Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday

As we begin our Triduum celebration, we fittingly begin by focusing on the Eucharist. Everything we do as Christians begins and ends with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is our lamb without blemish. The Eucharist is the sign and the reality of our covenant with our heavenly Father. So our first reading shows us the prefigurement to the Eucharist in the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt.

What we need to notice in this Passover story is the utter inability of the Jews to save themselves from their plight. They couldn't do it on their own, they needed God to intervene. And so he did, he commanded them to get a lamb without blemish, and they were saved by the blood of the spotless lamb. They were saved by the blood of the spotless lamb.

This covenant between God and the Jewish people, this first supper of the Passover of the Lord, finds its true fulfillment in the Last Supper, in Jesus's own passover from life to death. The first Passover, the blood of the spotless lamb spread on the wood of their doorposts, saved the people from slavery to the Egyptians, but it couldn't free us from sin or death. For that, a new covenant and a new Passover was needed.

So to institute this new covenant, Jesus went to the cross for us. The blood of the true spotless lamb on the wood of the cross is our doorway into a new kind of freedom that the Jews escaping from Egypt never could have imagined. God began proving his love for us at the Exodus, and he ultimately proved it once and for all at the cross.

And as a sign of this covenant, and as our means of entering into it, he gave us the Eucharist. Jesus transformed the meaning of the Passover meal. No longer does it simply recall the rescue from slavery, from Jesus's Last Supper onwards it would be the actual means of having communion with God.

So St. Paul tells us in our second reading, "I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." We're dealing with something truly special here because what we have here with Paul's letter to the Corinthians is the oldest written record of the Last Supper. Paul is writing these words in about 55 A.D., only about 25 years after Jesus himself spoke these words in the upper room, and Paul is clearly referring to something that has already been going on. My friends, this gift of the Eucharist is truly, truly ancient. It has been with us from the very beginning.

Paul also records Jesus saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." This ancient gift is how we enter into the ever-new covenant, ever-new because it is a covenant with the true and living God. Incorporation into this covenant means incorporation into the Body of Christ, and in our gospel, Jesus, the head, shows us, the body, what this incorporation means. It means service to one another, symbolized by the washing of feet. It starts with the Jesus the head and works it way down through the hierarchy of the Church he is establishing so that ultimately, authority in this new Church means being called to service. The foot washing that will happen shortly is called the Mandatum Rite, the Latin mandatum is where we get the word mandate. So this is literally a new mandate from God, a new requirement. Service to your brothers and sisters isn't an optional part of Christianity if you feel called to it, it is absolutely required.

And we serve each other obviously by being attentive to the needs of the other person. But also, and we can't ignore this, we serve each other primarily by being attentive to the things of God, because frankly, apart from being in the same Body of Christ, none of us are brothers and sisters. It is only in Christ that we have communion. So we have to follow Christ in all things. We have to follow him in the good times and the bad. In our lives, we have to follow him when it's easy and when it's tough. In his life, we have to follow him when he silences the Pharisees and when he washes feet. We have to follow him on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday.

This evening, we follow him into the Garden of Gethsemane. We stay awake with him as he prays for this cup to pass from him. We join him in his final resolution to the Father, "Not my will, but yours be done." And we follow him all the days of our life.

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