A triptych is an artistic series of three panels that fold together, work together simultaneously to demonstrate a singular beauty. They are often able to open and close, revealing even more depth of meaning. You may have seen one before: maybe of Christ’s crucifixion in the center, with Mary his mother on one of the winged side panels, and John the Evangelist on the other winged side.
Anyway, years ago when I was in seminary, Pope John Paul II gave a stirring reflection on the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper—a reflection replete with depth and imagery. He spoke of the evening’s ritual and Scriptures as a kind of triptych:
with the Institution of the Eucharist in the center panel (tonight’s second reading), flanked by the Old Testament’s pre-figuration in the paschal lamb on one wing (tonight’s first reading), and brotherly love and service on the other winged side (tonight’s gospel story).
You see, what Christ is doing on this night, was pre-figured in the Old Testament Passover feast heard in our first reading. And when He celebrates it on this very evening, He replaces the one-year old lamb and offers Himself in its stead. Absolutely: no animal flesh or blood would be able to save us from the Passover of death, rather One like us would need to offer His flesh and His blood; God would have to offer His own Son in order to expiate sin, in order to restore the just friendship between God and Man. And so the third part of the triptych, would then be the results of the pre-figurement and the fulfillment: that, loving service would now be His followers’ aim, purpose and mission…in order to bring His saving work to all.
So, it appears a natural question comes to mind tonight: has it worked? Has what was pre-figured…has what was fulfilled…has what was commanded had any effect in us? In other words, have we gained at all from Christ’s evening Supper?
John’s gospel stated, “He loved His own in the world, and He loved them to the end.” The Eucharist now, is the permanent sign of God’s love, the love that sustains our journey to full communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Yes, His actions that night continued His saving work…we have the evidence of His great love, and we see that love blossom when we live out the mystery during these three days…and always.
As we pause this evening to adore the Blessed Sacrament in its repose, and as we meditate on the mystery of the Last Supper and the self-emptying gift of service offered to us by Christ Jesus, may each of us feel immersed in the ocean of Love that flows from God’s heart.