John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Going Back to the Last Supper
by Fr. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Judas had left them, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is
glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in
himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you
only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one
another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one
“I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).
This fifth Sunday of Easter, after the accounts of Christ’s comings and goings following his resurrection, the church turns — in what might seem an odd direction — back to the scene of the Last Supper. We may wonder why, after Jesus rises, we find ourselves back on that night before he suffered and died. But if we understand the church’s desire in these days, all will become clear.
The church has, from ancient days, called this time after Easter the “mystagogy.” During these days, new Christians who joined the church at Easter would go back to learn in a deeper way what Christ had done for them.
Before Easter, they would have learned the teachings of Jesus, how one ought to live as a Christian, and who God really is. But the sacraments would have remained a mystery until they received them for the first time. Only after experiencing Easter, would they learn what baptism and the holy Eucharist really were; that they had been joined to Christ through the ritual cleansing and through receiving the Lord’s true body and blood. Only after the Easter sacraments would they be considered ready to understand the sacraments’ spiritual reality and effects. We might wonder why the church used to act in this way, initiating new members before explaining all the sacraments thoroughly, but this was the exact experience of the first disciples, and the reason we now consider the Last Supper again in our post-Easter Gospels.
The first followers of Jesus passed through the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising without understanding what was really happening. Despite the Lord’s predictions of his Passion, despite his teachings about this glorious baptism of his, none of the disciples knew what he meant, and when they saw Christ arrested and subjected to torment, they ran in fear, spending the first Holy Saturday in mourning. For them, those days were incomprehensible.
It is only after the resurrection that they could look back at Christ’s cross and understand what the Lord meant when he said: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Only after Good Friday and Easter Sunday could they possibly understand what Christ intended when he commanded: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Now, remembering and looking back, they understand that Jesus on the cross conquered death, sin and evil, like a mighty lion, not just suffering as a frail man. Now, they understand that the love we must show one another is the love that does not fear death, but which in divine strength and goodness tramples death underfoot, and loves beyond all the troubles of life.
This same pattern, living before understanding, coming to the truth after experiencing, holds true for us as well. We cannot truly understand Christ until we meet and believe in him. We will not make sense of God’s commandments, the church’s teachings, until we try to keep them with all our hearts. We might not understand how God is present in the events of our lives until reflection long after the fact. Observing this Easter dynamic might run contrary to our modern desire to know and understand first, but if we have the humility and courage to enter into the mystery of Christ’s life, his words and deeds, his sacraments, and his presence with us in our own lives before figuring them all out, we will encounter his glory all the more deeply, and find ourselves drawn into joy beyond what we ever could have imagined.