Last Sunday I took part in a special event in Inverness. There were beautiful women in fine clothes and handsome men in suits. Right at the centre were several children, boys and girls, dressed in white. I think you can guess what kind of event it was. Of course, first communion. The day when these children took part fully in mass for the very first time in their lives. That moment was preceded by a long preparation; the children were taught for almost one year. Their parents, mainly their mothers, thought about their own dresses months ago – if I know women a little I’m sure that’s not an exaggeration.
When we look at today’s readings we see something similar: a preparation. In the first reading the people of Israel, led by Moses, build the altar and kill bullocks as a sacrifice. We know from the previous part of the book of Exodus, that the people cleansed themselves for three days before this event. Such a preparation was necessary before meeting their God and forming the covenant.
In the gospel Jesus gives directions to his disciples concerning another preparation: “Go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him.” When they do this, they will find a place prepared for their Passover feast. I assume that this had been arranged earlier by Jesus and the owner of the house – perhaps he knew his arrest was near, and this meal had to take place.
Preparation always precedes a great event. You may have heard the expression: spontaneity should be well prepared. But sometimes people are not aware that something is a great event and they do not prepare. This leads to disaster.
Let me ask you: Is the Eucharist a great event? If it is, how do we prepare ourselves to take part in it? I think there are two levels to this. The first one concerns external things: we clean the church, prepare the books, bread and wine; we turn on the heating, the lights, the PA system. This is one level – it is very important. And I’m always very impressed by how perfectly these things are done by you.
The second level concerns us as individuals. I’ve never been a great fan of formal clothes. But I know that when I wear a suit something special is going to happen. When I wear a suit I stand up straight instead of slouching. The unusual attire influences my behaviour. I feel as if I’m taking part in something special. Outward things can change the way we are inside. And we really do need a special internal attitude to experience the power of the Eucharist. To experience the truth of Jesus’ words: This is my body, this is my blood. Given up. For you.