The First Reading this evening tells us about the First Passover, over three thousand years ago. The People were in slavery, God heard their cry to him and, even though there wasn’t an instant solution, the people eventually move out of slavery, the angel of death passes over them and they pass over from the bondage to freedom.
But we know that was only the beginning of a journey. Each year the People of Israel recall the Exodus, the Passover, in order to set the compass in the right direction. God had set them free because, as they came to see more and more clearly, he wanted them to carry out his mission in the world.
At the Last Supper, Jesus takes up the experience of the Exodus and Passover. In foreshadowing his death on Calvary, Jesus presents himself as the New Passover. It is in and through his death at Calvary we pass from death to life. He is the lamb to be sacrificed. He is also the priest and the altar. We receive new life from him. And the Eucharist, instituted at the Last Supper, is indeed the great gift that he leaves us.
The Eucharist, of course, is not an end in itself. It is directed towards bringing about a new world, a united world, a world of peace, reconciliation and fraternal relationships.
St. Paul writes, every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are proclaiming Jesus’ death. Of course, this refers to Mass as what we call the celebration of the memorial of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. But it also refers to the life style we are to live as Christians, imitating Jesus in his serving and laying down his life.
The Gospel that we have just read explains this also by telling us the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the last Supper. He serves. He humbles himself. He puts himself in the last place. His death is serving us in order to free us. Out of serving comes new life.
Jesus wants to serve us. We are held in bondage by so many little or big slaveries – our ego, our fears, our failures and sins, our remorse over promises not kept, our addictions in thought or deed, our uncertainties that tangle us up in an exaggerated preoccupation over ourselves.
Initially, Peter doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. And that’s akin to us not really wanting to let Jesus into those vulnerable corners of our lives. And yet this what Jesus came for. He came to serve, to free, to release us from bondage.
Jesus clarifies further. He washes their feet so that they in turn go out to serve, to serve one another and to serve everyone. It is the great mission of the Church.
While the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus par excellence, its deepest purpose is to form us into one and then propel us to go out and discover the many real presences of Jesus – in each other, in the poor, in the Word of God, in our community when it gathers in the name of Jesus, in our world where there are many signs of Resurrection.
This year, not being able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist is a form of death for many faithful. Thankfully, we can participate in the Eucharist through the various technological means. And if we unite our suffering of not being able to receive the Eucharist, making a spiritual communion, we will find ourselves receiving the reality that is at the heart of the Eucharist – Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
But that is not meant simply to be a personal, devotional experience. Perhaps at this time of prolonged lack of reception of the Eucharist, Our Lord is recalling us to recognise in a new way that we are to live the Eucharist. Most of us have nourished ourselves on the Eucharist for many, many years. We’ve focussed, rightly, in talks and retreats, on the great gift of the Eucharist. Some have generously spent hours in Eucharistic Adoration. But maybe for these weeks and months, at a time of Eucharistic fast, Our Lord is putting before us an important lesson: now is the time to really hear again the last words of every Mass: “The Mass is ended, go forth glorifying the Lord by your life”. Live the Eucharist.
How? By serving, by laying down your life, by living the New Commandment. Ultimately, this is the goal of the Eucharist – to bring about a world transformed in Christ, to see relationships in the family and in our communities, made alive through our love, to let Christ not be locked in the tabernacle, as St. Therese of Lisieux used to put it, but out present in us and through us and among us.
To make of every place where we live a sacred space, a place where the passing over from death to life in Jesus Christ is experienced again and again.
And in doing this, perhaps this is also the time that when our weekly or daily contact with priests is suspended, we are learning in a new way that we are called to live out our baptismal priesthood. The sacrament of Baptism hasn’t gone asleep. It is active. And we can now, perhaps more consciously than before, live out our baptismal priesthood.
A lovely line from the Second Vatican Council describes this: “All the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.”
We are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, just like Jesus by serving, loving. We are to bear witness, just like Jesus and give an answer, in other words, offer encouragement and hope.
We don’t need to be in a church building to exercise this priesthood. This can be exercised all day long, especially in the family, so often called the “domestic church”.
Perhaps this Coronavirus is opening our eyes in a new way to rediscover the church outside the church, as it were. We live the Eucharist. We live our baptismal priesthood, serving, loving one another with the measure Jesus gave: no one has a greater love than to lay down his life for others.