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MARCH 28, 2013: HOLY THURSDAY

Readings: 

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

Except for Holy Saturday, no night is more important to Christians than Holy Thursday: the night on which we commemorate the Lord's Supper. Once we own up to all the discrepancies in the five biblical accounts of that event, it's clear our sacred authors were concerned more with conveying the meaning of what Jesus said and did on that night than on giving us an exact blow by blow of what actually happened.

Because one of the three Last Supper traditions - Mark (copied by Matthew and Luke) - ties Jesus' final meal into the yearly Passover celebration, it's essential to understand the significance of that feast. As we hear in today's first reading, it commemorates the pivotal freeing event in all Jewish history: the Exodus from Egypt. If there were no Exodus, there'd be no freedom, no Jews, no Scriptures. Freedom is synonymous with being Yahweh's biblical people.

Though Paul and John don't revolve their Last Supper passages around the Exodus, they still contend that the actions and words of Jesus on that night are at the heart of Christian freedom.

Paul's well-known I Corinthians 11 Eucharistic passage was triggered by some in the Corinthian community who, by refusing to share their food and drink with the poor during their Eucharistic celebrations, were engaging in an action completely counter to the faith of Jesus. Though they listened to Jesus' words and drank from "the cup of the new covenant in my blood," they adamantly refused to "recognize the body." At this point, Paul's not talking about recognizing Jesus' body in the Eucharistic bread; he's concerned with recognizing the risen Jesus' body in the Christian community.... especially, in this instance, in the poor.

One of Stan Musial's grandsons made an interesting observation during the baseball great's recent funeral. "My grandfather," he said, "always made nobodies feel like somebodies." Sadly, about twenty minutes later, his insightful comment was blatantly ignored when an "official" announcement was made concerning those in the community who would be permitted to receive communion and those who were to be excluded.

Paul presumed the Lord's Supper is the one place in which we can be liberated from the limits which our cultures, theologies and prejudices impose on us, the one action in which we can become completely one with everyone around us, the one moment in which everyone is transformed into somebody. That's why he ends today's passage with the powerful reminder, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes." We freely die with Jesus by accepting all who participate in the Lord's Supper as equals.

As Sister Sandra Schneiders pointed out in her famous thirty year old Catholic Biblical Quarterly article, when Jesus washes his disciples' feet during John's Last Supper pericope, he's not only a superior doing something for inferiors, he's a superior who's operating outside his "field of expertise:" he's not a professional foot-washer. You don't know what's going to happen when you give yourself to others in situations in which you're not in control. Some, like Peter, could refuse your giving, or complain you could have done better. Yet that's the example John's Jesus gives, the example he expects us to follow.

The historical Jesus, as a good Jew, wanted his disciples to be free. He was convinced they would attain their freedom, not by crossing a sea, but by freely giving themselves to others. The early church discovered their giving and their freedom were most intense when they became one - the body of Christ - during the Eucharist, an experience some of us have yet to attain during our celebrations of the Lord's Supper.