|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.
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
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
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
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…
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.
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
To be continued tomorrow with a reflection on Good