APRIL 2, 2015 - HOLY THURSDAY
EXODUS 12:1-8 ; 1 COR 11:23-26; JOHN 13:1-5
Each of these three readings impresses upon our mind and imagination as well the earnestness of this evening's celebration in the life of the early Church. Together they bring out for each of us the solemnity of these next few days. They not only bring to our attention the uniquely significant event of all history, this liturgy actually makes the death and resurrection of Jesus present to us in a transcendent way. Each of the texts we have heard prepares us to appreciate with increasing insight the historical act of Jesus' death on the cross. The true understanding of these passages written at different times and under widely different circumstances is not immediately evident. We must look into their broader significance that is of such a nature as to grow with time.
When Moses gave out the strict command to observe the Paschal meal, including the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb, he surely sensed God was somehow involved, at least being present to the participants. He had no need explicitly to mention that Divine aura, for it was generally understood and taken for granted at that time. The blood of the slain lamb, exposed on the doorposts, was life-saving, assuring deliverance from a deadly attack. For many centuries, down to the present, observant Jews faithfully, as they see it, continue this custom, eating the Passover lamb and drinking the cup. It is sadly touching to know they do not understand the fulfillment in the Mystery of Christ's Resurrection.
The second reading from Saint Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians is so straightforward and clear that it leaves nothing to be desired as to the faith of the apostolic Church in the Eucharist. Interestingly, Paul adds to his account a meaningful reminder: We are to celebrate the Eucharist he so deftly describes in concise detail, through the ages, generation after generation. He put it in these terms: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. " Much more is implied than is expressly stated in this phrase. Paul leaves us to live with it and gradually to penetrate into its fuller implications.
Jesus regularly taught his disciples and those who gladly listened to his preaching by examples and parables rather than by more abstract teachings. Certainly Saint John appreciated this manner employed by the Master. He was keenly aware, as was the Lord himself, that many could not grasp his real meaning. In fact he said as much already early on. Mark tells us that Jesus taught many things to the people in parables; on the other hand, he also spoke quite directly in teaching his apostles as they remarked on a particular occasion. Even for those closest to him, nonetheless, there were depths of meaning that remained buried in his words, inviting ongoing effort to gain fuller grasp of his message and understanding of his person. Such assimilation of ever fuller knowledge of God is, according to Gregory of Nyssa, characteristic of life in heaven. But, as Gregory himself indicates, it is to be our way on earth as well.
After Our Lord washed the feet of his disciples, he made it a point, as we have just heard, to explain to his apostles that his act of washing their feel was intended as more than a onetime service. It was a lesson as to their future behavior. To be his disciple is to serve others even in menial tasks that men usually leave to others. We are to be so disposed as to be ready to help others even in distasteful circumstances. We do well to recall that this is the lesson Jesus taught by his own example, just before he went out to be taken prisoner, tortured, and put to death. We realize that giving help to the needy includes all kinds of human needs, not only washing men's dirty feet, a rare need in our modern society.
But Jesus' actions and teaching contain still deeper meanings than are immediately suggested by these words. We are to place our self at the service of those in spiritual need when any opportunity arises or can be created by us This Eucharist we offer and are about to receive enables us to encounter in prayer all those who belong to the Father in Christ Jesus. May we make it our desire to share its fullness with all persons pleasing to Him.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger