Two events shape the Liturgy of the Great and Holy Thursday: the Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The Last Supper is the ultimate revelation of God’s redeeming love for man. The betrayal by Judas reveals that sin, death and self-destruction are also due to love, but love directed at that which does not deserve love. The mystery of this unique day, and its liturgy where light and darkness, joy and sorrow are so strangely mixed, challenges us with the choice on which the eternal destiny of each one of us depends. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come… having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end… “(John 13:1) To understand the meaning of the Last Supper, we must see it as the very end of the great movement of Divine Love which began with the creation of the world and is now to be consummated in the death and resurrection of Christ. God is love. (1 John 4:8) And the first gift of Love was life. The meaning, the content of life, was communion.
But through sin, if man betrayed, God remained faithful to man. He did not “turn Himself away forever from His creature whom He had made, neither did He forget the works of His hands, but He visited him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of His mercy.” (Liturgy of St. Basil) A new Divine work began, that of redemption and salvation. And it was fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God, Who, in order to restore man to his pristine beauty and to restore life as communion with God, became Man, took upon Himself our nature, with its thirst and hunger, with its desire for and love of life. And in Him life was revealed, given, accepted and fulfilled as total and perfect Eucharist, as total and perfect communion with God. He rejected the basic human temptation: to live “by bread alone.” He revealed that God and His kingdom are the real food, the real life of man. And this perfect eucharistic Life, filled with God, and therefore Divine and immortal, He gave to all those who would believe in Him, i.e., find in Him the meaning and the content of their lives. Such is the wonderful meaning of the Last Supper. He offered Himself as the true food of man, because the life revealed in Him is the true Life, and the movement of Divine Love which began in paradise with a Divine “take, eat… ” (for eating is life for man) comes now “unto the end” with the Divine “take, eat, this is My Body…” (for God is life of man…) The Last Supper is the restoration of the paradise of bliss, of life as Eucharist and Communion.
But this hour of ultimate love is also that of the ultimate betrayal. Judas leaves the light of the Upper Room and goes into darkness. “And it was night.”(John 13:30) Why does he leave? Because he loves, answers the gospel, the “silver” more than he loves the Lord. Each year, as we immerse ourselves into the unfathomable light and depth of Holy Thursday, the same decisive question is addressed to each one of us: do I respond to Christ’s love and accept it as my life, or do I follow Judas into the darkness of the night?