Holy Thursday 2009

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Our blessing cup is a communion in the blood of the Lord.

During Lent for the past several years we have been singing a short antiphon at Vespers that has made a deep impression on me this year. Through you O Virgin Mary, we drink from the wellsprings of salvation, from the wounds of Christ.

I am trying to take this beautiful text and use it as our meditation piece throughout this year’s celebration of the Paschal Mystery – we have already done this for Palm Sunday, today we will attempt it for Holy Thursday and then for Good Friday and finally for the Easter Vigil. That is to say, to interpret the Scriptures of each of these days using the lens of this antiphon.

Today we focus on the Last Supper, the Paschal meal that Jesus ate with his disciples before his passion and death. It is important to note what today’s feast is not. Our focus is not on the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus present for us. Today is not the Feast of the Holy Eucharist. The church gives us Corpus Christi for that. What is it then? We are in the Triduum, we are in the liturgical celebration of the last hours of Jesus’ earthly life and his rising from the dead. What we are concerned with here is this last meal Jesus ate on earth, and which is the Paschal meal according to the Synoptic tradition. And so our First Reading details the laws regulating the celebration and the reasons for the various rituals which the Jewish people kept for this feast. What are they?

First of all, a lamb without blemish is killed. Two things happen as a result. The blood is taken and smeared on the doorposts of each one’s house. The Lord will be passing over during the night to execute judgment, but he will do no harm to the houses with the blood on them. Second, the lamb is then eaten – with its own accompanying rituals – as a memorial of the time in Egypt that this salvation of the people happened. This salvation story was rehearsed by the head of the family after the ritual question spoken by the youngest one present.

Why does the church have us read this story on this most holy day, the beginning of the Triduum? It seems to me it is because we are involved in the very same salvation. The two covenants are really one. The first is the foreshadowing, the second the fulfillment. The meal Jesus celebrated as a Jew is the same meal we celebrate – only now Jesus has changed its meaning. Instead of a live animal, Jesus becomes the Paschal Lamb without blemish; it is his blood, not the animal’s that brings salvation.  It is his flesh we eat in the new Paschal meal.

What light can our antiphon give us to understand better what is happening here? It tells us that the wounds of Christ are the wellsprings of salvation. Do you remember that phrase from the Letter to the Hebrews?  “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” And in the reading from Exodus that forms our meditation, without the blood of the Lamb smeared on the doorposts, the Israelites are as dead as the Egyptians. Without blood salvation does not happen. Our antiphon lets us see how the blood of the New Pasch accomplishes salvation. Jesus does not give his blood in a bottle. Jesus does not just offer a little drop. No, he is wounded, he pours out his blood through those five wounds he suffers. The wellsprings of salvation are the wounds of Jesus because it is through those brutal wounds that his blood is poured out unsparingly.

We share in this blood through our drinking of the cup.  Our blessing cup is the communion in the blood of Christ. And in sharing in this cup of salvation we are brought into contact with his wounds. Let us come to these wounds in confidence, that in them we will find life, that in them the salvation first sketched in the blood smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses will be ours in abundance.  May we constantly come back to the wounds of Jesus – to find nourishment and to find the strength to go and do likewise, as Jesus asks us to do in the Gospel.