Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Holy Thursday - Year B

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

The Church has always seen a deep connection between the Passover, the Passion and the Eucharist.

The Hebrew slaves in Egypt had been promised freedom by a man claiming to be sent by God; his name was Moses. There had been tense confrontations with Pharaoh and his advisors followed by strange plagues. The people were not at all sure that Moses could deliver on his promises, in fact, his first attempts to speak for the people had only made their lives more difficult. Now things were coming to a head. Pharaoh had commanded Moses never again to appear before him and Moses had foretold the death of all male firstborn in the kingdom on the 10th day of the month. The Hebrews, however, would escape God’s anger by sprinkling on their lintels and doorposts the blood of an unblemished, one year old, male lamb. This lamb was to be roasted and eaten that night.

We can imagine the turmoil and tension of that first Passover night. The people put all their trust in Moses and did what they were commanded and at midnight the darkness was filled with wailing as the angel of God took every firstborn Egyptian, man and beast. Amid confusion and fright the Hebrews left Egypt, following their leader Moses. He took them to the Red Sea and safely brought them across by parting the waters with his staff.

Not by coincidence but by the foresight of God the Passion of Jesus took place at Passover time. Jesus faced a much fiercer opponent than Pharaoh; he faced death itself. To all who were slaves of sin he promised freedom and eternal life if they would follow him. Not everyone could believe but many did and became his disciples.

Around midnight they came for him and arrested him. Once more there was confusion, turmoil, tension and fear; once more a lamb was slain, male, unblemished, in the prime of his life; once more blood was sprinkled and once more a people was set free.

Have you ever read the account of the second Passover? You can find it in chapter nine of the Book of Numbers; it’s my favourite Old Testament moment.
Exactly one year after leaving Egypt the Hebrews were commanded to celebrate the Passover again and they did so: celebrating the Passover in the desert of Sinai during the evening twilight of the fourteenth day of the first month, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

In the desert of Sinai … in the twilight of the evening. Oh, what marvellous words, what a marvellous scene, what a gracious, trustworthy, powerful God! Gone were the enemy, gone was the confusion, gone was the bedlam! Now there was only the evening twilight … in the desert of Sinai ... (picture it!) and the People alone with their God.

This evening, if you’ll permit me to continue the analogies, we have come to the second Passion, the Mass. Like the second Passover it is celebrated in the evening and, thank God, in a tranquil setting of peace and freedom; we are alone with our God.

Certainly tonight the victim is slain, the blood poured out, and the Lamb eaten - but this time in an unbloody manner.

At the moment of Consecration the first Passion is made present, (re-presented) for us tonight in all its liberating power; the crucified One hangs in our midst on the Cross and the one death he died for us sinners is once again made present in this moment of time, our time. And also, at the moment of Consecration, the defeated Lord will stand in our midst as the Risen and Victorious One, the Easter Christ offering us his strength and peace.

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