Holy Thursday, Year A, B, C
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
This evening of Holy Thursday, Jesus celebrated the last supper with his disciples before his suffering and death on the cross, following the Jewish custom of observing the Passover meal. It was on this occasion of the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated the Passover supper of the New Covenant or the first Eucharist.
The book of Exodus today tells us the meal is a memorial feast, recalling the night the destroying angel passed over the houses of the Israelites, smeared with blood of a lamb on their doorposts as they prepared to flee from Egypt (Ex 12:13). Saint Paul mentioned this event in his letter to the Corinthians when he told them that on this night, the memorial of the Passover night, Jesus instituted the Eucharist (1Cor 11:23-25).
The Gospel tells us he took bread and turned it into his body and he took a cup of wine and turned it into his blood for our spiritual nourishment (Mt 26:26-29). Thus the first celebration of the Eucharist of the New Covenant, a future deliverance not from physical slavery, but deliverance from sin and death, replaced the Passover meal of the old covenant. In other words, the Eucharist is the Christian Passover meal.
In order to continue the Eucharist, Jesus instituted the sacrament of holy orders, telling the apostles to do it in remembrance of him (1Cor 11:24-25). Thus, Jesus shared his priesthood with them. So when we celebrate Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, we do not just remember what he did in the past, but we make the body and blood of Christ, who suffered and died for the forgiveness of our sins, present in our midst. That is exactly what Saint Paul tells us: Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes (1Cor 11:26). At the last supper, Jesus also gave us a beautiful testimony of his loving service by washing the apostles’ feet. Washing of feet was a servant’s job in Palestine at the time of Jesus. One of the jobs of the servant at that time was to pour water on the guest’s feet.
In our time and our country, when we go outside in the summer we sit in our automobile with air conditioning and go inside with air conditioning, we do not want cold water poured on our feet. We even take a hot shower in the air-conditioned house. However, on a hot day walking on sandy ground without shoes, but with sandals and no socks and there is no air conditioning inside, you would feel good, if somebody pours fresh water on your feet.
That was the job of the servant in Palestine at the time of Jesus. That was what Jesus did for the apostles. That is why Peter protested. Jesus prevailed over Peter’s reluctance and protest. He insisted on serving and he insists on the apostles serving one another:
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 (Jn 13:13-14).The servant washed the feet of their master’s guests for money or for room and board free.
Jesus washed the feet of the apostles out of love. In our days, we do not have servants any longer. People do not wash one another’s feet except that parents still wash the feet of their small children. However, there are many different ways to serve. We are called to serve one another in many different ways as Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45). In the garden of Gethsemane, when the apostles all fell asleep, left Jesus alone in his agony, so he asked them: Could you not stay awake with me for even an hour (Mk 14:37)?
When mother Theresa of Calcutta was asked how she got her strength to continue her daily work of loving service to poor children of India, she answered: she got her strength from the Lord present in the Eucharist. She spent hours and hours praying before the Blessed Sacrament. In order to continue our daily service in the family for instance, we need to spend time with the Lord in order to get spiritual energy.
The Lord asks us to spend some time with him before the Blessed Sacrament, if not tonight then some time in our lives to see if he is real, if he can be our strength and comfort and hope.
Prayer for spiritual hunger:
Oh Eucharistic Lord!
Before ascending into heaven,
you instituted the Eucharist
to remain with us until the end of times.
In order to continue the Eucharist,
you instituted the priesthood
and taught the apostles a humble lesson of service.
Teach me how to serve with humility.
May your Body and Blood, which I receive
lead me to eternal life. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong