with God. Ask ourselves honestly why we go to church, what we are seeking in our relationship with God, whether we are willing to open our heart to him, if we will embrace the adventure of pursuing our faith with the passion we reserve for love and career.
Let’s resume our Lenten journey with fresh perspective. Step back onto the path with renewed vigor. Before we imagined ourselves accompanying Christ like obedient disciples, now let us see Christ walking by our side – but not for a season. Through the sun-dappled forest, we understand this is not Lent, this is life. We are no longer alone, we walk with God with purpose and passion.
“Who do you want at your birthday dinner?” Mom asked.
“No one, just you.” I replied.
“I’m ashamed of where my life is right now and I don’t want to spend the evening explaining that.”
After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, God knowing what they’d done, came looking for them, calling out for them. They responded by covering their bodies in shame and hiding from their Creator.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, she was there in the blazing afternoon sun because her five marriages had made her a social pariah who could only come to draw water when no one else was around.
After the Prodigal Son had squandered his inheritance and was left homeless and starving, he returned to his father’s estate, not as a son, but filled with shame and asking for nothing more than to work as a servant.
Shame clouds how we see ourselves and our perception of how others’ see us. As Saint Paul wrote, it is as if we can no longer see through the glass clearly.
During Lent, Catholics are encouraged to go to Confession and receive penance to make amends for sins.
The idea of public confession and penance made me uncomfortable, and so for the first thirty years after becoming a Catholic, I went to Confession perhaps three times.
My rationale was what good would it do to open old wounds? Why not hide these things that embarrassed me? Bury them deep in my heart, hide them in the dark, don’t talk about them and if that doesn’t do the trick, stop seeing the people who knew me before I fell from grace. Before I became a disappointment to them.
Which is why Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves, the Prodigal son headed for the barn instead of the front door, why the Samaritan woman put herself at risk by going to the well when no one else was near, and why I chose to celebrate my birthday with only Mom.
Yesterday, I watched a video called “Forgiven” on Formed.org which helped me to view things differently.
When God walked through the Garden of Eden calling out to Adam and Eve, perhaps what disturbed him most was that the two people he loved dearly had turned their backs on him, ending their relationship.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he confronted her with the lifestyle that caused her to be ostracized by her community. But then after reconciling her to the futility of that path, he sent her off on a new one, to announce the arrival of the Messiah, to her people.
As the prodigal son returned down the road that had sent him away from his father, he discovered his father running toward him arms outstretched, welcoming him home.
Each case demonstrates our need to expose our shame to the bright light of confession, whether in the privacy of the Confessional, or in the public amend-making space with those we have hurt. Here, we take responsibility for the actions that brought us to this place. We ask forgiveness of God and those we have harmed. Not so that we are humiliated, but so that in humility we see what we need to change in our lives, honestly.
Here is where lasting personal growth takes place. Here is where we, like the Samaritan woman are set on a new path and given the opportunity to begin again. Still with our tender bruises, but wiser, freer.
Here we discover the gift of forgiveness. The grace of God’s compassion. The sacrament of reconciliation to our Lord. And in that holy space between us and God we discover that although we journeyed far from home, God always loved us, always stood at the road watching and waiting for our return, ready to make us whole again. Confession is essential because it takes our greatest fear, of not being forgiven, and exposes it to the light of God’s love and exposes the lie that we tell ourselves, which is that we are unforgivable.
Yesterday I went to confession, and because of my shame I covered my face with my hands as I sobbed and sobbed. I confessed my broken heart at God’s silence and my despondency in believing that I was not good enough or smart enough or beautiful enough to ever be the woman that God created me to be.
Once I finished, Father Joe gently placed his hand on my bowed head and prayed that God would erase these lies from my mind and assure me that I am always loved. Always treasured. No matter what the world may say of my shortcomings. No matter how many times I fail. I am God’s child and he loves me more than I will ever know.