Theme: Do this in memory of me
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in order to prepare ourselves to commemorate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Day, today, we are celebrating Holy Thursday. This Feast solemnly commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist, reconciliation of penitents, the consecration of the holy oils, the washing of the feet, commemoration of the Blessed Eucharist and Institution of Ministerial Priesthood. Holy Thursday is the night on which our Lord Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples. What went through their mind on that night, we will never know. What we do know is that Jesus knew that His hour had come.
First reading: Exodus 12: 18, 11-14
God indicated to Moses that the day of the New Covenant was coming and He rolled out eight issues that were to happen. The institution of the Passover commemorating the day Israelites would be freed from slavery and the beginning of a new month for the people. God demanded eating a lamb without blemish as sign of blamelessness. God commanded Moses and his people to eat the roasted lamb so as to be spared from death and disaster that would befall the rest. God also spoke of the firstborn to declare the significance and importance of the matter. This is a co-penetration of Jesus who is “the firstborn within a large family and the first fruits of those who have died” Romans 8:29. The Lamb is the first fruit of all creation since He is the first to resurrect from the dead never to die again. The blood of the lamb is a picture of the Blood of Christ through which we have been justified cf. Romans 5:9.
To pass over the houses where the blood of the lamb was sprinkled meant salvation, “Truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” John. 5:24. When God said that He would pass over Egypt he meant taking audit on the Egyptians as they had become heartless. We must never assume that when people suffer, then God must absent or asleep. The feast of Holy Thursday continues daily in the celebration of the Holy Mass throughout the world in remembrance of the words of Jesus that do this in memory of me. This is the true Passover Feast which no generation should ever ignore.
Second reading: 1Corinthians 11:23-26
In this reading, St. Paul presents some customs of the early Church observing minor issues such as how people should dress before raising the major problem of divisions within the community. The early celebrations of the Lord’s Supper used to begin with a common meal, but at a certain moment these Corinthians got divided and began sharing their sumptuous food with their rich friends while the poor went hungry thus turning the Eucharist into an opportunity for showing off. Paul reprimanded them for not celebrating the Eucharist as Christ had commanded at the Last Supper. Reminding them about the Breaking of the Bread, Paul recited Gospel formulas and Eucharistic prayers as Jesus did insisting ‘this is my Body which is given up for you’. ‘This Chalice of wine is the Cup of the new covenant of my blood’. Paul wants us to remember that the celebration of the Eucharist is the proclamation of the death and resurrection of the Lord. The Eucharistic Celebration is a moment for unity and not divisions.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, the sign of peace is placed before the reception of the communion as a clear sign of reconciliation. As we exchange peace with those visible we indirectly reconcile with everyone anywhere. The Eucharist is as expression of unity in Christ. When celebrating we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again in glory. So sacred is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to the point that St. Paul describes who should receive Holy Communion. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup” 1 Corinthians. 11:27. To avoid judgment we have to receive the Holy Eucharist only in a state of grace. In case we are living in compromising relationships, committing sin, breaking God’s commandments or in a state of mortal sin; we cannot approach the Sacred Table to receive Holy Communion before receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, doing penance and being absolved from the state of self-consuming lifestyle.
Gospel: John 13:1-15
The Institution of the Eucharist cannot be understood without washing of the feet. This is not simply a side incident, but an introduction to the main point with is dinner. This is the true way of stating what the gift of bread and wine, Body and Blood proclaims. Jesus Christ offers Himself up completely for us asking us to offer ourselves completely for others. The washing of feet is a prophetic action demanding our humble acceptance of the Lord’s request. Washing of the feet invites us to serve others without limits whatever cost this demands. The reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord is as well a prophetic action demanding our humble imitation of the Lord. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he performed a prophetic action. Even a slave could not be made to wash the feet of his/her master. It was degrading, disgusting, but not to the Lord. He would empty himself in service to his people. He would give Himself completely to them. He would give them His Body and Blood. He would die on the Cross for them. He would demonstrate to them that the Love of God had no limits. Nothing is too demanding, love is all that matters. The measure of true love is love without measure.
The Last Supper is a meal of love initiated with a courageous act demonstrating love pouring down on us from the Cross. This action of Jesus demands that we humbly welcome him in our lives. We cannot conquer the evils of the world alone, we need our Savior. At first Peter tried to prevent Jesus from saving him even questioning ‘would you wash my feet, Lord?’ I don’t think so?’ Jesus responded; if you do not allow me to wash you, if we are so proud to think that you do not need me to touch your dirty and rather smelly parts, then you have no business with me. This prideful way of life is witnessed in some of us who withdrawn from the Eucharist. Some say, ‘I don’t go to Mass but I pray in my own way’ which sounds pietistic and nice. The truth is confirming that ‘I don’t need the Eucharist’. Why would anyone who has been receiving Holy Communion think that he/she does not need Jesus? Is it because we think we can do without God! Today we are reminded that the Meal of Love begins with a clear recognition that we need Jesus. In Jesus, God wants to touch, heal, forgive and bless you. That is why Jesus will not allow his disciples to turn their focus into themselves. Equally He does not allow us to be satisfied with what he does for us. Instead we hear him instruct; you call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, the master and teacher has washed your feet, you ought to wash one another. Jesus has given us a model to follow, so that as he has done, we also do for others. The washing of the feet is an apostolic sign that we can never ignore.
We are called to witness in the same way by doing what Jesus did. We are called to offer our energies, our savings and even our lives for others. We are not just called to be nourished; we are called to nourish others. An essential element of the Eucharist is found in the mandate of “do to others as you would have them do to you” Luke 6:31. Through the Eucharist we are nourished and empowered to nourish others and both must take place. If we are not nourished by Christ, then our actions for others would be mere acts of humanitarianism. If we do receive communion but do not empty ourselves for others, then our reception of the Eucharist is devoid of the very reason why Christ emptied Himself for us. Jesus Christ emptied himself for us so that we can also empty ourselves for others. Being a Christian is not for the faint of heart, it is for those who have hearts full of love. The clear guideline is given by St. Augustine of Hippo that ‘Love first and then do whatever else you want’. True love is the identity of Christians.
The Greatest gifts on Holy Thursday are the institution of the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Order of Priesthood; in these visible signs we receive and meet the invisible God who is truly and fully present. We need to humble ourselves to the extent of washing the feet of others since the almighty has done great things for us. Pray and keep awake.