Holy Thursday

Ex 12:1-8,11-14; Ps 116:12,13,15-18; 1Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
“How shall I make a return to the LORD?”

This responsorial psalm provides a question worth of both early morning meditation and end of the day reflection. Indeed, answering this question is what makes us Eucharistic people. “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” Or as another translation asks, “How can I repay the LORD for his goodness to me?” An initial and heartfelt response is, “I can’t!” Indeed, this life on earth does not provide enough years, months, weeks, days or moments for adequate and sufficient thanksgiving. By the grace of God we will spend our eternity in thanksgiving. That is why each Eucharist is a taste of the heavenly banquet. Every time we take up the cup of salvation we cry out, “Lord Jesus.” Indeed, as one of the patristic fathers wrote, our lips are red with the bright glory of his precious blood. His blood is precious in the eyes of his Father who gazes with unspeakable love upon his crucified son. Indeed, the price of our salvation is too costly! This obedient love is unrequited love. The Eternal Son of the Eternal Father obediently pours himself out without hesitation and without regret. He cannot love us more, and he will not love us less. We are servants of this Faithful Servant; we are children of his handmaid, the Virgin Mary. In his blood outpoured, in his body broken our bonds have been loosed. We are free! We are free to offer this sacrifice of thanksgiving. We are free to offer every moment as a continuation of this Eucharist. As we call upon the name of the Lord Jesus we fulfill the vows made in Baptism. We fulfill these vows in the presence of all his people. Indeed the whole world is a witness of the glorious freedom of the children of God, in whom we live and move and have our being.

This month is the first month not merely in terms of chronology; it is first in terms of significance. No other month is more rich in meaning and packed with symbol than this month, the first month. On the tenth day of this first month each family is to join the whole family of Israel procure a spotless lamb. After four days these victim sheep or goats are to be slaughtered during the evening twilight in the assembly of the whole people. This pilgrimage sacrifice and memorial feast is a perpetual institution in Israel. It is the night that defines the people. It is the night on which they remember in ritual and celebrate in feast their escape from slavery. The blood of this sacrifice was to be applied to the two doorposts and the lintel of every covenant family. This blood was a bright sign of God’s own protection; death would not visit their homes and terrify them more. Again and again their oppressors had visited the slave families to destroy their male children. On that night the LORD himself would Passover the houses of Egypt and visit death upon all who had terrorize his chosen people. Had anything so wondrous ever happened in human history? Had any smaller and insignificant nation ever been taken out of a greater and more powerful nation? Had God ever favored any people? Is this not unheard of and completely unexpected? Yet, this is only a sign of a sign. Indeed, the sign of the Passover Meal is a sign of the Eucharist, which is a real sign, a living true symbol of the liberation of all people for all of time. Indeed, in the night of our fear, in the darkness of our desperation, we cry out in praise and paint the doors of our lips with the precious blood of the truly Spotless and Unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, the whole world.

On the night he was to be handed over, the Lord Jesus celebrated a feast with his chosen ones. This is the night and the feast, which defines a new people of the covenant. Indeed, this ritual and meal is the perfect fulfillment of all the Passover celebrations. Everyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup of this New Passover proclaims the death of the Lord Jesus until he comes again in his glory. At that last supper with his friends the Lord Jesus saw in the broken bread his body upon the cross. He saw in the poured out wine his blood running down to soak the earth. The Lord Jesus gave a completely new meaning to this definitive ritual celebration. No longer is lamb or goat meat needed. No longer are there three plus cups of wine raised in rejoicing. At this Eucharistic Passover sacrifice there is one priest, one victim, and one altar. The Christ is all three. By our proclamation of his death in this Eucharist, we become all three. We offer our lives, and upon our offering rests the unspeakable burden the full weight of glory hidden and revealed in the blessing cup and the broken loaf. Has anything like this ever before happened? Yes, indeed it has happened every Holy Thursday from the fourteenth day of the first month in an upper room in Jerusalem until this very night. Indeed, it happens ceaselessly in every Eucharist, every day we share in the only sacrifice that liberates everyone who is enslaved in every time and place. This Eucharistic Passover defines who we are and how we are in this world. We, like Christ, are a living sacrifice of praise; we are priest, altar, and lamb of sacrifice.

On this night, before the feast of Passover, the Lord Jesus was preparing his disciples for the next day, for his passing from this world to the Father. During his Passover the Lord Jesus would visit death itself. As the victim, the Lord Jesus would use his death to destroy death; as the victor, he would make all life new. He so loved his own in this world that he not only gave them a new ritual in the Eucharist. He gave them, what he gives us, his very self, fully and completely without reservation and without hesitation. In this fourth gospel we hear of how he chose to explain the full meaning of that Eucharistic Passover. In his washing the feet, the Master taught the Disciples that to share in his Body and Blood means to share in his loving service. We are not to hold back or hesitate to offer even the most menial of service. Saint Peter expresses the hesitation of everyone who follows the Lord Jesus in every generation. Lord, I am not worthy to have you perform such a lowly task for me. Or even more honestly, Lord, I really don’t want to spend my life doing this kind of menial service. Yet, if you wash my feet, who am I to refuse to wash another’s feet? This is such a down to earth lesson to find in Saint John’s writing. The Fourth Gospel is described or even dismissed as having such a “high Christology.” However, this is the only gospel that remembers the washing of the feet. Perhaps, only Saint John could bear this witness because it so reveals the true glory of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In taking off his outer garment, the Lord Jesus not only reveals his desire and willingness to serve, he also reveals the glory of his Passover. He, who is humble enough to wash feet, is humble enough to suffer crucifixion and death. Is there any service more precious? What better reason to lift the cup of salvation, the chalice of thanksgiving?