Homily preached by
The Reverend William J. Eakins
on March 28, 2013, Maundy Thursday
on the Silver Whisper in the Indian Ocean
“And when the hour came, Jesus sat at table and the apostles with him …”
It was the Last Supper, the last time the disciples would eat together, the last time the disciples would all be together as a family, because within a few hours of that supper, all Hell would break loose, to put it literally.
It was night and there were soldiers, and the air was choked with the fear of the disciples’ own deaths - and they didn’t yet know the half of it. But Jesus knew that if ever there were to be a day we would call Good Friday, if the world were ever to be saved from the evil outside those doors and the evil outside our doors, then, within hours, he would bear a cross to Calvary’s hill.
I remember my own last suppers, times of separation that were filled with poignant meaning and choked back tears. I remember when my last son left to go away to school and all the advice I wanted to give him - how to separate the laundry, how to manage his money, how to drive safely, how never to skip breakfast - all the things the years should have taught him I tried to pack into the last few hours.
I remember the last time I ever saw my father. He was in a nursing home trying to recover from a stroke. He was vary weak, lying in bed and barely able to speak. I had to fly home to go back to work. I gave him a big hug and started to leave. And it was then my father lifted his hand as in blessing and spoke the precious words I’ll never forget: “You’ve been a good son, Bill. I’m proud of you.”
Offering a last act of love, giving last words of advice - this is what Jesus is doing in tonight’s Gospel, trying to keep his little family of disciples safe in the face of his death. And so he did three things.
He told the disciples not to squabble among themselves, that a dispute over who was the greatest was foolish because they were all the greatest, made in his Father’s image and so precious that he soon would die for them, and because being the greatest wasn't what it was all about anyway. He told them to love one another because one another was all they had.
Next he told them to be servants. “I am among you as one who serves,” he said. I have given you an example. Now go and serve each other, remembering that you are so precious that the Almighty God stooped down to be born in a manger for you, that I have stooped to wash your feet, and that I am breaking my body for you.
Jesus knew that servanthood is not an easy road, and so he gave them one last thing; he fed them a last supper that would last; he gave them himself. He took the loaf of bread. “This is my body,” he said and broke it, fragmented it, that the bread could be shared among them and in the sharing make them whole and make his new body whole, his new body that is the Body of Christ, the church, constituted by the squabbling disciples and by all of us throughout the ages who have been fed from the one Body broken and the blood poured forth.
For thousands of years we have shared this real presence, this sacrament of Christ’s giving his life away for the life of the world, for us, that we may give ourselves away for our brothers and sisters. Again and again, over the centuries, the ancient drama of the Last Supper has been enacted in catacombs, on battlefields, in hospital beds, in great cathedrals and tiny chapels, and here on the Silver Whisper.
In one way or another, the bread is broken and shared, the wine poured out and drunk. It is our Lord’s last gift to us and his greatest promise. “Take this,” he said, “and share it, divide it, so that the whole world may be fed in my name.”
Jesus’ last instructions are echoed at the end of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. The hero, Robert Jordan, is fatally wounded, and Maria, the woman he loves, wants to stay behind and die with him. But he tells her that she must go on, must go ahead and live for him. He says to her:
“Now you will go for us both; you must do your duty now.… Now art thou doing what thou should.… Not me but us both. The me in thee. Truly. We both go in thee now. This I have promised thee. Don’t look around. Go.”
And Pablo hit the horse across the crupper … and it looked like Maria tried to slip from the saddle…. “Roberto,” Maria turned and shouted. “Let me stay! Let me stay!” “I am with thee,” Robert shouted back, “I am with thee now. We are both there. Go.” Then they were out of sight around the corner of the draw and he was soaking wet with sweat and looking at nothing.”
These words are like the words that Jesus says to us tonight: Take my body. The me in thee. Truly. This have I promised thee. Go. And live for me.