Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14 Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31b-35
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Our readings this evening tell us of the two most important things for us to do as faithful Christians. The Commandments love God and love your neighbour are contained in the Paschal Mystery of the Eucharist, which Jesus instituted this night, and in the Loving Service of foot washing by Jesus at the Last Supper. Three months ago we celebrated Christmas Eve, that joyous time when we awaited the Birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the One who frees us from the slavery and punishment of Sin – our Saviour. Christmas Day was pure joy. Today Maundy Thursday, the Eve of Good Friday, we commemorate the consummation of that promise of freedom, by mournfully awaiting the betrayal and death of that same Messiah, Jesus Christ. Good Friday is pure horror. What had gone so wrong in such a short time ? Jesus had been born, baptized and had brought the Good News of God’s Saving Grace to His people and to us. He had been opposed almost all the way by the Establishment and now had fallen victim to corruption and Evil.
The Israelites in ancient times had entered Egypt with hope for their future but had fallen victim to corruption and Evil in the form of the Egyptians under a cruel Pharaoh – their history is a precursor of the journey Jesus lived. But all is not lost. In Exodus we read again the story of the Passover, in Greek the word for ‘Pass Over’ is Pascha, which is where we get ‘Paschal Mystery’ from. The Israelites enslaved by their brutal overlords had called upon God to free them from their slavery and God had listened, as He always does. Through a series of Ten Plagues God engineered their dash to freedom. To remember such an absolutely miraculous and redeeming action the Israelites were given a ritual to follow for all time. They were to prepare and quickly eat a meal of roast lamb, with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. The blood of the roasted lamb was to be splashed on the doorway of their houses, giving those within protection from death. Maundy Thursday is the commemoration of the Passover when it became the Paschal Mystery.
Jesus took that ancient ritual of the Passover, personified it and made it new for us for all time. He became for us the Paschal Mystery. At Supper He took unleavened bread and dedicated it as His Body, the flesh of the Lamb. He took the wine which symbolized the blood of the Lamb and dedicated it as His Blood – the Bread giving sustenance for our journey as Christians through life, the Blood giving salvation, life, protection and freedom from slavery of Sin. This ritual, this Sacrament, is how we both show love for God and are spiritually nourished by God.
Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, we are washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14) in the sacrament of Holy Communion. If we love our neighbours we are to bring them to Christ by loving service, the true metaphor of which is what Jesus did at the Last Supper for His disciples. / Jesus was living with the knowledge that one of the people whose feet He was washing would betray Him and lead to His immediate suffering and death, yet He persisted in doing good, serving that person, Judas, just like the others. Could you do that ? Could you even care for someone who had betrayed another let alone yourself ? So difficult I doubt any of us could. Jesus however wasn’t a blind fool, by any means. He knew what Judas would do and told Judas so. In effect saying ‘Do what you will, you cannot defeat Me’. That is the posture we need to have in the face of adversity, and when we confront a person who has done harm, declare their error to them but that knowledge must not deter you from doing what is right, being like Christ to them.
The brave French policeman Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame in Trébes, France who substituted himself for a hostage, which action eventually cost him his life, surely declared that to the gunman who shot and killed him. Paul said “Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die” (Romans 5:7). There was nothing special about the hostage, yet Arnaud went ahead anyway. And Jesus Himself said “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). It takes great courage to carry on in what was the face of almost certain death. Jesus did that and more because he died for the Salvation of all mankind, saint and sinner alike.
In our prayers tonight let us honour all those saints who have followed Christ’s example and saved the lives of others at the cost of their own.
But also now imagine how the freed hostage feels today; no longer threatened or subject to evil; no longer at life’s end; no longer held in fear but holding in deep reverence and gratitude the man who substituted himself for you. That is you and how we must feel about Christ’s sacrifice. Your emotions will be conflicted; first with sadness because Christ died for you, but also with joy because you live and live eternally. Hold that thought in your heart when you come to Communion tonight and every time you come. You are free, you live in eternal life ! Thanks be to God ! Amen.