This evening we commemorate 3 different events. We commemorate Christ celebrating the Passover Meal with his Apostles in the Upper Room. We commemorate the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, & We commemorate Christ washing the feet of his Disciples.
(A). The Jewish Passover (Exodus 12:1-8 & 11-14) This evening's 1st. Reading gives us the historical background to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. Each family or group of families kill a lamb and hold a Feast. While they are feasting, the father of the family recalls the momentous events, which took place long ago in Egypt. First of all, he recalls the words of God to Moses. He recalls how God ordered Moses to have each family kill a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the door posts.
- V. 7 -- He recalls how the Israeli first-born were saved from death by the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts. When the Destroying Angel saw the blood on the doorposts, he passed over that house. Finally, the father recalls how God told the Israelites to have a Feast each year to commemorate & celebrate how He delivered them from slavery in Egypt & made them his Chosen People. (v. 14).
So, this evening, we join with Jewish people everywhere in recalling & celebrating the events which took place long ago in Egypt. With them, we recall how their firstborn were saved through the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their doorposts.
(a). Christian Dimension to our Celebration But, as Christians, there is a special dimension to our celebration this evening. We are celebrating our own Passover. We have our own Paschal lamb. This evening we are celebrating the fact that all mankind was saved through the Blood of Christ shed on the Cross. Christ is our Paschal Lamb the shedding of whose Blood saved all mankind.
By undergoing his Passion, during the Passover celebrations, Christ intended to show that he is the fulfillment of the lamb, whose blood saved the Israeli first-born in Egypt. He intended to show that he is the New Paschal Lamb, slain in sacrifice, whose Blood would save all mankind.
So, like the Israelites of old, or the Jews at the present time, we have our own Paschal Lamb. We have our own Passover Feast. As St. Paul says: "Christ, our Paschal lamb, has been sacrificed".(1 Cor. 5:7).
(B). The Last Supper The 15.3 Gospels tell us that Christ celebrated the Passover with his Disciples. All 3 tell us that Christ sent Peter, James & John ahead to prepare for the Paschal Meal. Like the rest of the Jewish people, Christ looked forward to celebrating the Passover Meal. St. Luke quotes Christ as saying to his Apostles: "I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...". (Lk.22:15).
The Passover Liturgy forms the background to Christ's words & actions at the Last Supper. It was during the Passover Liturgy that Christ instituted the Blessed Eucharist.
(C). 211. Reading (1 Cor. 11:23-26) In the 214. Reading, St. Paul recalls the institution of the Eucharist. During the Passover Liturgy, Christ took some bread, thanked God for it, and said: "This is my body which is for you... Do this in remembrance of me". Christ refers to the bread as His Body, which will be given in sacrifice on their behalf. The Greek word for body (soma) can refer either to the whole person or the person's physical body. So, the phrase: "This is my body which is for you", means
- This is I myself, who am about to give my life for you.
Christ's Words Over The Cup After supper, he took the Cup and said: "This cup is the new covenant in my Blood. Do this,
it, in remembrance of me".(v.24) Christ sees the shedding of his Blood on the Cross as establishing a new covenant between God & his new chosen people. Just as the sprinkling of blood on the altar & on the people sealed the Sinai covenant, so also the shedding of Christ's blood on Calvary sealed the New Covenant between God and his new chosen people. (Ex. 24:8). It is by giving his life in sacrifice - the gift of himself to God on our behalf -- that Christ seals the new Covenant between God and his new people.
In the twice repeated phrase: "Do this in memory of me" (v. 19b), Christ commands his Disciples to keep doing, in remembrance of Him, what He has just done. In these words of St. Paul, we have the earliest account of the institution of the Eucharist. Scripture scholars tell us that St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians was written in the year 57. In other words, it was written 24-25 years after Christ's death & Resurrection.
ted the Blessed Eucharist to be our spiritual food & nourishment. St. John quotes Christ as saying: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man & drink his blood you do not have life in you ... As I myself draw life from the Father so the one who feeds on me will have life because of me". (John 6:53 & 57). We must always remember that it is the Body & Blood of the Glorified Christ that we receive in Holy Communion.
