REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS: HOLY THURSDAY
Exodus 12.1-8, 11; Psalm 116; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-15
“We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered” (Entrance antiphon, Holy Thursday).
For the Hebrews, the Passover was to be a new beginning, the first month of the year, to be remembered perpetually and celebrated as “a festival to the Lord”. What was there to remember and celebrate? They were suffering increasing oppression in Egypt with each attempt by Moses to gain their freedom. God promised that the blood of the Passover lambs would save them from the punishment he would inflict on the Egyptians, but what then? The future was unknown. To face it required hope, coupled with trust in God’s word through Moses, obedience, preparedness and the solidarity of family and friends. In fact, the initial jubilation after escaping Egypt was soon overcome by grumbling and despair as they faced new challenges in the desert. What is there to remember and celebrate about the Passover? A special meal? A historical event of God’s intervention? Deliverance from slavery? The beginning of a journey to the Promised land? Is there a deeper reason to celebrate that day?
For the apostles, preparing to celebrate the Passover with Jesus, the future must also have looked uncertain. Jesus had told them several times that he would die and he had been in hiding, but they were somewhere between denial of his death and expectation of a glorious manifestation as Messiah. Certainly their Master’s words must have shaken them. What would they do if he were killed, and what fate would they face? But before they entered the supper, there were encouraging signs: some people were acclaiming Jesus, even if they were afraid of the authorities. So the apostles obediently made the preparations and gathered together with their Master for a traditional special memorial meal, a meal at which Christ gave his Church the Eucharist.
We enter the Holy Thursday celebration with the burdens of our present time. We are confined to our homes, facing unknowns of illness, financial hardship, child and elder care, loss of jobs and normal routines, insecurity about food and other essentials. Daily life seems more difficult, and the end is not yet in sight. Even more than the challenges to daily life, our sacramental closeness to Jesus has been restricted – we can see but not partake. How long will the Eucharist be available only to a few? How long can I keep faith without receiving the Lord? How long can the Church survive?
Like the apostles, we gather on Holy Thursday with mixed emotions. We obediently prepare to celebrate, remembering there are reasons. The people were delivered from slavery and eventually reached the Promised land. Jesus himself was killed and rose from the dead. Maybe we only see the Eucharist now, but there is reason to hope, there is reason to trust in God and we need each other, even if not in person, to face this journey. Then Mass begins and the Gospel, the Good News, gives us the real reason, the deeper reason, to celebrate today.
“Having loved his own, who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end.” Out of profound love, God gave his chosen people a new beginning through the Passover. Out of profound love, Jesus became lower than a slave to wash the feet of his disciples. Out of profound love, he became lower still in dying on the cross. Out of profound love, he instituted the Eucharist, Out of profound love, he explained at that Last Supper: “… I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
“What can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8.35) St. Paul is convinced that nothing can harm us or separate us – that “in all things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Rom 37-39). As we relive Christ’s profound expression of love through the remaining days of the Easter Triduum, let us place ourselves, with all our burdens and challenges, among the disciples, experiencing that love. And let us place ourselves at his feet, seeking his guidance to bring hope to our suffering world – to do as he has done for us.