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The WORDWith this Mass, we begin our celebration of the Easter Triduum, which recalls the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. At the heart of the Triduum is the cross, with its culmination being the resurrection on Easter Sunday, celebrated in all of its brilliance on Holy Saturday night. In essence, the celebrations over the next three days are all parts of one long Liturgy, just as Jesus’ Last Supper, betrayal, passion, death and resurrection all together make up what we call the Paschal Mystery.
This Holy night finds us in the Upper Room with Jesus and his disciples for the celebration of the Passover. The Passover was the annual celebration recalling God’s marvelous works by which he freed his people Israel from slavery in Egypt. That fearsome night when God sent his angel to kill the first born of every family in Egypt was the final act of God that convinced Pharaoh to let the people go free.
During that same night, the people of Israel slaughtered a year-old, male lamb, without blemish. The blood of the lamb was used to mark the homes of God’s people, and the roasted flesh was food in preparation for their flight from Egypt.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gives this Passover meal its final and fullest meaning, as he now associates this meal and God’s marvelous works to the shedding of his blood, the sacrifice of his own body, by which God will free all people’s from their sins, which is the ultimate bondage of all humanity.
As we find ourselves at table, celebrating this Holy Meal with Jesus and his disciples, I would like to call to mind some imagery from St. Catherine of Siena. St. Catherine says that the Father is the table, the Son is the food, and the Holy Spirit waits upon us. This is helpful teaching, because throughout salvation history, God the Father was preparing for this redemptive night; setting the table for our salvation. As God did wondrous things for Israel, so God has done wondrous things for us, through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Incarnate Word, who took on our human flesh, now prepares to freely lay down his life, in order to give us his flesh as food and his blood as drink. Jesus is our food, our source of life, our salvation. And we must never forget the mysterious yet faithful presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, pouring upon us various gifts, waiting upon us, serving us the finest food God has to offer; the gift of faith and holy works.
Tonight, the Passover meal takes on its eternal significance as the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Jesus this Holy Night gives the Church the Eucharist as the new and eternal covenant between God and his people. Along with the Eucharist, Jesus also establishes the Priesthood. Through the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus establishes the priesthood as the ministry of humble, loving service.
Notice during the meal, the reference to the cross. St. Paul says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Notice also in the act of washing feet how the cross is foreseen. Jesus takes off his outer garment. Soon he will be stripped of his garments before being nailed to the cross. The act of washing feet was the service of slaves. It was demeaning, and this was not lost on Peter, who told Jesus: “You will never wash my feet.” To which, Jesus responds: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet points us to the cross. Upon the cross Jesus lowers himself to the lowest possible state of humanity. From the classroom of the cross, the Master teaches that true authority is service; humble, loving service of God and of neighbors.
Wash FeetTonight, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Tomorrow, Jesus will wash away the sins of the world with the bath of his blood. Unless Peter allows Jesus to wash his feet, he cannot share in the inheritance of Jesus. Unless Peter bathes in the blood of Jesus, he cannot share the inheritance of eternal life. This is why I like evoking the Father as the table, the Son as food, and the Holy Spirit waiting upon us, because by the Paschal meal, the Paschal Mystery, Jesus shares with us Divine life. This is our inheritance.
Jesus drives home the significance of his actions to his disciples and to us. “Do you realize what I have done for you?” “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.” Jesus the Master has become the servant. Jesus took on our humanity, bearing it to its lowest and most undignified state, in humble and loving service for the salvation of the world. We ‘ought to do the same.’
Jesus and the Old Testament taught that we are to love God above all else, and our neighbor as our self? Tonight, this teaching is put into action. Each of us is called to such humble, loving service. The Psalm from tonight’s Mass (116) gives us the proper attitude and question for mission: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”
Tonight, the great commandment is on display. We are called to love God. The only way we can demonstrate the truth of our love for God is to love one another. Our love must be practical. Our love must be humble; seeking nothing in return, for true love desires only the good of the other.
I close tonight by expressing my love for Jesus, and my tremendous gratitude for the gift of the priesthood. Priesthood calls me to humility every day, and when I fail to answer that call, I am humbled in the end. Mostly, priesthood blesses me with the gift of all of you. I hope you know how much I love you, but most of all, I hope you know how much you are loved by God.