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Cenacle: reflection

by Frédéric Manns

"I have so much desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer".

This Passover will be the last one that Jesus celebrates before his fulfillment in the Kingdom. All of his thinking is concentrated on this fulfillment. It is in this eschatological perspective that Jesus wants to celebrate his last meal with his disciples..

Before the meal, taking the place of a servant, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Here, the dialectic of the Master and the Servant is reversed. A new era of relations among men is starting.

Then the Paschal meal starts. On the cup that was presented to Him and after saying the blessing, Jesus pronounces these words : "Take it and share it. I here declare, I shall not drink the fruit of vine until the coming of the Reign of God". The big fulfillment that Jesus perceives have a community dimension. All of his thinking is illuminated by this final vision : The Reign of God had been the passion of his life. Now, in the face of his death, evil men are plotting his end, Jesus celebrates the full outcame of the Kingdom. Jesus foretells his departure to his people. At the same time He expresses his trust in God, his certainty that beyond death, He will share with them the celestial banquet. As such He proclaims his victory over death.

It is in an atmosphere of festival that this Paschal Meal is celebrated. Is not Easter the passing from slavery to freedom?

Jesus now pronounces the blessing on the bread of misery that the fathers ate. He shares the pieces with the guests. While doing this gesture Jesus said to his people : Take and eat all of you : this is my body delivered up for you. Thus He confers a new meaning to the breaking of bread. With this gesture, He makes his death and its meaning sacramental. The bread He gives symbolizes the gift of his life for the realization of the communion of God and men.

If already in normal bread, there is the possibility for the recognition of the father, even more in the unleavened bread which gives memory of the Exodus from Egypt. In the mazza, so does this possibility exist of recognizing the divinity which liberated the Jews from Egypt and which liberates today, "everyone should consider himself personally as going out from Egypt". This assertion is that of the Jewish liturgy the night of Passover.

At the end of the meal Jesus offers the cup of wine to his people : This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you. These words, for the Jews accustomed to reading the passage of the covenant concluded between God and Moses at the foot of Sinai, recall to them the history of the people and its fulfillment. His death is not a failure. It realizes the covenant, the final communion of God and men. It is already the universal fruit of salvation that with his death, Jesus offers to his people.

"Do this in my memory". When asking his disciples to do this gesture in memory of him, Jesus invites his people to participate in this vigil and accept this gift of becoming servants one to another.

During the meal a discussion arose among the disciples to know who is the greatest. Jesus intervened : "The kings of nations rule as masters. Let the greatest among you become your servant". This is the meaning of the Passover : It is the beginning of a new era of relations made of fraternal service between all men. In Jesus, God came nearer to men not as a ruler but as a servant.

The evening of Easter, the risen Jesus appears also in the Cenacle to the disciples offering them the messianic peace : "Peace be with you". He breathes on his people : "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins they are retained". This is a message that is linked to the one of the jubilee : the purification of the memory. The new covenant announced by the prophets consisted of three stages : the purification, the gift of a new heart and the gift of a new spirit. The Church born at the Cenacle is not afraid of confronting the world.

"The Church makes the Eucharist. The Eucharist makes the Church", said Father de Lubac. It is this message that the Pope reiterates to the world and to the Christians of the Holy Land in particular. These Christians are a neglected minority. A small divided remainder. A complex mosaic that baffles western pilgrims. Modern prophets announce that their days are numbered, and without any future in the land given to Israel.

It is true that their fate is not to be envied and many of them are tempted to emigrate. But the small flock remains united around their pastors. They insist on staying in this land for whom it is also a Holy Land. They know that the fate of the disciple will not be better than his master. "There are wounds that will only be touched by hands pierced with nails", wrote François Mauriac. The history of Christianity in the Holy Land is an example. The Easter Cross, a memorial of divine love, has marked profoundly the oriental believers. The Christians are proud of this symbol that they use as a tattoo.

Despite a lot of difficulties, the Eastern and Western Churches maintain the vitality of the liturgy and continue to celebrate the Eucharist in the holy places. Christian piety, even if in minorities, remained fundamentally a Eucharistic piety. The Mother church of Jerusalem knows that the Eucharistic Memorial is the heart of the spiritual struggle and frees the energies of forgiveness and of thanksgiving. Since the cup of the wrath of God became the cup of blessing, which Jesus has drunk, the Church of Jerusalem repeats : "I shall take the cup of salvation and I will bless the name of the Lord".

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Created / Updated Thursday, March 24, 2005 at 11:47:36 by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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