HOMILY FOR HOLY THURSDAY
HOMILY THEME: NEW MANDATE
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa
HOMILY: Lord’s Supper (Last supper) is one of the most famous paintings in the world. There are different versions of this painting, but Leonardo da Vinci’s is about the most famous. It took Da Vinci three years to complete the painting, and like any piece of art, this painting has been a subject of different interpretations. However, what is most important is that the event of the Last Supper was a very significant event in the life of Jesus. It was a farewell meal, which he shared with his disciples in the Upper Room.
In the Old Testament Passover feast, each household in Israel offered a Lamb for sacrifice. Before Israel was delivered from Egypt, they received an instruction to take some of the blood of the Lamb and apply to the two doorposts and lintel of every house. The blood of this sacrificial lamb saved each household from the scourge of the angel of death (Exodus 12). The Last Supper of Jesus occurred on a meaningful day; it was during the celebration of the Israelite Passover. Thus, the Lord’s Supper indicates that Jesus replaces the blood of the sacrificial lamb with his blood, which is poured out for the salvation of many (John 1:29, 36). The event of the Lord’s Supper also presents Jesus as the new Moses through whom God sends the Manna from heaven (Ex 16, John 6).
In addition, just as the Passover of the Old Testament was a memorial feast for the people of Israel, so is Passover of the New Testament a memorial feast for the people of the new and eternal covenant. The new Passover feast, popularly known as the Holy Eucharist (Holy Mass), is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Unlike the old Passover that is celebrated once in a year, the new Passover (the Eucharist) is celebrated always. This is because expression of gratitude for salvation is unlimited. Jesus says: “Do this in remembrance of me… For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). As he offers this sacrifice of thanksgiving, Jesus plays the role of Melchizedek, the High Priest who offers Bread and Wine (Genesis 14:18).
Holy Thursday is also known as Maundy Thursday because during the celebration of the Last Supper Jesus gives a new mandate to his followers. ‘Maundy’ is a short form of the Latin Mandatum (Mandate) which is taken from the Gospel of John 13:34: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”). Jesus translated this new mandate into action when:
He rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist (cf. John 13:1-15).
Jesus did the unusual on the day of his special supper with his disciples. He washed the feet of Judas who betrayed him; he also washed the feet of Peter who denied him; he stooped to wash the feet of the rest of the Apostles who fled and deserted him when he was arrested. This gesture of Jesus teaches that those who believe in him should serve not only their families and friends but also those who oppose and betray them.
More still, the washing of feet is a reminder about the cleansing effect of baptism. Peter could not understand why he would sit down and let his master kneel down to wash his feet and so he said loudly: You will never wash my feet. Jesus responded: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Thereafter, Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Those who want to have a common inheritance with Jesus must necessarily pass through the cleansing waters of baptism.
Holy Thursday sets the stage for Good Friday. After the last supper Jesus spent the night in prayer and at that crucial moment his disciples were too weak to accompany through his last night of struggle. He asked his disciples in a voice full of anguish: “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour? (Matthew 26:40). This is why Parishes organise adoration on this night to provide opportunity for people to spend some time in prayer in preparation for Good Friday. Let us keep vigil with Jesus as we recall his agony in the garden of Gethsemane. It was a night he prayed intensely, shedding tears of blood, waiting for his arrest and impending death. It was a night when he submitted totally to the will of God saying, “Abba Father…remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). We should learn to pray like Jesus and learn to submit to God’s will even in the most difficult moments of life. Let us therefore intensify our prayer and spiritual exercises as we approach Easter.
I wish you very Happy Maundy Thursday. Enjoy the Celebration!
Holy Thursday C; Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15