Thursday, April 14, 2022

The deep meaning of our Christian Passover (Holy Thursday homily)

It is necessary to peel back the layers of tradition 
to reveal the full meaning of what we do tonight.*

The first reading describes the Passover, 
celebrated by the Jewish People. 
It speaks of the “the fourteenth day of the month” – 
that is, fourteen days after a new moon, which means, a full moon. 
The moon will be full this weekend.

The lamb was one year old and “without blemish”; 
it was obtained several days before and lived with the family.  
Why is this important? 
This points to Jesus, who became a member of the Jewish household, 
a member of the human family.

Then, with the whole assembly present, the lamb was slaughtered. 
When we come to church tomorrow, what do we recall?
Jesus is crucified with the whole assembly present.

The blood of the lamb is then spread over the doorposts.
This is protection from divine judgment. 

By the way: when you and I are baptized, 
that’s when the blood of the Lamb covers us! 
When we fall back into mortal sin, confession renews it.

And then after the lamb is sacrificed, its flesh was eaten. 
This was necessary to complete the sacrifice.
But only those who were members of the household could eat the lamb.
This is why only those baptized and in a state of grace 
receive Holy Communion at Mass. 

Now, let’s drill into the details of the Last Supper, 
which was Jesus’ Passover with his chosen twelve apostles. 
He’s acting as the head of a family. 

I already pointed out how central the lamb is to the Passover.
But the accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper never mention a lamb.
Instead, he takes the bread, and says, 
“this is my body, given up for you.” 

And of course, there was a cup of wine.
In fact, there were four cups of wine.

The first cup that was prepared with water added. 
Ring a bell? You’ve seen me do that.
This was called the “cup of sanctification,” 
and the father began the meal with a prayer, over this cup, 
and the food is brought to the table.

The second was the cup of “proclamation” – 
it was prepared, but not drunk right away; 
because while the food was on the table,
the father would tell the account of what God did 
for his people in Egypt, in the exodus.

By the way, when these events were “remembered,”
the understanding was that in remembering, you were present!
You were actually brought there spiritually, through the meal.

So, when Jesus says to the Apostles, “do this in memory of me,”
two things:

First, he knows that all of us would be coming after in years to come.
He made a plan for each of us to be part of his Passover.
That means Jesus planned for what we call Holy Mass,
and for priests to offer this sacrifice.

And second, our “remembering” here, not quite 2,000 years later,
likewise makes you and me truly present: 
in the Upper Room, at Calvary, at the empty tomb.

Now, back to the Passover.
After everyone ate, the father would share the third cup, 
called the “cup of blessing.” 
And Saint Paul just told us that this was the cup Jesus took up, 
and said, “This is my Blood.”

I said earlier there were four, where’s the last one?

Tomorrow, you and I will hear these words in the Gospel of John:

After this…Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine….
They put a sponge soaked in wine…up to his mouth. 
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” 
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

So we don’t finish this Mass tonight. No final blessing.
We do go on a procession – to the side altar – recalling the Garden.

Oh, I meant to give you one more detail. 
In Jesus’ time, when the lamb was prepared for the meal, 
in order to roast it, do you know how they did it? 
They took two skewers, made of wood. 
One was speared through the torso, from head to tail. 
The other was speared through both shoulders. A cross.

Tomorrow we will worship the Cross on which our Savior, 
our Lamb of God, was slain. This is our Passover. It begins tonight. 

* All these details come from Scripture scholar Brant Pitre.

1 comment:

rcg said...

Wonderful and inspiring, Fr. Fox. Thank you for your thoughtful homilies.