Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Year B)

April 1, 2021

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15 https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040121-Evening.cfm

St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA

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What do we have, but our memories?  The present doesn’t stop for a moment, and the future is yet unknown.  We face everything in life, with our minds, hearts and bodies planted firmly in the past — what has been, what has happened, our memories.

The first reading, recounts the Jewish tradition of celebrating the Passover.  This feast is a “memory event” when the Jews annually recall how God sent misfortune upon their Egyptian slave masters, while passing over them, so that they would survive and be led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

At the Passover table, Jewish children traditionally ask their parents questions about why this night is a special one, and the parents then recount the memory of how God had intervened to save their people from slavery.

They do this as a family or extended family, while sharing a meal.  So all generations are drawn in and made one by the story… the collective memory…of their People’s relationship with God.

Consider how, in the dark days of the Holocaust or at times of persecution, Jews have clung tightly to the Passover memory which is, at its core, a testament to a saving God who feels the pain of the People and acts on their behalf.  In times of suffering and grief, we also can find consolation, courage and endurance, through our memories of better times, of grace and God’s palpable gifts poured into our hands.

So it is this kind of meal – a meal of remembering God’s goodness and giving thanks – that Jesus ate before he was arrested, condemned and executed.  Maybe this helped strengthen him in the face of the horror that was to come, “for he knew his hour was near” and he even knew that one of his friends, sitting at the table with him, was his betrayer.

The Eucharist we celebrate at every Mass is nothing other than a remembering and reenacting of this Last Supper.  Both the Passover and the Eucharist are meals recalling how God saves his people.  But notice how the Eucharist is different… here God’s does not intervene to crush the enemy.  Instead, God intervenes through self-sacrifice, which is arguably much harder:

“Jesus 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.”

Jesus does what St. John calls the greatest act of love, that is, to lays down one’s life for the sake of one’s friends.  And we are his friends.  At each Eucharist Jesus continues to pour himself out for us, and we receive him all over again.

        Unlike old covenant agreements which were signed or marked by the blood of the parties involved, the covenant Jesus makes with us is marked by a pouring out of his blood only. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” he says.   Jesus is vouching for us, saying “despite your sin and evil doing, you mean so much to me that I will do what it takes to draw you all into God’s communion, God’s family.  I will heal the divisions and reconcile the debts.”  For us, we need only take this bread, drink this cup, accept the gift of himself in humility and gratitude.

        How do we answer the question posed by our psalm?

“How shall I make a return to the Lord, for all the good he has done for me?”

Jesus spells it out in the way he hosted the Passover meal.  He did not just preside at the meal and lead the prayers. Jesus insists upon washing the feet of his disciples.  This is a job which was usually reserved for menial servants. 

But Jesus was the teacher, the master, the messiah! 

Despite Peter’s protests, Jesus did exactly the opposite of what social convention would have dictated.  He shows his disciples that God’s way is to be humble and serve others. 

“As I have done for you, so also you should do.”  Imitation. 

Our lives are most centered in God when they are centered in serving others with humility and love, regardless of whatever status or honors the world, or even the Church, may give us.

        This has essentially been Pope Francis’ message to the whole Church: Be humble and love people the way Jesus did.  His new kinds of outreach to the poor and the homeless in Rome, people in prison, immigrants and refugees, and many more, speak to this kind of servant-leadership.

        As we come to the altar this night and every mass to receive the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation – Jesus is pouring his life out as gift for us — let us do two things:

  • First, we can remember ALL the good God has done for us, and cling to these memories as consolation in our sufferings, just like Jesus did as he moved from the joyous Passover celebration to his terrible Passion and death.
  • Second, we can make our “return to God” through acts of real humble and loving service to others, especially those in great need.

All the food donated from St Anselm’s to Daniel’s Table, or all the love that goes into caring for our church, its ground and our ministries testifies to the loving service you’ve answered the call for.

By imitating Jesus like this, we make his way our way, we draw near to him.  Our life becomes his life in us.  Our hearts, his heart in ours.  Our hands, his hands of healing in the world.  And our suffering too is joined with his, so that his rising from the dead will be our joyous rising as well!