We have all used the expression ‘famous last words’ and indeed may be familiar as with the famous last words or epitaphs on a headstone of a famous historical figure.
But more importantly, ‘last words’ apply to death. What is your or my experience of death and separation?
If you have been by the bedside of someone you care about as they lie dying in the last weeks and days of a terminal illness, you may recall and treasure their last words, your last conversation with them. They are charged with meaning and emotion. There is a strange privileged bond when you are specifically addressed by them with others present. They ask for you, and you draw nearer so that they can see you and hear you. Later, after their passing, you pause to remember those intimate moments you had alone with them or with others.
We treasure therefore in a particular way the last words of Jesus, addressed to the Father and to those around Him at the Last Supper and at Gethsemane tonight. It is said that people die as they live – and Jesus’ last words reflect the continual intimacy He had with His Father as well as His continuous selflessness towards others. Jesus therefore died as He lives, ever giving of Himself.
Tonight we are caught up in the drama of the last hours of ‘normality’ of Jesus, when He is in control. We are at once bystanders and participants in Holy week.
How often we have re-lived, or re-played in our minds, in slow motion, the last weeks, days or hours with a loved one, a family member a dear friend. All we seem to have left now are the memories. At times, after they have died, we have the strange sensation of their lingering presence, at least in the immediate aftermath. The emotional impact - the laughter, the tears, the sorrow and pain, the process and stages of mourning, the anger, the depression, the guilt of self-pity all take their course.
The actions and words of Jesus, therefore, all find resonance in our lives and experiences.
Holy Thursday is all about the last journey together – Jesus has said;‘where I am going you cannot come’ and we react ‘must you leave me all alone’?
The last meal together - the last time He touched me -the last time we sang or prayed or spoke together - the last time I saw Him – are the experiences felt by His followers during His Passion and death.
All of this forms the mood of the Church tonight as we gather for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and as the dark clouds of impending doom gather over Jesus in His last free hours. They also relate to our own experiences of parting with those we love.
The words of Jesus; ‘I will not be with you much longer’ correspond to a diagnosis of a terminal illness, the prognosis of how much time do I have, months, weeks, days, even hours. We brace ourselves for the inevitable, though we are never ready for the impact of death and final separation no matter how much time we have to prepare for the awful blow.
‘Do this in memory of me’ – if someone has ever said to you ‘after I’m gone, I want you to do something for me, it’s important, you reply: ‘anything’. Jesus’ parting wishes to His disciples are three-fold:
(1) The washing of the feet –to go and to love and serve one another in humility.
(2) The celebration of the Last Supper - which is the first Mass and the inauguration of the priesthood with the words: ‘Take and eat, this is my body, drink, this is my blood’, and ‘do this in memory of me.’
(3) while He is gone, but He has left us a parting gift – that of His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament which we honour particularly with the solemn procession to the altar of repose and in silent adoration as we ‘keep watch’ – his last favour to his most intimate disciples – ‘can you not keep watch one hour with me?’ We end tonight therefore with a vigil, as we see Jesus struggle in the mystery of his humanity and divinity – as He struggles to surrender to His Father’s will.
We have kept vigil with those we love, by day and night, and now Jesus asks us to do the same.
There is silence; there are no words we can say at such a time. Jesus’ hour has come, the hour of darkness and suffering, of surrendering Himself to death for our sakes. Let us honour Him, let us adore Him, let us return love for the love He has shown us. After all, all He wants from any one of us, is something we can each uniquely give, that is our love.
Posted by FrJohnCobh