2020-04-09Holy ThursdayRev. Msgr. Michael J. Motta, D.Min.

On the night before he died, the Rabbi Jesus met with his friends to celebrate the Passover meal. It was to be his Last Supper. The Passover meal recalled how the Israelites were delivered from their slavery in Egypt and how they made their way to the Promised Land. There is a tremendous relationship between our Mass and their Seder or Passover meal.

The lamb used at the meal reminds us of how they were saved through the blood of the Lamb. Recall how the Pharaoh of Egypt would not let Moses and his people go even after a series of plagues. However, Pharaoh did let them go when the final plague took the lives of their first born males. Recall how the Israelites were spared by putting the blood of the lamb upon their doorposts. The blood of the Lamb was their salvation to the Promised Land. Jesus would speak of Himself as the new Lamb of God - the blood that he would shed on the cross would be our means of salvation.

The bread at the meal is unleavened. It recalls how the Israelites had to leave in haste before the bread in their ovens had a chance to rise. It also recalls how they were fed by God in the desert with manna or the bread from heaven. We are reminded in the Scriptures that though our Israelite ancestors ate this manna and died nonetheless that the person who feeds on this new bread - the body of the Lord - will never see death but will live eternally.

Jesus would take the wine that night and speak of it as his blood -- blood which would be shed the next day - the innocent Lamb led to the slaughter. When the priest mixes wine and water it recalls how both blood and water flowed from his side. It also establishes the new covenant or the new agreement with God's people.

Holy Thursday is a very special night. It is the anniversary of two sacraments. The institution of both the Eucharist and the priesthood - so entwined that you cannot have one without the other.

There is another aspect to tonight's ceremony, and it should be a very touching and moving experience. Jesus showed his first priests what it means to serve - he washed their feet. Washing another's feet is no longer a common practice is today's society.

I was faced with a challenge as a seminarian of how I would convey its significance and its meaning to a religion class I was teaching. This was even more difficult because I was teaching this class at a reform school and most of the boys did not know that much about Jesus Christ. I decided to try an experiment. First I told them about the Last Supper but I left out the part about washing feet. Instead, I took off my suit coat and took a shoe brush and started to shine their shoes. Immediately, the strongest and the toughest individual objected.

You don't have to shine my shoes. It is not right. Don't do that. I'll shine yours if you want but you shouldn't have to shine mine. He had reacted as Peter had in today's Gospel. From that point on it was easy to explain the significance of what Jesus had done at the Last Supper.

My friends, Jesus gave each one of us an example to follow and it is a difficult one. Perhaps, the best way to conclude my homily tonight is with the Lord's own words.

After he had washed their feet, he put his cloak back on and reclined at the table once more. He said to them:

"Do you understand what I just did for you?
You address me as Teacher and Lord,
and fittingly enough for that is what I am.
But if I washed your feet -
I who am Teacher and Lord -
then you must wash each other's feet.
What I just did was to give you an example:
As I have done, so you must do."

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