by Fr. Tommy Lane
Our celebration tonight is very joyful. We remember the Last Supper in a particular way and we remember Jesus giving us the Eucharist during the Last Supper, his Body and Blood, and giving us the priesthood during the Last Supper so that we can continue to have Jesus present in the Eucharist.
The first reading (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14) is a description of the first Passover meal. A lamb was sacrificed during the afternoon for each family. Its blood was smeared on the doorposts and lintel of the house to protect and save its occupants when the firstborn of the Egyptians died that night. That evening, after sunset, during the Passover meal, the lamb was eaten by the family celebrating the Passover. It was not just that a lamb was sacrificed but the lamb had to be eaten by the family. Not only that, but all Jews in the following centuries who celebrate the Passover see themselves as present spiritually with those who celebrated that first Passover.
In our second reading tonight (1 Cor 11:23-26) we heard St. Paul’s description of the Last Supper. This is a precious description of the Last Supper for us because it is the oldest account we have of the Last Supper. St. Paul wrote that letter to the Corinthians, around the mid 50’s of the first century, even before the Gospels were written. As Jesus gave the apostles the bread he said, “This is my Body.” (1 Cor 11:24) Jesus anticipated his sacrifice of himself, of his body, on Calvary as he handed around the bread to the apostles and said “This is my Body.” Jesus did not say, “This is a symbol of my body” or “This is a representation of my body” but “This is my Body.” The bread keeps the appearance of bread but becomes the Body of Jesus. We call this transubstantiation, its substance changes but its appearance remains the same. Just as the Jews had to eat the Passover lamb for their Passover, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John we have to consume his Eucharistic body for our life. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53) “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:56)
When Jesus gave the apostles the cup, he said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my Blood.” (1 Cor 11:25) Again Jesus is anticipating the shedding of his blood on Calvary. We confirm important documents with our signature but for the Jews at that time a covenant was confirmed in blood. Moses sprinkled animal’s blood to confirm the covenant with God on Mount Sinai. Now as Jesus is about to go to his death, he declares that the shedding of his blood will inaugurate the New Covenant. The blood of the lamb on the lintels and doorposts protected and saved the Jews during the first Passover, and the blood of Jesus shed for us establishing the New Covenant, also saves us, saves us from the damnation our sins deserve. In the New Covenant, Jesus is our Passover Lamb.
After Jesus gave the bread, he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:24) In these words Jesus asks us to continue to celebrate the Eucharist and is giving the apostles who celebrated the Last Supper with him the authority to do so. Jesus gave us both the Eucharist and priesthood during the Last Supper. Just as Jews who remember the Passover in celebration every year see themselves present spiritually with those who celebrated the first Passover and benefitting from it, in the same way, as we celebrate the Eucharist, we are present spiritually with Jesus as he gives his body and sheds his blood for us on Calvary as he gives us the New Covenant. During every Mass, we are, so to speak, transported in time back to Calvary as Jesus gives his body and blood for us and we benefit spiritually each time we celebrate Mass.
Our Gospel tonight (John 13:1-15) is part of a very long account of the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. John is the only one of the evangelists to tell us that Jesus washed the apostles’ feet during the Last Supper. Washing feet was something a servant would do at that time. But Jesus washed the apostles’ feet and told them he had given them a model and they were to do the same (John 13:15). Jesus has given them a model of love serving others. We receive the Eucharist during Mass and we are also to love others as we serve them. Our relationship with Jesus makes us want to share our life in Jesus with others. All those called to priesthood and religious life are called to a life of spiritual union with Jesus and also to serve others in love. Those called to the cloistered monastic life are not cutting themselves off from the world as people sometimes wrongly conclude; as well as giving themselves to Jesus they are also giving themselves to the world in love by their prayers and sacrifices for the world.
Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, as well as signifying love and service, can also have other meanings. Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” (John 13:8) The Jewish tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe, received no land when the tribes entered Canaan. Instead they were to receive their income from serving in the temple and from the tithes. Now Jesus says to Peter that he will have no inheritance if Jesus does not wash his feet. Jesus will be Peter’s inheritance but only if Peter allows Jesus to wash his feet. So sometimes this is also seen as symbolizing baptism; when we are washed in baptism Jesus becomes our inheritance. Also the dust of our sins is washed off us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In addition, before the Jewish priests were ordained they had to bathe, and how interesting that before Jesus makes the apostles the first priests during the Last Supper he washes their feet. So as Jesus washes the apostles’ feet, it can also remind us of baptism, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Priestly Ordination.
Thanks be to God for the Eucharist, the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. Thanks be to God for priests who continue to make Christ present on our altars in his Body and Blood. And thanks be to God that we can serve others in love.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015
More homilies for Holy Thursday
Related Homilies: Passover Expectation of the Messiah, the Eucharist and the Easter Vigil 2010
Homilies on the Priesthood of Jesus and his Priests of the New Covenant
Homilies on the Priesthood
stories about priesthood
Homilies on the Eucharist
mp3 meditation Part 1 (quality reduced for 56k dial-up modems)
mp3 meditation Part 2 (quality reduced for 56k dial-up modems)