In the first Harry Potter film, one of the great scenes is the beginning-of-term banquet. Amid all the special effects – the starry ceiling and the whimsical ghosts – the camera turns to Dumbledore, the headmaster, for hardly more than a second. And during that time he raises his cup, which bears an unmistakable resemblance to a chalice. You’ve hardly got time to see it, but as you work your way through the films, Dumbledore’s priestly role, and his self-sacrifice, become clearer and clearer.
Cinema is about seeing: in fact, good films teach us to pay more attention to seeing in real life. Much of our communication is, after all, body language. Words are important, but actions, even tiny ones, can speak very loudly.
We begin the great festival of the Triduum, the Three Days of Jesus’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, with a meal. Meals can be wonderful times of sharing, around the basic loving action of feeding someone else and being united by our shared food. But this can be disrupted by rows over the table, inappropriate behaviour, and breaking the fellowship by leaving the table. At the Last Supper, inappropriate behaviour – and how! – is already in the offing: ‘the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray Jesus’.
Yet it is Jesus who will disrupt the meal first, and the most profoundly, ‘because he knew that the Father had put everything into his hands’. So all Jesus’s gestures will be signs of revealing a hidden reality. This gives him the freedom to disrupt the social hierarchy: it was traditionally a servant who would wash the guests’ feet, dirty and dusty from the road. Jesus, the host, takes the place of the servant – and gives the first sign that God is love. He begins by removing his outer garment – a first sign of his being stripped and revealed on the cross. He takes water – a first sign of baptism, the waters of rebirth.
Later in the same Passover meal he will fulfil its ancient structure again by disrupting it, revealing by a new sign that it was a sign of greater things to come. ‘This is my Body’, ‘This is my Blood’: signs that would prepare the disciples for the great mysteries of the Cross and the Resurrection.
They did not understand then. Jesus did not expect them to. He does not expect us to. All we have to do in Holy Week is use our senses: look, hear, touch, smell and taste. Let these sensations begin a process within us. God will do the rest.