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January 28, 2014

New and Eternal Covenant (Mar-Apr 2007)

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By Henri J.M. Nouwen
March – April, 2007

Holy Thursday

Jesus . . . removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing . . . . [He said], “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.” –John 13:4-5, 15

Just before entering on the road of his passion he washed the feet of his disciples and offered them his body and blood as food and drink. These two acts belong together. They are both an expression of God’s determination to show us the fullness of his love. Therefore John introduces the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet with the words: “Jesus . . . having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

What is even more astonishing is that on both occasions Jesus commands us to do the same. After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus, “I have given you an example so you may copy what I have done to you” (John 13:15). After giving himself as food and drink, he says, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Jesus calls us to continue his mission of revealing the perfect love of God in this world. He calls us to total self-giving. He does not want us to keep anything for ourselves. Rather, he wants our love to be as full, as radical, and as complete as his own. He wants us to bend ourselves to the ground and touch the places in each other that most need washing. He also wants us to say to each other, “Eat of me and drink of me.” By this complete mutual nurturing, he wants us to become one body and one spirit, united by the Love of God.

Show Me The Way by Henri NouwenI’m looking at you, Lord. You have said so many loving words. Your heart has spoken so clearly. Now you want to show me even more clearly how much you love me. Knowing that your Father has put everything in your hands, that you have come from God and returning to God, you remove your outer garments and, taking a towel, you wrap it around your waist, pour water into a basin and begin to wash my feet, and then wipe them with the towel you are wearing . . . .

You look at me with utter tenderness, saying, “I want you to be with me. I want you to have a full share in my life. I want you to belong to me as much as I belong to my Father. I want to wash you completely clean so that you and I can be one and so that you can do to others what I have done to you.”

I am looking at you again, Lord. You stand up and invite me to the table. As we are eating, you take bread, say the blessing, break the bread, and give it to me. “Take and eat,” you say, “this is my body given for you.” Then you take a cup, and, after giving thanks, you hand it to me, saying, “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant poured out for you.” Knowing that your hour has come to pass from this world to your Father and having loved me, you now love me to the end. You give me everything that you have and are. You pour out for me your very self. All the love that you carry for me in your heart now becomes manifest. You wash my feet and then give me your own body and blood as food and drink.

O Lord, how can I ever go anywhere else but to you to find the love I so desire!

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, his suffering and his death become a suffering and death for us. Passion becomes compassion, for us. We are incorporated into Jesus. We become part of his “body” and in the most compassionate way are freed from our deepest solitude. Through the Eucharist we come to belong to Jesus in the most intimate way, to him who has suffered for us, died for us, and rose again so that we may suffer, die, and rise again with him.

Our Prayer

Almighty, everlasting God,
on the evening before he suffered
your beloved son entrusted to the church
the sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant
and founded the banquet of his love.
Grant that from this mystery
we may receive the fullness of life and love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ.

Source: Henri J.M. Nouwen, Show me the Way (Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992). Used by permission.

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