Fifth Sunday of Easter

We have all had the experience of hearing the death of a friend or colleague – and are left reeling. We are shocked and try to recall our last meeting or encounter with the person we will never see alive again. It is awful, and yet we run and deep down we know we cannot hide from the inevitability of even our own death.

These sombre thoughts come to mind when we recall Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper in today’s Gospel –‘I will not be with you much longer.’

These terrifying words are on our minds when we hear the news of someone’s diagnosis of a terminal illness. Now everything in our relationship with them changes, be it months or weeks, now every meeting could be our last. We go gently with them. And when the illness takes a terminal and rapid downward spiral, everything stops. All the things we considered important are now side-lined, and we keep vigil. Every word and gesture is crucially important and indelibly stamped on our memory.

So it is with the Last Supper. The words we hear today are put in that context. Jesus begins his Last Supper Discourse as it is known, when Judas departs, with these solemn words:

I will not be with you much longer. Where I am going you cannot come.

This is what we are commemorating in the Easter season. It may seem strange to refer back to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night when in fact we have celebrated Christ’s resurrection and all the subsequent appearances in the Easter Octave and we are now in the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

Now however, we are being prepared (liturgically) for Christ’s departure at His Ascension and He will send us His Holy Spirit. So these words: ‘I will not be with you much longer. Where I am going you cannot come‘  take on a new significance other than on their own in the circumstances in which Jesus first uttered them before His impending death. There is not the same ‘mourning or sadness’ or weeping (as described in the Apocalypse also) when we hear them now.

Yet when someone we love has gone from our sight, their spirit remains. We somehow ‘feel’ them around us in a new way. Conscious reminders, photographs, songs, sayings, milestones, and even unexpectedly too,  the loved one comes back to us forcefully in a way we cannot readily put into words as these are deeply felt and deeply personal to each individual, even in members if the same family.

Going back to the feeling and atmosphere of vigil,  after the person has gone we try somehow to honour their memory afterwards in a mortuary card, the words chosen for the headstone, and even trying to honour them in a particular way if they asked something of us. I think of people – siblings – who reconcile – at the request of a dying parent. They do so out of respect and love.

The words: ‘do this for me’ are embedded in us, and that is why we hear those solemn words: ‘Do this in memory of me’.

At every Mass, therefore, we commemorate and honour Jesus’ final request at the solemn moment of His last get-together with his friends and disciples, and He becomes tangibly present to us in the Eucharist.

We are called each day – and again this week -  to follow Jesus’ new commandment and as we depart from Mass too, to live out those words we heard today, which Jesus asks of each of us (three times) ‘Love one another’.


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