Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
April 13, 2017
Tonight we begin something very special, our Easter Triduum. The word “triduum” means three days. What we begin tonight lasts until Sunday. Our celebration spans three days but we need to view all of it as one event.
Our readings tonight begin with the story of the first Passover. As Christians we might view Passover as an event in the past but for the Jews, it stands at the head of their calendar. Even as we enter our Triduum Jews today are celebrating the Passover as a “memorial feast” and “perpetual institution.”
Today we might think of the Passover as a Jewish meal. It is but it is also much more than that. The first Passover came as God liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt. God commanded that they sacrifice a lamb that was without blemish and apply some of the blood to the doorposts to mark their homes so that the Lord might ‘pass over’ their homes as he went through Egypt taking their first-born. That is original ‘pass over’ action as God set them free from slavery.
It is not a coincidence that Jesus chose to give his life for us at the time of the Passover. In fact, right before his arrest and Crucifixion, he celebrates this feast with his disciples. As he shares this Passover with his disciples, he takes this solemn feast and unites it to his Crucifixion to come.
He does this as he says “This is my body that is for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood…do this in remembrance of me.”
He does not say here is this ‘bread’, here is this ‘wine.’ No, his words are clear referring to them as his Body and Blood. These words are Jesus’ own words and they are how we know Jesus transubstantiates the bread and wine into his Body and Blood. It truly is the Real Presence of Jesus.
Not only does he transform the bread and wine into his Body and Blood. He speaks of his body and blood given up for us. In doing so, Jesus unites what we celebrate tonight to his Crucifixion that comes tomorrow so that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” This, together with Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me” is Jesus directing us to celebrate the Eucharist. It was not to be celebrated just once in the past. Neither is what we celebrate a new sacrifice. As we celebrate the Eucharist today, Jesus makes present what he did 2,000 years ago.
This is why the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. This is also why we have priests. To celebrate the Eucharist as a sacrifice requests a priest. All of this is why Holy Thursday is called both the Institution of the Eucharist and the Institution of the Priesthood.
All of this is very special but there is one more action we need to reflect on. When I finish my homily, we will celebrate the Washing of the Feet.
This is not just a reenactment from a scene in Jesus’ life like a play would be. Jesus washing the feet of his disciples gives us a “model to follow.”
While washing of feet is a basic human action, washing the feet of another person is not viewed as a pleasurable task. In Jesus’ days on Earth, it is a task given to the lowest of the slaves. No leader or master would do this himself. It would be considered demeaning. Jesus changes that and says we must all serve.
To appreciate this we need to think about what Jesus does as he begins to wash their feet. He “took off his outer garments.” I will do the same in a moment.
This might seem purely functional to take off the robe for movement and not to get the chasuble wet but it signifies something far greater. In Jesus’ days on Earth, the garments signified the status of the person. Even today, my chasuble signifies the role I have as priest.
So, Jesus removing his outer garment, and my removal of my chasuble, is a sign of humility, recognizing that we are not here to be served but to serve. I am a priest not to gain status but to serve you.
As we know celebrate the Washing of the Feet, I invite all of you to think about what the Eucharist and the priesthood means to you.