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Holy Thursday Homily

Holy Thursday
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15
April 18, 2019

We began our readings tonight with God’s instructions for the first Passover.   It is to be celebrated once a year and put at the head of the calendar.

They are to sacrifice a “year-old male..without blemish.”  They aren’t supposed to take an old lamb they don’t want anymore.  They are to sacrifice a young healthy lamb so it represents a real sacrifice to them.

It is to be “without blemish” to be a worthy sacrifice, nothing imperfect.

It involves unleavened bread because they were “in flight” from the Egyptians and could not wait for the bread to rise.

It is called the Passover because, after they had marked their doors with the blood of the sacrifice, the blood served as a sign for God to “pass over” that house as He went from house to house, killing the firstborn of the Egyptians but not the Israelites.

The first Passover was celebrated as worship to God during the Exodus but it was not to be celebrated just once.  God told them to make it a “memorial feast,” “a perpetual institution” to be celebrated on an annual basis.  And so it was.  The first Passover was celebrated in the 16th century B.C.  The Passover has been celebrated many times since then.

Jesus himself, faithfully following the Jewish law, went to the Passover each year.  What we celebrate tonight commemorated the last Passover (the Last Supper) that Jesus celebrated.

This begins our Easter Triduum.  It was no accident that Jesus choose the time of the Passover as the hour for which He came.

Remember, at the time of the Exodus, God told them to put the Passover at the head of their calendar.  The Passover is central to Jewish identity as it commemorates the time when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. 

Jesus takes the Passover and makes it something even greater.  He takes the bread and wine used as part of the Passover celebration and makes it his Body and Blood.

That’s we continue to use unleavened bread even today, as a reminder that we continue in a covenantal relationship with God dating back to the Exodus. 

The Israelites used the blood of the sacrificed lamb at the first Passover to mark their doors as children of God.  We are forever marked as children of God.

As the Jews continued the Passover celebration at God’s direction as a “memorial feast,” “a perpetual institution,” we hear Jesus’ words at the Last Supper to “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

It is a precept of our faith that we come to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday and Holy Day.  We have daily Mass for those who are able. 

Paul reminds us that when we celebrate Mass, we are not just celebrating a Passover meal or the Eucharist in and of itself.  Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper include “this is my body which will be given up for you…this is my blood shed for you.”  Jesus took the Eucharist and united it to his sacrifice on the Cross.  Jesus, without sin, becomes the unblemished lamb for the sacrifice.  This is what we celebrate in the Eucharist.

Why is so important for us to celebrate the Eucharist weekly, if not daily?  Because it is the bread of life.  It is the food that strengthens us.

It strengthens us for what?

To serve.

The Eucharist is not something God gives us simply for our own needs.  God gives us the Eucharist to strengthen us to help one another.

Tonight is called the “Institution of the Eucharist.”  It is also called the “Institution of the Priesthood.”  The priest is the one who presides at the Eucharist. 

To do so, as a priest, I received the Sacrament of Ordination.  I did not receive this Sacrament for my own gain.  I was ordained not for my own benefit.  Rather I was ordained to serve others.

Tonight’s washing of the feet serves as a reminder of that.  At the moment, I am wearing vestments that signify my role as a priest but in a moment, I will take them off and wash the feet of twelve parishioners as a model of service.

God gives you the gift of the Eucharist.  What do you do with the grace you receive in this sacrament?

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