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Holy Thursday on Mount Zion and in Gethsemane
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A priest’s reflections on the Sacred Triduum, written from Jerusalem.

Church of Gethsemane
The Basilica of the Agony, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The Garden of Gethsemane is on the left side of the church.

The following reflection on the events of Holy Thursday was written by Fr Eamon Kelly, LC, Vice Chargé of the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.

Today we go up with Our Lord, up to Mount Zion and up to the Upper Room.

The Upper Room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem overlooks the Gehenna Valley, which constitutes its western and southern flank. There is no space between them. They are contiguous, side by side. The City of so much grace stands at the brink of Gehenna, the symbol for total alienation, always haunted by the stench of burning refuse and the harsh clang of metal on metal as smiths worked the sulphurous forge.

It is a place full of dark memories. It was here that the firstborn of the Israelite people were offered alive in fire to Moloch, the Canaanite god. Here, too, decadent Jerusalemites performed the same sacrifice (Cf. Jer. 19 and Ps 106, 38) to that very same god. Christ is setting up his tent of grace at the very brink of hell.

As we go up to this place of contrasts, each of us comes with our personal history. Perhaps some of us have gone up proudly. Perhaps others were driven by self-will or naïve daring. And perhaps still others are going up only half-aware, by force of habit, blindly following the others.

However we came, we find ourselves there with the Master, who stoops down to the ground to wash our feet.

Some of us protest in our lack of understanding – he is too special to do this menial task and get his hands dirty. But he insists that he came down from heaven for this purpose and had already gone down into the Jordan, near the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth to be baptized. Sin lets us sink far down, but however far we fall, the Word made flesh follows us there to purify us.

There, he tells us that we are purified already because of the Word we have heard, in lowly simple parables. It was a Word spoken in gentle and accessible tones that reached our confused, rebellious hearts: a man had two sons … your brother was dead and has come back to life, let us celebrate!  …  blessed are the merciful … which of the two forgiven debtors will love their master more? …

Now he has risen up again and puts on his robe. He will lift us up with him and, though our sins be scarlet red, will dress us in white robes of grace at the Easter Vigil, and in each subsequent confession and absolution. For now he goes on ahead of us to receive his baptism, which, like the apostles, we struggle to understand.

Then he lifts up the bread, and offers up words of blessing to His Father, who gives us our daily bread.

At the same time, in anticipation, he lifts up his body, given up for us, for the pouring out of mercy down upon us. We, his fragile, ordained priests, refreshed and committed anew at the Chrism Mass, do this in memory of him at the Liturgy of the Last Supper this evening. And we baptized and reconciled all take and eat of the one Body, and our wretched broken body is lifted up by him to become one Body, with each member looking out for our fellow members, especially those suffering most at this time.

Amazed and confounded we watch as sadness shadows his heart and face. Not understanding, we go down with him into the Kidron Valley, past the Absalom Monument in memory of the rebellious son who ate at the same table.

We enter the oil press with him, literally in Aramaic: Gat (press) Shemani (oil), Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.  As he lies prostrate, the pressure intensifies on him beyond our awareness and capacity to grasp, until blood flows out in his pleas with Abba.

Amen, so be it…

He rises again to lift us up with him to new fidelity after all our lethargies and sleep, all our negligence and sins of omission and commission. Here in Jerusalem, during the Eucharistic Hour at Gethsemane this Holy Thursday night, many will ask for reconciliation and keep the priests busy while the Gospels are read and prayers spoken in many languages.

Then we will all process, thousands of us, with burning torches back down through the darker Kidron valley and up the slopes of Mt Zion to Caiphas’ House, now the site of Peter-in-Gallicantu Church. The name reminds us of Peter’s triple denial by the third cockcrow, and his tear-filled eyes as he once again received Christ’s mercy pouring down on him. Peter, more humble, more merciful, more in love with and now more bonded to Christ, better prepared to feed the lambs and the sheep, but for the moment in need of deep recovery.

Christ is now deep into his passion for us.

To be continued tomorrow with a reflection on Good Friday.


PUBLICATION DATE: 2010-03-30


 
 


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