As we enter Holy Week and the Feast of Pascha it might be helpful to ask ourselves what Jesus meant when he offered bread and wine as his body and blood at the Last Supper and told his disciples "Do this in memory of me." Or as it is recorded in St. John's Gospel, "I have given you an example so that as I have done you also must do."
Do what? What does Jesus mean by doing this? Well, first of all, celebrate a meal. Jesus wants us to understand that the Eucharist is our gathering together as a family around the table and then doing what he did at the Last Supper; sharing a meal. The meal, of course, is his body and blood. The emphasis is on coming together and sharing. We're all gathered together to celebrate a meal and it's clear that Jesus meant this. In the Gospel of St. Luke, a Eucharist was celebrated after Jesus was put to death and rose from the dead; it was celebrated in an inn along the road to Emmaus. Jesus invited the disciples to a meal and in the breaking of the bread they recognized him.
In the Acts of the Apostles or the letters of St. Paul we see people gathered in their homes and celebrated the Eucharist as a meal around their table. That meal evolved and expanded into the sacred meal of the body and blood of Jesus. So the very first thing we understand about the Eucharist is that we come to do something, we come to share a meal together.
Of course it is a very extraordinary meal; the body and blood of Christ. As Jesus himself points out, his body becomes the bread of life. He says, "I am the bread of life. I am the word of God that gives life. You must listen to me, my words and how I act. I am that bread that nurtures your spirit, the bread of real life."
Jesus intended that his action at the Last Supper would be a message. He said that the bread and the cup were "the signs of my life, death, and resurrection." The message was what happens through his death and resurrection, and if we listen closely we discover that Jesus speaks a crucial message that is really the word of life. His message is a resounding ‘no’ to pain, suffering, violence and death. That is what Jesus is preaching at the Last Supper.
Our celebration of the Eucharist keeps alive this "no" by which Jesus defeated violence and death, not by opposing it with greater violence, but suffering it and lying bare all its injustice and uselessness. That’s clear if we understand the Eucharist as a bringing of Jesus' presence into our midst -- the life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus. He is an absolute "no" to violence and "yes" to love, to life, to God. Jesus inaugurated a victory of love and forgiveness over violence and hate.
In John's Gospel, there is no description of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, but there's a very important action. Jesus gets down and washes the feet of his disciples. When he celebrates the Eucharist Jesus says, "This is my body which is given for you. This is the cup of my blood of the new covenant which is poured forth for you."
Jesus is saying that he gave his whole self in service, and he dramatized that by doing the work of a servant, washing the feet of his followers. That was when he said, "I've done this as an example for you so that as I have done, you also must do."
So if we really take Jesus seriously, every time we come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy, we're saying "yes" to what he did: pouring forth his whole being in service to the least of his brothers and sisters. This is what Jesus did and he says this is what the Eucharist means. He asks us to do what he did and to follow his example.
During these last days of Lent, we should listen carefully to his words, as Jesus nourishes us spiritually he asks us to carry on his work. We should do what he does. Give ourselves fully in service to one another and in service to the least of our brothers and sisters.
‘Christ Is Risen’