Friday, April 2, 2010

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for Holy ThursdayApril 1, 2010
Ex 12: 1-8, 11-14
Christian Brothers, Iona College, New Rochelle

“Seeing the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex 12: 13).

With this liturgy of the Lord’s Supper we begin the Easter Triduum, our annual celebration of the Lord’s paschal mystery. That mystery is linked inseparably to the Jewish Passover. It begins with Jesus celebrating a seder with the 12 and our reading from Exodus the story of the first Passover meal. It ends with the ritual of Baptism in parishes that have catechumens, and the renewal of baptismal promises by the rest of us, recalling our passing thru the waters of salvation, as Israel passed thru the Red Sea—another Exodus reading of our Easter celebration.

One of the essentials of the seder is lamb. When meat is a rare part of the local diet, eating it makes a feast. So the Passover meal is a feast, specifically a feast of deliverance, of freedom. Lamb or goat would have been (and still is) the most readily available meat for the pastoral people of the Middle East.

This feast is different from others, tho. The lamb is slaughtered in a public ritual, “with the whole assembly of Israel present,” i.e., the entire household, and at a specified day and hour, “during the evening twilight” (12:6). The lamb is a stand-in for the eldest son of the household; all the lambs are substitutes for all the first-born of Israel. “For on this same nite I will go thru Egypt, striking down every first-born of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (12:12). The Lord YHWH saves his people, but the gods of Egypt are powerless to save theirs. The gods of Egypt are identified with the oppressors of YHWH’s people, and in his saving act he renders crushing judgment against them on this Passover nite.

The lamb, unknowing, gentle, innocent, dies in order that Israel, God’s son, might live and be free. The prophet Hosea remarks, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (11:1), which St. Matthew quotes in his gospel (2:15). God tells Moses to have each household smear the blood of the freshly slaughtered lamb on its doorposts and lintel (12:7), marking that house as protected against the angel of death, as belonging to the Lord.

John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36), and the Book of Revelation also does so. So do we at Mass during the Communion rite. This gentle, innocent Lamb offered himself—knowingly, willingly—as a sacrifice for our redemption. This Lamb, the only-begotten Son of God and the firstborn son of Mary, offered himself as a substitute for us—not just the firstborn, but all of us, all sinners who merit condemnation on account of the free choices by which we’ve aligned ourselves with the gods of Egypt. This Lamb died that we might live, that we might be called pit of Egypt, that we might be set free from our sins and the judgment against them. Thru this Lamb, the Lord YHWH has executed judgment on all the gods of this world: on power, on pleasure, on wealth, on pride, on wrath, on the hordes of hell—on everything that would enslave, debase, and destroy humanity.

On this evening when we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, we thank God for the saving blood of the Lamb of God. We partake of the blood that the Lamb has shed for us, the blood that “marks the houses” (12:13) where Christ dwells. Commenting on that blood on the Hebrew doorposts, St. John Chrysostom writes: “If we were to ask…how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, [the] answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.”* God Almighty notes that blood as he passes judgment upon the world: “Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; …no destructive blow will come upon you” (12:13).

Drinking from the cup of salvation (Ps 116:13), we proclaim the death of the Lord (1 Cor 11:26). We proclaim that the Lamb has been slain for us (Rev 5:12) yet lives. We proclaim that we’ve been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb (cf. Rev 7:14). We proclaim that the Lamb now enthroned on high “leads [us] to springs of life-giving water” (Rev 7:17). We proclaim this Eucharist as “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) to which we, however unworthy, have been invited, as the Hebrews were invited from the first seder to salvation in the Promised Land.

* Catecheses ch. 3, in LOH 2:474.

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