Homily for Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Thursday, 28 March 2013.
In the time of our Blessed Lord, have you any idea how many people would have been in the city of Jerusalem for the Passover feast? A hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand! With a population of about thirty-thousand, at least one hundred more would arrive from all parts of Palestine before the Passover and during the festival itself. Most of the pilgrims hadn’t a hope of getting lodgings, so they’d have to find place for a tent. A bit like most adults in Scouting going to Gilwell Reunion each year: there’s only limited indoor accommodation—but there’s plenty of outdoor space for tents. The highlight of the festival was the Passover meal of lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. Because of the overflowing city, the lambs would be slaughtered in the temple area and the meals would take place in houses or tents. For those without house or tent, it would be in alleyways, courtyards, and even on the roof of a house!
Why did the Jewish people make quite so much of the Passover? Well it is their remembrance of the time when the God ‘passed over’ the people of Israel in their captivity in Egypt as described for us in the first reading tonight (Exodus 12.1–8, 11–14). The Passover is the eternal remembering, the eternal reliving of that night before the plague, before the departure from Egypt. That is why they were to eat it hastily, with a staff in their hand, sandals on their feet, and a girdle round their waist.
On the night of the Last Supper, in one of the thousands of supper rooms in Jerusalem, our Blessed Lord met with his disciples to celebrate a new feast. As St Paul tells us in the second reading, (1 Corinthians 11.23–26) ‘The Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it’ and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.’ ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’. St John gives us the same message in the Gospel (St John 13.1–15): ‘Jesus knew,’ he tells us, ‘that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father’. What we are being told, in its essence is that Jesus is the Passover Lamb. He is offering himself up in voluntary self-sacrifice for the salvation of the whole world. Just as the plague against the first-born in Egypt passed over the heads of the Israelites, so the plague of sin and death will pass over our hears. We will be freed from a slavery far worse than that of Egypt. We will be fed with the Eucharist on our desert journey through life. We will be expected to wash each other’s feet in the course of that journey.
If we are faithful to the new Covenant that our Blessed Lord sealed with his blood, we can hope—with some confidence—to make it to our Promised Land. Some things need to be proclaimed from the rooftops. What we proclaim and give thanks for on this Passover evening is the salvation won for us by the Passover Lamb!
with thanks to Bishop Joseph Cassidy’s book, These Might Help Too: Homilies for Cycle C.