Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; Psalm 115(116):12-13,15-18; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
I’ve only ever seen on television a celebration of the Passover in a Jewish family. It commemorates the original Passover of some 3,300 years ago, yet even today the way it is celebrated still has a strong sense of significance and urgency about it. The first reading from the book of Exodus gives us details of how the Passover is to be prepared and celebrated. Among other things, it is to be done in lockdown. The Jews are not to go out of their homes lest they perish. It is to be eaten with haste, because on that very night, once the plague or destroying angel has passed, they are escaping from the slavery of Egypt for the freedom of the Promised Land.
There is also a sense of fear about the way the Passover is celebrated. Not so much fear of the plague that would kill all the firstborn in Egypt, but a holy fear, an awareness that the power and love of God are being displayed mightily in their favour, not only in the past but still today.
The true Exodus for Christians is the death of the firstborn Son of God in the flesh, whose body and blood he himself gave us the night before he died. The blood of Jesus delivers us from the power of the evil one into the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. By destroying our sins, Jesus also destroyed our death. Death is now in Jesus’ power. If we are without sin, we need not fear it any more.
Tonight we, too, are in lockdown. The plague around us does not limit itself to striking down the firstborn, but strikes where it pleases. Thanks to the internet, from our homes we can share in the true Passover meal of the Mass, commemorating the first Mass of some 2,000 years ago. We, too, do it with a holy reverence for the magnitude of divine love and power which Jesus displayed as he ate with his apostles and was later crucified and died for love of us all.
The Mass is empty ritual without the Cross and resurrection. Because of these, it is the sacrifice of redemption. It is willed by Christ until he returns in glory so that we will both remember his sacrifice of love and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually share in it as if we were there on Calvary and in the upper room ourselves. The Mass also puts us in the tomb with Jesus and raises us up from the dead with him. The Mass carries us up to the throne of God with Jesus and readies us for his return in glory.
The simplicity of the Mass is deceptive. We can feel sometimes that it’s not exciting enough or modern enough. We can be tempted to experiment with it, or leave aside as too demanding the Sunday obligation to attend it. But the Mass is not ours to tamper with. It is Christ’s last will and testament of love to the human race until he returns. The Mass is the centre of history and the burning core of creation itself. It demands our wonder, our veneration, our humility, our fidelity and above all our love.
The Mass purifies the world and heals it. Through the Mass, Jesus the servant continues to wash our feet. He cleanses us with his death. His dying breath eradicates sin from our souls and death from our bodies. His body and blood fill us with his grace and give us the guarantee of resurrection if we remain firm. The Mass is the fulfilment of the meaning of the washing of the feet, the commandment of humble and loving service. In fact, Jesus fulfils all his teaching, the entirety of the Gospel, by giving his life for us to the very end. The Word thus finds its fulfilment in the Sacrament.
As if to emphasize that the Mass is exclusively his action of self-sacrifice and thanksgiving to the Father, and that he himself is the only celebrant of the Mass until the end of time, Jesus gave us the sacrament of the priesthood. It is not the individual man who, in his own name, celebrates the Mass. The ordained priest is used by Christ to celebrate his sacrifice. He is a mere instrument.
The poor man before you at the altar lends his voice and hands to Christ who in that poor man manifests his own humility and poverty in offering himself to the Father. The priesthood does not belong to the ordained man; no, he belongs to the priesthood, to the person of Christ. Even less does the Mass belong to the priest. The Mass far surpasses his capacities and understanding. He ought to tremble if he is even minimally aware of what has been entrusted to him. And so, in the name and person of Christ, the poor man you see before you on this holy night will renew once again the most sacred of mysteries, the Mystery of Faith. He offers it well aware of his poverty, but more aware still of Christ’s love for him.
As Covid-19 prowls around the world to strike down whom it will, this priest offers the sacrifice of redemption defiantly so that Christ will give healing and life to whom he will. As you join me in spiritual communion from your homes, remember that the One in whom you believe is the Lord and Master of death and the sacrament of healing for the world. Trust in him with all your hearts! Try not to be afraid! He loved his own to the very end. You are his own. Be rid of your sins, be sincere in your repentance, be strong in your faith, hope and love and beseech the One who has loved you with an everlasting love to bid the plague pass over your home.
May our hearts be deeply moved this night as we obey his command and do this in memory of him. May he heal your sick, comfort your lonely, delight your children, encourage your young, strengthen your marriages, bind your families more strongly together and give his solace, his grace and his joy to one and all.