The last hymn

Two of the four gospels record that at the conclusion of the last supper, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn. I once heard a preacher say that, given the festival they were celebrating, the hymn was most likely Psalm 118. Reading it, I am always struck by its echoes. I'm sure Jesus would have been too, even if his followers knew not what they sang. Here's most of it:

5From my distress I called upon the LORD;
The LORD answered me and set me in a large place.
6The LORD is for me; I will not fear;
What can man do to me?

11They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
12They surrounded me like bees;
They were extinguished as a fire of thorns;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
13You pushed me violently so that I was falling,
But the LORD helped me.
14The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.

17I will not die, but live,
And tell of the works of the LORD.
18The LORD has disciplined me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.

20This is the gate of the LORD;
The righteous will enter through it.
21I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me,
And You have become my salvation.
22The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
23This is the LORD'S doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day which the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

27Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

29Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Mandatum novum do vobis

Today is “Maundy” Thursday. Maundy is a fifteenth-century English word that (probably) comes, via Old French, from the Latin “Mandatum” - commandment. Mandatum novum: a new commandment.  While celebrating the passover, Jesus gave his twelve followers what he called “a new commandment”: “Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my followers.”

Later that night, one of them betrayed him to the authorities that wanted him dead; all but one fled from him when the army turned up, and before the next dawn that one had three times denied that he ever knew him. With his new commandment, Jesus instituted a new order, a new way of being, and of being known. Within twenty-four hours he was dead, his followers scattered. Instead of love, lies, fear, and betrayal.  

But it was not the only new commandment he gave. Another, and much more contested, was that spoken over the unleavened passover bread he was tearing up to share with them: “Hoc est corpus meum.” This is my body. With this simple metaphor he writes himself into sacred history, past and future. He accepts the death that follows hard upon this feast, and founds with these frail men a new order in which love and death are one.