The Beginning and the End
Maundy Thursday II | Fr Allan White reflects on the renewal of each of us that must be begun and finished in Christ.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega…the beginning and the end.’ In today’s Gospel Jesus says that he has always loved his own in the world and that he loved them to the end. The opening lines are full of ambiguous references to time: ‘beginning, end, always’. When does the ‘beginning’ begin and the ‘end’ conclude? Clearly, Jesus is not referring to a process contained by time, but one that reaches back into the eternal providence of God and that becomes mysteriously luminous in the events unfolding in his passion and death. John began his Gospel by playing with the idea of that creative ‘beginning’ spoken of in Genesis, which was founded in a process of dividing and separating. It issued tragically for humanity in that fundamental act of separation between God and Man when Adam broke from God in the sin of disobedience attempting to make Man an end in himself. In trying to fashion his own future Adam was effectively sealing it.
Adam was God’s first-born son, Israel followed in that filial path, Jesus fulfills that pattern of divine heredity in the fullest possible way. God’s purpose is not frustrated. On the cross, when he had drunk the wine, the final cup of the Passover celebration that Jesus and his disciples omitted to drink at the Last Supper, Jesus cries out ‘it is finished.’ Finished in terms of termination or fulfillment? Has God’s providential plan been consummated in this supreme sacrifice? Has that fundamental division between divinity and humanity been overcome? The blood poured out on Calvary was shed so that ‘sins may be forgiven.’ The exile into which humanity has been plunged since Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise is now ended. Since Eden humanity has been a work in progress. On the cross it is ‘finished’, it is ‘completed.’ It is love, that same love that is the wellspring of creation, that has brought the fulfillment of this purpose. In the chain of causality the ‘final’ cause is not only a feature of the ‘end’, it is present at the ‘beginning’ and at every step of the journey into the fullness of existence. On the cross paradise lost is paradise regained.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega.’ In him beginning and end are resolved into one overwhelming movement of recreation for us. He is the principle of everything; through Him all things were made. He is also the end of everything. What is already for him is not yet for us. He is the ‘way’ that unites the beginning to the end and so he remains for us until the Alpha is not completely transformed into the Omega. At the Last Supper Jesus celebrates his ‘Passover’, but this makes possible our own. His Passover is completed in ours. We too are summoned to make a journey. Christ is the way, but we must make him our way. We have to make the journey that he makes possible for us our own in freedom.
Judas sits at table with Jesus. John tells us that the devil had already seduced Judas. The ancient drama of Eden was playing out once more in the midst of Jesus’s own. Judas freely chooses not to complete the journey he has begun. He has brought it to a premature end. Simon too has difficulty in understanding where the road is leading. He is perplexed by Jesus washing his feet. Jesus answers that unless he washes him Simon can have no ‘share’ in him. Through baptism we are made members of Christ’s body. We have a share in him. At the Last Supper we are confronted by the reality of the salvation Jesus brings and the means by which we may attain it. Christ appears as the Alpha, but when that Alpha has realized its Omega there will no longer be any need for an order or means for Christ to exist for us in this way. We will have reached the end of our journey, when Christ will be all in all.
In the Old Testament foot washing was seen as preparation for coming before God. Moses, Aaron and his sons were told that they should wash their hands and feet so that they would not die. When Ezekiel promises a new covenant it is the washing of the people in clean water and the observance of the law that will bring in the new age. The washing and cleansing on God’s part is a condition for people to return to their land and heritage. In Judas and Simon we see two possible responses to the love of God in Christ expressed in the washing of the feet. Judas rejects the invitation and Simon allows his hesitations to be overcome by a glimpse of the gift that Jesus offers.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window in St Etheldreda’s, London.