Why not listen/sing along to:
Please read the scriptures set for this day before continuing: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=34
O God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life, Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11. 26)
On Maundy Thursday, the first reading that we hear at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper comes from Exodus, chapter 12. If we were to continue reading past the designated verses (1-14) we would come across the following line in verse 22: ‘none of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning’. This verse has particular significance for us at the moment, as it seems that we are living in the darkness of never ending night, awaiting the light of the morning.
On what will necessarily be a different type of Maundy Thursday, when we make a spiritual rather than physical communion, it is important for us to remember that whilst our present circumstances are challenging, what is done in memorial this night has been given until the end of time, until Christ returns in glory. The ‘types and shadows’ of the Passover have their ‘ending’, for the ‘newer rite is here’: that rite is the eucharist. It is in the events of this night that we see the priesthood of Jesus clearly on display.
On Palm Sunday I recalled that in the thought of the Old Testament, priests were to fulfil (though not exclusively) three functions: the care of the Temple, the instruction of the people in the law of the Lord, and the offering of sacrifice. Jesus, tonight, does all three. Sunday marked the beginning of the return of the presence and glory of the Lord to Jerusalem, the place of the Temple.
On this night Jesus takes things a step further, initiating a new ‘rite’ a rite that has his own person as the new focal point, a new temple. Likewise, he fulfils the second priestly function, he instructs the disciples in the law of the Lord a law focussed on the love of God and the love of neighbour, the most important commandments. In the hymn that we would’ve sung together (why not sing it at home: https://youtu.be/vp5KQmQNJsU) we hear the words ‘love is his law, love is his word’. Love is the defining essence of the law of the new covenant, a new covenant that Jesus is establishing in these days, beginning tonight. Finally, fulfilling the third priestly function, Jesus offers the thanksgiving sacrifice foreshadowed in our first reading from Exodus, through the taking, breaking, blessing and sharing of bread and wine.
In these three acts, accomplished this night, Jesus’ priesthood is visible for all to see, as he establishes the new covenant, the new covenant in his blood for the salvation not only of the Jewish people, but for the whole world. In this way, the commemoration of the Exodus is expanded and transformed, a new Exodus is initiated this night
In the offering of bread and wine, as his body and blood, Jesus connects his priestly offering of himself to the ancient sacrifice of Passover, when the Jews were delivered from death and given a new land. Jesus’ new sacrifice would accomplish another deliverance, a deliverance from death and sin and the giving of a new land, the sweet and blessed country of eternal life.
What was required for the Jewish Passover, the commemoration of the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery and death? In our Exodus reading we hear the answer, in order to experience the benefits of that first Passover the people would need: an unblemished male lamb. The offering of a perfect lamb will immediately jump out at us; Jesus is acclaimed as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist, and that imagery is deliberate. But that is not the only element present, in the Exodus account, verse 8, the Lamb is to be offered with ‘unleavened bread’.
Why? The bread pointed to God’s provision for his people, and would foreshadow the Manna given in the wilderness (chapter 16). It was, in the words of the scriptures, supernatural bread, rained down from heaven. The context of the Passover thus brings these elements together and uses them as a means to make present the salvation God won for his people. Whilst the bread points to what is given from heaven, the lamb’s function is to be purely sacrificial. The lamb is to be killed. Thus, Jesus utilises the two images in himself (through his teaching that he is the bread of life – see John 6) and death of the Passover lamb, with its redemptive blood outpoured. The image of salvation for the Hebrew people through the lamb and bread, becomes in Jesus the reality of salvation – he is the Lamb who is the living bread.
The killing of the Passover lamb was a task that was explicitly priestly. Only priests could make the sacrifice; only priests could slaughter the lamb. Needless to say, when Jesus takes bread and wine tonight and instructs the disciples that this is his body and blood, the resemblances would’ve been all to clear, particularly as this is done at the time of the Passover meal.
Jesus becomes the new Passover Lamb, he becomes the new and eternal sacrifice for sin. At the same time, whilst he becomes the sacrifice, he is also the priest, for he offers himself, he is not offered by another, but offers himself for the redemption of the people, hence ‘this is my body, this is my blood’. Alongside the choosing of the unblemished male lamb, the command to sacrifice it, thee Passover would only be completed by the command it ‘eat’ contained in verse in The command is in our reading from 1 Corinthians, to eat, and in so doing proclaim the death of the Lord. Eating the Lamb of the Passover completed the rite. Jesus, the new Passover, the eternal priest, commands his disciples to likewise, eat, and in effect calls them know within themselves the fruit of his redemption.
Let us not forget that at each Mass we make present the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the eternal priest on our altar. The gifts of bread and wine, offered to the Father, become the food of the Exodus, the Exodus to eternal life. The priesthood of Jesus is clear for us to see, the sacrifice is made for all eternity, the gift is given until the end of time, the time ‘when sacraments shall cease’ and ‘all the Church shall be forever one’ whe will behold that Lamb in his heavenly glory. Amen.
Further aspects of the meal and their relation to Good Friday will follow tomorrow.
O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption. Who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Why not listen/sing along to: