Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
This is the Passover of the Lord. You heard that phrase proclaimed in the First Reading this evening. When God rescued the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt, he declared that the angel of the Lord would pass over them, when he punished the Egyptians to free them and become his chosen people. Henceforth, Moses declared that all Jews must celebrate this event every year with a thanksgiving meal of roast lamb, to remember forever what the Lord did for them that night, their Passover Feast.
Connect that to the Gospel Reading this evening which tells us that Jesus chose to celebrate the same Passover meal with his chosen Apostles, as his last supper with them, before he went to his death as the savior of the world. Saint John clearly states that Jesus knew his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. His saving act of passing from this world to the Father now becomes the new Passover of the Lord, instituted by Jesus that final night of his life.
Since the New Testament was written in Greek, the word which the evangelists used in the Gospels for the Hebrew word for Passover was the Greek word pascha. The Church uses this word for Easter time–the paschal season. We often don’t realize that the beginning of paschal time applies first and foremost to these three solemn days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, that sacred time when Jesus celebrated his last supper, died on the cross and rose again to the glorified life of the resurrection; when Jesus passed over from this world to his heavenly Father’s glory. The Passover of the Lord.
The whole of the Easter season is paschal time, but it especially begins this very evening with the Lord’s Passover; the Passover of the new covenant, the new law of grace and love, the sacrifice made by the Lamb of God for the world’s salvation, beginning with Adam until the end of time. All time, hereafter, is actually a paschal time, that time when the Church continuously celebrates the saving death of God’s Son for all humankind. That all begins here, this evening.
But what we particularly want to celebrate this first evening of paschal time is that part of the paschal mystery which was proper to the Lord’s last supper with his chosen disciples. As we heard from Saint Paul, Jesus handed over to his disciples this night the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, the unbloody sacrifice which he completed by his death the following day for the world’s salvation. That night he made the apostles sharers in his new priesthood, the eternal priesthood of the new covenant, the covenant which he established in his own blood. Jesus followed this action by giving to the apostles an example of how he expected them to minister their priesthood, when he stripped off his garments and knelt down before each one of them to wash the dirt from their feet. In conclusion, Jesus handed over to them his final teaching, the last Supper discourse recorded in Saint John’s Gospel, that priceless gift which Jesus bequeathed to us before he handed himself over to death.
The great paschal mystery, this Passover of the Lord, is Jesus’ wondrous gift to his Church. As Saint John stated he loved his own in the world to the end. What our Savior did for us, so we are to do ourselves now for one another.
A blessed paschal celebration of this Holy Thursday Mass to each of you here, in this ever abiding paschal time. The Church hands on to us this wondrous gift of God in the love of Christ.