You’re moving. That’s right; you’re moving to a new house to the other side of the country. There’s so much you have to do. Loose ends need tying. Things need to be packed, organised into boxes—ideally with labels. Some things will have to be thrown away. You can always leave some stuff with people you know. That couch—that can stay, you can always buy a new one. It’ll cost more to cart it than it’s worth.
You’ll have to say your goodbyes. Maybe organise a farewell dinner of something. Geeze, you know what that means, someone will have to give some kind of speech.
O then there’s that property you’re renting. You’ve decided not to sell it, so you’ll need to forfeit management. Entrust that to someone else. Someone you can trust.
It is on this very theme of “moving” that the Gospel of John preludes Holy Thursday (13:1):
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…
The phrasing translated here as, “to depart” is the Greek word μεταβῇ. A compound of μετα, meaning “change” and βάσις, “a step” or “a foot,” thus literally we can understand this word to mean “a change of foot,” “a shift in where one is standing or situated.” When we read this back into the text:
Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should shift his step out of this world to the Father
Additionally, the word itself doesn’t simply mean “to depart” but “to move, change one’s place, pass over.”
Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should move / pass over out of this world to the Father
Literally speaking, Jesus knows that he is going to die. In the interim after his death, his soul will be in the limbo of the fathers, and then He’ll return resurrected, only to depart and move on to be with the Father in Heaven. He knows His body is going to be killed, that and the events culminating in his ascension into heaven—his great move—to the Father’s Heavenly House, body, soul and divinity, are underway, and the evening of Holy Thursday marks the threshold.
He's Getting Out of Here
Jesus is going away. He’s leaving the suburb of this world to take up residence in the suburb of His Father. He’s leaving the country of Israel and is headed for the celestial Fatherland. Jesus is moving and He knows it; and like anyone who is moving He is making preparations: His very own, ‘Pass-over preparations’.
Hence, we have the Last Supper, and at this Sacred Meal Jesus is both wrapping things up and putting some things in place before He commences His exodus to the Promised Land above.
Jesus' Public Ministry has ended and the Last Supper is its private conclusion, paralleling in many ways the nature of the Wedding of Cana which marked the private commencement of His Ministry. At the Last Supper John records reams of teachings which Jesus gave, including the great commandment of love. It is during this moving-meal, pass-over meal (whichever of the seven days of Passover one believes it was held) that Jesus summarises His message and elucidates the most important truths to those gathered about Him. From speaking about the Persons of the Trinity, the promised Holy Spirit, the relation of the Father and the Son; to the mystery of communion in the Church in Christ the Vine. He not only teaches but prays, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21).
Going away, Jesus isn’t prepared to leave His “little children” (Jn 13:33) defenseless. He knows that they’ll temporarily fall away and will be swamped by uncertainty after His death—but He prepares them by giving them five gifts at the Last Supper.
The First Gift - Knowledge
The first of these gifts is the gift of knowledge. He does so by teaching them about Himself who is Love, and warning them about the fate that awaits those who follow Him—who in their turn, will suffer at the hands of a world resistant to the grace of salvation. Jesus isn’t duplicitous, He is straight-up with His followers. He tells them what being a disciple is going to take. Yet He doesn’t neglect to unfold to them the benefit—the bliss of what it means to be one with Him.
The Second Gift - Love-In-Action, Example
The second gift is that of example—a concrete experience of Jesus’ loving command in action. An act of love which those present were given to carry in their memories and hearts, and would share to the world above all by imitation. This Master and Friend not only teaches by word, but by deed. This is shown most clearly in the washing of the feet.
“He rose from the supper, laid aside his garments… and began to wash the feet of the disciples” and He said, “Indeed, a pattern I gave you, that as I did to you, so also you should do…” (Jn 13:4-5, 15).
After washing their feet, Jesus speaks about the illumination they have received and the corresponding action it requires: “If these things you know, blessed are you if you do them.” (Jn 13:17).
The Third Gift - The Eucharist
The third and greatest gift Jesus gives at the Last Supper is that of the Eucharist: His very Self, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” under the appearance of bread and wine. This is the fulfillment of the Passover, and the very Passover itself, given to the disciples. Combining notions of meal and sacrifice. Jesus washes their feet with supreme love; and this very love is encapsulated in the consecrated Bread and Wine.
