When he had finished he said, I have given you an example, as I have done you also may do. 'Do this in memory of me', means what I have done you too should do.
It happened in Burundi, my first mission, while visiting a small community at 6,000 feet high among the Congo-Nile Mountains, 20 miles from the parish by car and three hours on foot. In the late afternoon, after the work in the chapel, I was asked to visit a sick person. It was raining on that muddy track. After one hour, slipping and sliding, I felt tired. Almost three times, I stopped, wanting to give up. The catechist put such a pressure on me, repeating she is waiting for you today. So, I carried on more out of pride than of love. The sun was already going down, when we arrived into a small, dark valley. Here we are, they told me and guided me into a small, half-made hut of mud and straw beside a river enveloped in mist. I felt uncomfortable. I neither had before nor after met such misery. An empty space with a young girl lying on a rush mat on the muddy ground.
She told me her pitiable story. Lucy was her name. She was 20 years old and with her old parents she had come from the other part of the country searching for a piece of land to till, carrying on their heads in the traditional way all what they had; they began to build the hut when she got sick and there she was, lying on the ground for three months. Uneasily, I asked how I could help her: some treatment, money, food.
Softly she said to me, Father I waited for you to hear my confession and give me Holy Communion. I knelt down on the mud to hear her short confession, then I called parents, catechists, neighbours and we began the communion rite. We started the Our Father but I stopped short. How could I lead a girl in such a situation to pray thy will be done? All those present went into silence too. Then something happened.
Lucy went on reciting alone in a feeble but clear voice: thy will be done on earth… Fascinated, we all prayed with her, as it is in heaven. I looked up at her: a beautiful, peaceful smile was lighting her face. I smiled too and so did all the people present there. It was as the light, joy and glory of the risen Lord was filling that miserable hut.
We started our way back; it was already night but the rain was past, the last clouds were slipping away, and an Easter full moon was shining. All seemed beautiful. Two days later, back at the Parish, I sent a young man to go to her with some money, clothes, medicine and food. He came back hours later, holding all my stuff: Do you know father, he told me, Lucy died that same night you visited her!
The celebration of today, we call it, the last supper, and indeed, it was Jesus’s last supper on earth, but it was also the first Eucharist banquet for the new fledgling Christian community. For Lucy, it was the last Holy Communion on earth, but her first banquet in heaven. From that day, I try to understand more and more the meaning of Jesus’s words of The Holy Supper: This is my body, This is my blood.
Three years before, Jesus had heard the call of John the Baptist: The Kingdom of heaven is now at hand. Change your ways. Yes, the Jewish society and nation had to change. Corruption among the priests, abuses of the invading Romans, hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees, while people were suffering from poverty, illnesses, religious confusion. He left his house and his mother Mary and went to be baptised in the water of Jordan. There, a word came to him from heaven: You are my son, this day I have begotten you. He was impressed: God was giving him a new life for a new mission. Passed on were the words of John: You brood of vipers! How will you escape when divine punishment comes? His mission was to announce as John, The kingdom of God is at hand. Change your ways, but in a different way, believe the Good News. Believe that God loves you and his kingdom is a kingdom of justice, peace, and love. Jesus, then, went around preaching and doing works of love, a prophet mighty in words and deeds.
One day on a high mountain, the glory of the Father enlightened him and Elijah and Moses came to him. He, Jesus was a prophet Moses promised God would raise among the people; he was the one whom God would send like a new Moses to free the people of a new slavery. He has to take a risk and go up to Jerusalem and announce the coming of God's kingdom in the temple, in the core of the Roman occupation forces. Even though he knew that the worst could happen, he entered the holy city of David. He did it in the eyes of all, riding on an ass, passing through the Mount of Olives like a king to establish a new Kingdom in the name of God and the poor, for those who morn and are gentle, for those who hunger and thirst for justice.
The country was facing a tragic reality and his arrival caused a terrible crisis: the priests felt threatened; the Romans felt challenged. If his message were to succeed, the priests would lose their sacred power and the Romans their armed power. Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem to drink there, with his disciples the wine of the new Kingdom. Instead, he knew what he had foreseen: they want him dead.
He does not complain for his failure, does not reproach his disciples. He knows who is going to betray him and as a sheep led to slaughter, does not resist, What you are going to do, do quickly, he tells Judas, and Judas leaves. It was night outside, the empire of darkness. Nevertheless, Jesus does not lose his faith: I tell you, he says to his disciples, I will not taste the fruit of the vine again until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God. It will be a time, when the Kingdom of God is established.
Therefore, Jesus took bread and said This is my body. This is neither the unleavened bread of the Egyptian liberation nor the bread your fathers ate in the desert, the bread your fathers ate a part from the other peoples. This is the bread coming from heaven; the common, the daily bread you ask and my Father gives you. It becomes now my body given up for you, the one you eat for the peace and salvation of the entire world. Then he took the chalice and said, This is my blood, not the blood of the old covenant neither your father nor you were able to accomplish. This is the blood of the eternal covenant: you will be worthy to accomplish it in my name. As Caiaphas, since he was high priest for that year, prophesied: Jesus died for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
Luke adds another short word: Do this in memory of me. What have we to do in Jesus’s memory? Only the rite he has just done himself? John the evangelist in his recount of the last supper does not mention the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, he tells us: Jesus realized that his hour had come. As he had loved those who were his own, he would love them with perfect love. Jesus got up from the table and began to wash the disciples’ feet. When he had finished he said, I have given you an example, as I have done you also may do. Do this in memory of me, means what I have done you too should do.
The Eucharist we start in the Church ends in our commitment of washing the feet of our brothers and sisters, outside in the world. When the Eucharist rite ends, we are sent to bring the peace and love of the risen Lord to the entire world.
Almost fifty years has passed since I gave communion to Lucy that night. However, her memory is always present reminding me: each Eucharist ends when the poor, the suffering, the dying people receiving the body of Christ, shares his strength, peace, love and glory: and doing so brings on earth the Kingdom of God.