Holy Thursday 2019
FIRST READING Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it. The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. “This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the Lord. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt–I, the Lord! But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you. “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.”
SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that 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 death of the Lord until he comes.
GOSPEL John 13:1-15
Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.” So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
There are those strangely blessed people who may not remember the quantity and frequency of the actual spoken words, “I love you,” issuing forth from their parents’ mouths. But, these strangely blessed people do remember most every act of love and sacrifice by their parents of which they were beneficiaries. We have all heard the adage: actions speak louder than words. Through the actions of God the Father and Jesus the Son we receive the fullness of Divine Love and grace, and today we enter the Sacred Triduum, these last great days in the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Jesus for our salvation.
The Book of Exodus gives us the story of the first Passover–which tells us in symbols about the Lamb of God, by whom we are saved. God initiated the Passover feast as a means of protecting the Israelites against the tenth plague, which would liberate them from the Egyptians, and he instructed the Israelites to celebrate the Passover annually as a memorial of their deliverance from Egypt. God acted to save His chosen people and our ancestors remembered His act of love for them for generations to come.
The First Letter to the Corinthians details the most ancient account of the Eucharist that we have, and invites us to understand the Eucharist just as did our ancestors in the faith. Christ left us the Eucharist as a visible, unbloody, sacramental sign by which his one, bloody Sacrifice on the Cross would be re-presented and remembered until he comes again. What an awesome and powerful act of love! How do we prepare ourselves each Sunday (or everyday) to receive so great a privilege? As we ponder on our privilege, Our Lord reverses our understanding of privilege and greatness in the Gospel reading.
The Gospel from Saint John provides the account of the washing of the feet–a fulfillment of the Passover and a fulfillment of the Eucharist. Washing the feet of others is an action that speaks loudly to others. When Jesus Himself takes up the towel and basic to wash feet, it was a surprise to his followers because it would not be the normal way to do this lowly service. It was clearly an act done for them displaying taking on the service of a servant or slave. The role of servant or slave is at the heart of priesthood and at the heart of all Eucharist–the giving thanks for the marvelous works of God, the receiving of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Washing the feet of guests was a task normally performed by a household slave. The lesson Christ was trying to convey to his Apostles was that the most effective demonstration is a radical spirit of service that know no limits. The ceremony of foot-washing is part of the Liturgy for Holy Thursday. If a priest or any Christian is unwilling to become a slave and a servant to others, then we are being unfaithful to our Lord Jesus and His loving act that we repeat annually.
Whether we go forth with the clean feet of a receiver of a service or the dirty hands of a servant who washes feet, we are blessed to be participants in God’s providence either way. God acted in ways that we could remember and emulate. Let us act towards others in the hope that God’s love will be remembered through our hands…and feet.