17th April, 2014. Holy Thursday
First Reading: Exodus 12:1-2, 11-14
(Israel’s departure from Egypt — and how this is to be celebrated for all time.)
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.”
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
(Paul’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper: when we proclaim Christ’s saving death in this sacred meal, it makes Jesus ever present with us.)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Gospel: John 13:1-15
(The example of Jesus washing his followers’ feet shows us how Christians should live.)
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples” feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
How to join in the Last Supper
When Jesus says, “Do this in memory of me!” clearly he means us to understand what “This” was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the “holy sacrifice of the Mass”, and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight’s first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God’s people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So “opened up,” we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.
We reflect this evening on what St John calls the “hour” of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously — the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God.
Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus’ exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wishes to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord’s saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.
St John teaches this in his own unique way. We are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, doing for us his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to be effective in our lives. What Jesus does for us is an example of how we are to live: in some real sense, like Jesus, we must live “for” service of God and others. Jesus sees a close link between him washing their feet and them going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we ought to wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.
There is much more to the washing of the feet than an example of humble service. The act of loving service goes to the heart of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The “lifting up” in John’s Gospel is truly an act of loving service. The words at the start of this reading make that clear: Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. These words make it clear that whatever happens next points most deeply to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Can we accept such astonishing love from God?