BOND OF LOVE: A HOMILY ON HOLY THURSDAY
Some years ago we preached two missions in Namakwaland, for two priest whose names will not be mentioned here. On the first mission, Fr. A was talking a lot about Fr. B. who we did not know. Coincidentally, the second parish was Fr. B’s parish. When he introduced himself, I told him I met Fr. A who was always talking about him, so I heard a lot about him already. With time, I noticed he is also talking a lot about Fr. A. So I became curious to know what is it between Fr. A and Fr. B. Fr. B told me that their friendship began from primary school days. They had attended the same primary school and were class mates. They also attended the same secondary school and the same seminary and now they are both priests of Upington diocese. Fr. B told me also that on the day of their thanksgiving mass, when Fr. A broke the bread and gave a part of it to him, a very important memory embraced him. He remembered how their friendship began. It began one day when his parent were not able to buy bread for him to take to school, and A noticed he had no bread to eat. So A divided his own bread between them. This practice continued for as long as he was not able to afford bread for school. He told me that it is always significant when both of them share the bread on the altar today. With this story, we can see the Eucharist from three perspectives.
THE EUCHARIST AS A MEMORIAL MEAL
In those days: The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household is too small for a lamb, then a man and his neighbour next to his house shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make you count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. “In this manner you shall eat it; your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.”: Just as in the story we have heard, Frs. A and B, still recall how they shared bread as children, the Eucharist for us is a memorial meal. For the Israelites, they would celebrate the passover annually to remember how they were saved from the hands of the Egyptians. They will sacrifice a lamb and eat its meat. They will sprinkle the blood upon themselves, just as the blood of the lamb was put on the doorpost so that when the Lord’s angel saw the blood, he would pass over. They ate bitter herbs to remember the suffering and hardship they went through. They ate unleavened bread to remember the haste with which they left Egypt. They drank wine to celebrate the glory ahead of them. The first cup of wine was introductory. The second cup of wine was used to explain the symbols used in the passover meal. The third cup of wine was after the meal and the last cup of wine was after the closing hymn. The passover feast is never complete until the last cup is drunk. This memorial meal is not just a memorial for the Jews in terms of a mental remembering of an event. It was a memorial that brought to life what is being remembered. It is like bringing the past into the present.
IT IS A THANKSGIVING SACRIFICE
How can I repay the Lord,
for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the name of the Lord.
How precious in the eyes of the Lord,
is the death of his faithful.
Your servant am I, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosened my bonds.
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make;
I will call on the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people.: This psalm helps us to reflect on the Eucharist as a thanksgiving sacrifice. In fact, the word Eucharist itself comes from the Greek Eucharistein, which means thanksgiving. The preface of each mass is a special prayer of thanksgiving to God and at different parts of the mass, we say ‘Thanks be to God’. When we have remembered what God has done for us, the natural thing to do is to give him thanks and our whole life should be of thanksgiving to God.
IT IS THE BLOOD OF THE NEW COVENANT
Brethren: I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the chalice, after supper, saying, “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”: Jesus on this evening celebrates the passover with His disciples. But as much as he was celebrating the passover which is the sign of the old covenant, so also is he establishing a New and Everlasting covenant. Here we see images of memorial and thanksgiving and elements from the passover. But the explanation He gives are completely new. He does not use the meat, as he himself is the lamb to be slaughtered the next day. He gives them the bread as His body and the wine as His blood, and He asks us to do this not as a memorial of what happened in Egypt, but as a memorial of what He has done for us. He thus established a New Covenant, sealed with His blood, the blood of th New Lamb. He is keeping the Jewish passover, but at the same time He is establishing a new covenant.
IT IS BOND OF LOVE
Before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterwards you will understand.” Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him. that was why he said, “You are not all clean.” When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”: The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke gave us accounts of the last supper, but John has a way of telling us what the other gospels did not tell us. John did not bother repeating a lot of what the other gospels had already told us. So, for the Last Supper, John, knowing that the other gospels had told us about the meal, tells us what the other gospels did not tell us, namely the washing of the feet. One would wonder why we read the washing of the feet on a day like this instead of the meal itself. This is because it is important to make a connection between the Mass and the rest of our lives. The Mass takes its name from the Latin ‘Ite Missa est’, which is the last thing the priest tells us at Mass ‘Go in peace!’ However, the direct translation of this Latin expression will be ‘Go! it is the dismissal’. This is not just a statement of the obvious or an announcement. Pope Benedict XVI takes this word ‘Missa’, further, to not only mean ‘Dismissal’, but also ‘Mission’. So it is not just that we are dismissed, but that we have been missioned, we have been sent to the world, to become another Christ to the world. It is important that the mass is named after its last part, to make a bridge between the celebration of the Eucharist and our life outside the church.
So, we are invited not only to attend the mass, but also to live the mass. We live the mass when we can go out and accept our brothers and sisters, just as God has accepted us at mass. We go out to make our whole lives a thanksgiving to God. We go out to share the blessings we have received with others. We go out to become a blessing to other people, to become the answer to other people’s prayers. We go out to break ourselves and to die for others, just as Christ gave His body and poured out his blood for us. We go out to wash other people’s feet, no matter how dirty we think they are. We go out to break our bread and to share it with others. We go out, not as people who receive and keep what we have recieved. But like the two priests in our story, we continue to break and share, even to the last of drop of blood from our bodies. Go! you are dismissed! not so that you can go sleep, but so that you can be crucified with Christ. It was only on the cross that Jesus drank the last cup and said ‘It is finished’. The mass is not ended untill we are completely broken for the world and our blood is completely shed on that cross. The mass is not ended untill you can wash the feet of the one who has betrayed you. The mass is not ended until we give up our pride and allow others to wash our feet. The mass is not ened untill you have shared your bread, untill there is nothing left. Then you can say “It is finished”! The mass does not end in the church. It ends on the cross. When Jesus told us to ‘Do this’ in memorial of Him, he is not just refering to ceremonies in Church. He is telling us to follow his examply, and give ourselves as bread for others to eat, and pour away our blood for others. He is asking us to give until there is nothing left. Indeed, the Euchrist is a bond of love.