So much of the Christian life seems to be about “going out”. We are called to go out to proclaim the good news. We go out to share Christ’s love. We go out to serve others. This is good and authentic to our faith and it is the mandate that Christ has given us as Church to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth.
That being said, it is interesting to note that Holy Week – the most sacred days of our year as Christians – is a time of “gathering in”. This is appropriate and right, I believe, because Jesus, himself, wants this time with his disciples. More than just a remembering on our part; Jesus desires to spend these days with us.
In chapter thirteen of John’s Gospel we read the evangelist’s account of the Last Supper. John begins by setting the context as being the time of the celebration of Passover. More so than the great Jewish feast; this is to be the time when our Lord will “pass over” death in order to return to the Father in triumph. Certainly our Lord is preparing himself for the hour which has arrived but, important to note, he is also much concerned to prepare his disciples. He knows that they will be tested over the next few days, he knows that one will betray him, that one will deny him and that they will flee and be afraid. He also knows that eventually they will be sent out into the whole earth to proclaim the good news. Jesus knows the weakness, limits and confusion of his disciples yet he loves them. Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end. (Jn. 13:1)
Scholars suggest that the Greek term “to the end” has two connotations. It can mean, “to the end of his life” and it can also mean, “to the very limit, the very maximum, of love”. Christ loves his disciples, his “little ones” to the fullest extent and he greatly desires to spend this time with them.
There is a great tenderness of love that is being expressed in the account of the Last Supper. Jesus takes the role of the servant when he washes his disciples’ feet. Peter knows that this is a fundamental break with the prevailing custom of the time. It was the role of the servant, the slave to wash the feet of the guests not the role of the head of the household. Yet, Jesus is the head of the household who is willing to serve and he tells his disciples that they must do the same. They do not fully understand now but they will later. More than just a nice symbol, token or remembrance, this call to serve and die to self is the royal road on which the disciple directly encounters our Lord.
I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples. (Jn. 13:34-35) The love that we must have as Christians must be based in that very love that Christ has for us and it is in this love particularly that his little ones will be recognized as his disciples.
At this point Peter asks a question from which we all benefit; Simon Peter said, “Lord, where are your going?” Jesus replied, “Now you cannot follow me where I am going, but later you shall follow me.” Peter said to him, “Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” “Lay down your life for me?” answered Jesus. “In all truth I tell you, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.” (Jn. 13:36-38)
“Now you cannot follow me where I am going, but later you shall follow me.” Yes, later Peter will follow our Lord to the sacrifice of his own life and beyond that to the glory of eternity with God but there is another, even more fundamental, following implied here. Peter must first learn the way of love that our Lord has initiated at the Last Supper. Peter (the little one who balked at having his feet washed) is not yet ready to learn this true extent of love that the disciple of Christ is to be recognized by but he will be ready later. And it is by the royal road of this love that Peter will later be able to then let go of his very self, even to the point of death.
We are all so much like Peter. We all think we have so much figured out yet, in truth, we all have so much to learn but Christ loves us to the end.
These days are more than just a remembrance. These days are more than something we do to acknowledge our faith. Christ, our Lord, desires to spend these days with us.
Christ gathers us in and Christ loves us to the end.