(a). Paul Presents Himself as a Link in the Tradition
St. Paul acknowledges that he received his account of the institution of the Eucharist from tradition. He presents himself as a link in the chain of tradition that goes all the way back to Christ.
St. Paul does not give an eyewitness account. Rather, he recalls what the Lord did at the Last Supper. Even after only 25 years, St. Paul could speak of a tradition about the Eucharist dating back to Christ.
We Re-Affirm Our Faith This evening, as we commemorate Christ's institution of the Blessed Eucharist, let us re affirm our faith in Christ's presence in the Blessed Eucharist. We believe that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread becomes the Body of the Glorified Christ. We believe that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary wine becomes the Blood of the Glorified Christ.
Notice the word "becomes" Before the Eucharistic Prayer, to the question: "What is it"?, the believer replies “It is bread & wine. After the Eucharistic Prayer, to the same question, the believer replies: “It is the Body & Blood of the Glorified Christ.
(E). Christ Washes The Feet Of His Disciples -- Jn. 13:1-15 This evening's Gospel describes Christ washing the feet of his Disciples. After washing their feet Christ again reclines at table with them. Throughout his Gospel, St. John uses various terms to describe Christ. Christ is the Son of Man come down from Heaven. He is the Messiah & Son of God. He is Lord & Saviour. In this evening's Gospel, St. John uses another term to describe Christ -- a "Humble Servant".
- V. 1 -- St. John tells us that Christ loved his own and loved them to the end. Christ loved His own, not only to the end of his life, but even to the extent that it is humanly possible to love someone. We are all familiar with the words of Christ: “Greater love than this no person hath than - to lay down one's life for one's friends". (Jn. 15:13). Christ loved to the extent of laying down his life for us.
St. John is the only Evangelist, who doesn't have an account of the institution of the Eucharist. The reason given by Scripture scholars is that, by the time St. John's Gospel was written, towards the end of the 1s. century, the celebration of the Eucharist was such an integral part of the life of the Early Church that St. John did not see any need to repeat the words of institution.
Instead of recalling the words of institution, St. John tells us that the celebration of the Eucharist necessarily leads to the service of others. Later on, Christ will say to His Apostles: "I give you a new commandment: Love one another; just as I have loved you, you must love one another".
To show that love necessarily expresses itself in service of others, Christ washes the feet of his Apostles. Since sandaled feet tended to get dusty on unpaved roads, guests were provided with water to wash their feet before they entered a house.
In ancient Israel, washing the feet of a guest was a sign of hospitality but it was normally done by the servants rather than by their master. The disciples of Rabbis are said to have washed their teacher's feet as a sign of devotion. By 'having Christ wash the feet of his Disciples, rather than they washing his feet, St. John is emphasizing the humility & self-abasement of the Son of God.
Christ washing his Apostles' feet is a parable in action. By his actions, Christ is telling us, in a way that no words could, that our love for others must be an active & concerned love.
By telling us of Christ washing the feet of his Disciples, rather than recalling the institution of the Eucharist, St John is making a direct connection between the celebration of the Eucharist & the service of others. He is telling us that participation in the celebration of the Eucharist necessarily leads to the service of others.
We don't reflect as often as we should on the connection between the celebration of the Eucharist & the service of others.
I like the words - Come to worship. Leave to serve.
Christ described "service of others" as the hallmark of true greatness. When a dispute arose among his Disciples as to which of them is the greatest, Christ replied: "whoever among you aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank among you must serve the needs of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve & to give his life for the ransom of many". (Mk. 10:42-45, Mt. 20:2628, Lk. 22:25-27). So, in Christ's eyes, who are the truly great? -- those, who put themselves at the service of others.
Christ washing the feet of his disciples is, not only an expression of his love for them, it is also an example for them to follow. This is the only time, in the New Testament, that Christ calls one of his actions an example to follow. St. John quotes Christ as saying: "I have given you a model to follow - as I have done for you, you should do for one another”. (Jn. 13:15).
In these anxious & worrisome days, we can all be Good Samaritans in our neighborhood. We can call someone who is elderly or alone. See if we can bring them a meal or shop for them.