Pope Francis kisses the foot of a disabled person at Our Lady of Providence Centre during Holy Thursday Mass in Rome last year. CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

Still astonishing good news 2,000 years later

By  Fr. Thomas Rosica, Catholic Register Special
  • April 2, 2015

Through the powerful Scripture readings of the Triduum, and especially the Gospels of the Easter Vigil and Easter morning, we catch glimpses of the profound meaning of the Paschal mystery. How can we give expression to the conquest of death and the harrowing of hell? We must honestly admit to ourselves that we have no words.

When we read St. John’s account of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday and his Passion narrative on Good Friday, our minds and hearts are fixed on Jesus, servant and innocent victim who reigns from the cross. At Easter we are stunned by the the experiences of the women at the tomb in Mark’s Resurrection account and moved by the pain of Mary Magdalene as she mourns the death of her friend and encounters Him in a new way.

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Both the Jewish and Christian traditions view eating and feasting as more than simply an opportunity to refuel the body. Eating and feasting were encounters with transcendent realities and even union with the divine. In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ own ministry took place during meals that some say you can eat your way through the Gospels with Jesus!

But it is during His final meal that Jesus leaves us with His most precious gift in the Eucharist.

The Scripture readings for Holy Thursday root us deeply in our Jewish past: celebrating the Passover with the Jewish people. But instead of presenting one of the synoptic Gospel stories of the “institution” of the Eucharist, the Church offers us John’s account of the disturbing posture of the Master kneeling before his friends to wash their feet in a gesture of humility and service.

When Jesus wraps a towel around His waist and begins washing the feet of His disciples, He teaches that liberation and new life are won not in presiding from thrones, nor by the sacrifices offered on temple altars, but by serving the lowly and poor as a foot washer.

The washing of the feet is the evangelist John’s way of saying to Christ’s followers throughout the ages: “You must remember His sacrifice in the Mass, but you must also remember His admonition to go out and serve the world.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches us that true authority in the Church comes from being a servant. His life is a feast for the poor and for sinners. It must be the same for those who receive the Lord’s body and blood.

Two years ago on Holy Thursday evening, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 young people at a Roman juvenile detention centre, including young women, and two Muslims. Last year, he washed the feet of elderly and infirm people. This year he celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the Rebibbia prision in Rome. Pope Francis has brought many to Jesus Christ through the simplicity of his messages and gestures. He shows us how to put the Eucharist into practice in our daily lives.

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Each year on Good Friday we read the Passion according to St. John. Throughout this hauntingly moving narrative, there is an emphasis on Jesus’ sovereignty even in death. As we contemplate the mystery of Jesus crucified, we learn in His suffering and dying how vast a person He was among us. We are invited to realize the tragedy of Jesus’ death in the context of our own trials, sorrows and deaths.

Jesus’ cross is a message, a word for us, a sign of contradiction, a sign of victory, and we gaze upon the cross and respond in faith to its message of healing and reconciliation.

In John’s Passion story, Pontius Pilate presents Jesus to the people with the words: “Ecce Homo” — Behold the Man (19:5). What an incredible expression to describe the paradoxical person and mission of God’s own son! 
Ecce Homo — in whom humanity was so well integrated that He was fully human and is truly a model for each of how we must be fully human in order to be authentically holy. 
Ecce Homo — who lived for others, healing them, restoring them and loving them to life. 
Ecce Homo — who had the courage to choose women as disciples and close friends in his day. 
Ecce Homo — who claimed to have a unique, personal relationship with the God of Israel whom He called Abba. 
Ecce Homo — who came into the world as the sinless One, the perfect One, the just One, the holy One, and His fellow human beings killed Him, the very one that we have so longed for and loved.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is torn from the midst of His family, disciples and friends, and they don’t see Him again until He is raised from the dead. But things are different in John’s Gospel, where Jesus gets a chance to say goodbye to His mother and John at the foot of the cross.

Before He dies, Jesus commits His beloved disciple to His mother’s care and His mother to that disciple’s care. “Behold your son! Behold your mother!”

Jesus turns us outward toward people to whom we are not physically related, identifying these people as our spiritual mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers.

On Good Friday we gather to “behold the man” — Ecce Homo — and to gaze upon Jesus, who took upon Himself all of our sins. If we do not truly encounter and embrace the Man of the cross, and allow the Paschal mystery to transfigure our lives, our efforts are in vain.

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Mark’s Gospel for the Easter Vigil (16:1-8) leaves us perplexed. We read that after discovering Jesus’ tomb is empty and hearing the angels’ message about the Resurrection and a future meeting with Him in Galilee, the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

What can we say about a resurrection story in which the risen Jesus never appears? How could Mark differ so much from Luke’s masterful resurrection chapter (24) or John’s highly developed portraits of the first witnesses of the resurrection (20-21)?

Rather than dismiss the strangeness of Mark’s account, let us reflect on what Mark’s Gospel offers. Of what are they afraid? By remaining silent, are they disobeying the message to “Go and tell…?” What are we to make of the silence of the women?

Mark’s resurrection story contains a declaration and summary of all of Jesus’ teaching: “Do not be alarmed!” (16:6). The reader is told to abandon every fear. Second, the reader is told: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; He is not here. Look, there is the place they laid Him” (16:6).

The crucifixion of Jesus was not the final moment of His life. Our faith is not placed in a crucified man nor in an empty tomb, but in a risen Lord who lives among us.

“He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you” (16:7). The message of the Resurrection in Mark’s Gospel is given to us. His account is constructed to unsettle us — to undo the ease that makes us forget that the call to discipleship is the call to the cross.

In the Easter Sunday Gospel (John 20:1-18), we peer once again into the early morning scene of sadness as Mary Magdalene weeps at the grave. We hear their conversation:

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

“Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and replied in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (Teacher).

“Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ”

Mary announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her (John 20:15-18).

Mary Magdalene was fittingly called Apostola Apostolorum (Apostle to the Apostles) in the early Church because she was the first to see the Risen Lord and to announce His Resurrection.

For Jesus, women were equally as able as men to penetrate the great religious truths and announce them to others. There is no secret code about this story, which is still astonishingly good news more than 2,000 years later.


(Fr. Rosica, CSB, is CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and English language assistant, Holy See Press Office. For more of Fr. Rosica, visit saltandlighttv.org/blog/rosicareflections.)

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