He’s going away, and yet here in the Blessed Sacrament Jesus shows Himself incapable of leaving man alone in a broken world. He’s moving to heaven, but by His Real Presence in the Eucharist He’s not going anywhere. Sure, He’ll be going away, but He’ll also be staying present with them “until the end of the age” in this Gift of gifts.
The Fourth Gift - The Priesthood
The fourth gift Jesus gives is that of the Priesthood. As Tradition teaches us, it was at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the priesthood—ordaining the Apostles as priests by way of conferring on them the authority to consecrate Bread and Wine as a living memorial in His Name. The Upper-Room that night was a seminary—a place of training; and a church, a place of ordination. Everything Jesus did at the Last Supper, although not exclusively so, was to prepare these men for their vocation as Passovers, Movers, instruments that move God from heaven to earth under the guise of Bread, and who move souls from sin to grace, and from the world to heaven. It’s Jesus the Great High Priest doing the moving and passovering, but through His ministers. And in preparing them He prepares every generation of priest and bishop.
In a spiritual way all the baptised—all of us—as royal priests, share in being mediators. Mediators through whom Jesus passes over into our lives and into the world around us. By digesting the Eucharist with loving lips into prayerful hearts, we are called to go forth and be Footwashers—servants of love, putting aside the garments of social propriety and pride, and doing what needs to be done to help others and to bring a little warmth into the coldness of this world; washing away bitterness and divisions for the sake of oneness in Christ.
The Fifth Gift - The Church
The fifth gift Jesus gave at the Last Supper was the Church. We are the Church, yet the gift of ourselves as a Body, was given to us by Jesus when He gave to us His Body in the Eucharist. It was then and there in that Upper-Room that Jesus gave to us His Church which He had already being moulding and crafting in His Heart since the day He became Incarnate, and especially since the day He gathered the Twelve.
Pentecost is said to be the birthday of the Church. Elsewhere it is said the moment the blood and water gushed forth from Jesus’ side on the Cross, was the birthday of the Church; and yet again, the same is said of the Last Supper. All are correct, since each of these grasp and make manifest the Mystery of the Church which especially owes its existence to the Last Supper, the Passion and Pentecost, three events unfolding the single action of God.
However, keeping in mind the roots of the Church in the People of Israel, if we were to present a simplified synthesis we might say that the Church was conceived at the Institution of the Eucharist; was in the process of being delivered at the Cross through the birth pangs of Mary the Mother of the Church, and was brought forth in all its glory into the world at Pentecost.
The gift of the Church is wonderful. It’s like that house we mentioned at the beginning of this article. You know—the one you were renting and were going to entrust to someone else to manage while you were away. Ring any bells… The Parable of the Tenants (Mt 21:28-46; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20:9-19). For the Church is the created Household of God which Jesus the Master Carpenter fashioned for us to live in communion with God and each other. Peter and successive Popes are tasked with the responsibility of looking after the entire Household which is the Church; followed by the bishops who manage large portions of this Household called diocese, followed by priests who are charged with looking after a parish, religious with their communities, and laity with their family households.
Jesus moved to heaven, gave us His teaching and example, alive in the Scriptures; He remains with us in the Eucharist, and built for us a Home: the Church, to live in. He doesn't just ditch us and chill out with the Father in the Holy Spirit in Paradise. He carves out a slice - reserving a home for us hereafter, and accessible now, all in the Church: home sweet home.
No matter how many sinners seem to crowd the Church here bellow. No matter how depraved some of Her members become. No matter how annoying we may find fellow pilgrim members, how unsavory we find a particular parish, priest or pastor. The Church is perfect and holy because of Jesus it’s Head. After all the Church is not simply a collection of believers, nor a pile of stones, nor is it built on one priest or nun, but it is the space, the room, the home Jesus opened up for us to dwell with Him and to be with Him, so that where He is going we might also go, “even if for a short time we have to bear with all sorts of trials” here below (1 Pt 1:6).
[For] in my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (Jn 14:2-3)
It is no coincidence that Jesus spoke these words during the Last Supper, His farewell meal at which He made the final preparations before His great ‘Passover move’. Jesus will come again at the end of time, but already in the Holy Eucharist, in the Mass, Jesus comes and takes us to Himself, so that we might be exactly where He is in heaven, as He is where we are on earth. A sweet and profound communion. Like that which we see in John’s Gospel where “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus” (13:23). Let us be this disciple whom Jesus loved.