Holy (Maundy) Thursday by Fr. Claude Perera

First Reading: Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14

How the first Passover was celebrated by the Israelite slaves led by Moses who were about to leave Egypt

Second Reading:1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

St. Paul narrates to the Corinthians the early Apostolic tradition about the Last Supper of Jesus during which He established the Eucharist.

Gospel: John 13: 1-15

Foot-Washing of the apostles by Jesus at the Last Supper


Today the Church commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and Jesus’ washing of the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. The first and second readings of today deal with the Eucharist, while the gospel with the Foot-Washing. Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist in the context of the Jewish Passover. In the first reading you heard how the Jewish Passover originated. The OT feast of the Passover became the Passover of the NT, during which Jesus’ paschal event to redeem mankind took place. This Jewish Passover consisted of three elements; namely, the slaughtering of the paschal lamb, how they were to eat it, and the striking of the first born of Egyptians by the avenging angel who passed over from the houses of Israelites which were marked with the blood of the paschal lamb and thus, sparing their children. Figures, events and words of the OT often find their final and definitive fulfilment or realization in Christ, Mary or the Church in the NT. The OT Passover reached its climactic fulfillment in the paschal event of Jesus. The slaughtered paschal lamb of the Jewish Passover is Crucified Jesus, the saviour. The eating of the paschal lamb is the prefiguration of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which Jesus instituted at the Last Supper.

In the second reading St. Paul narrates what happened at the Last Supper. To understand fully what Paul is saying and why he says so, it is important that we know the life situations which the Corinthians were facing. We can find that out if we read what Paul wrote before and after this passage. First, the Christian Corinth was a divided community with several factions, with their allegiances to different community leaders (cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:5). Paul refers to them in the immediately preceding section (1 Cor 11:18-19). In the next two verses, namely, 11:20-22 he turns attention to their lack of charity during their Eucharistic gatherings and agape meals. For example, the greedy ones would grab all the food, making it insufficient for others who come later. Some got drunk. Paul reminds them that such lack of charity makes them unworthy of the Eucharist. He used strong words saying that partaking in the Eucharist unworthily is akin to eating and drinking one’s own condemnation (1 Cor 11:28-30). If we fail in the spirit of love and servanthood in which the Eucharist was gifted to us, then it becomes a judgment against us. Paul reminded them of the words of Jesus instituting the Eucharist, “Do this in memory of me.” What is this memory? It is the whole paschal mystery. Theologians call it a dangerous memory because one is called to imitate Jesus in his self-abasing and self-immolating agape love which led to his exaltation at Easter morn. Are we ready as the followers of Jesus for self-immolation, and to die for our pride, self-will and self-centredness?  

In a similar vein, we can turn to the gospel of today. Given the blazing semi-desert climactic conditions, clouds of dust on roads, and the practice of wearing sandals, the Near Eastern hospitality necessitated the washing of the feet of guests before they entered a dwelling place. This was done by servants who were most often slaves. Thus, it was a humiliating task. In fact, do you remember the Palm Sunday’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians which said that Jesus emptied (humbled) himself taking the form of a slave (Phil 2:7)? The Greek word used there was doulos meaning, ‘a slave.’ According to Semitic cultural standards, a teacher who was always a venerated elder in the society, could never bend down before a disciple. But the paradox was that Jesus did it. That was why Peter was so shocked and objected to Jesus washing his feet. Jesus washing the feet of the disciples reversed history of the East. He did so because He loved them to the end. He not only said things but also did everything that He said. Thus, He became a credible leader. Following the foot-washing episode, Jesus further said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Jesus the foot-washer became somewhat akin to a scavenger, and He wanted His disciples to follow this mandatum (‘commandment’ to love). Foot-washing was a parabolic action. It can be paraphrased thus: Just as I have washed your feet becoming a slave, so you too must wash one another’s feet and serve one another in humility. As I have loved you unconditionally, you too must love one another unconditionally, selflessly and forging one another. In the same way,  as I am about to suffer and die for you, be ready to suffer, and when necessary, even to die for one another. That is the price of being a Eucharistic disciple. During this Covid 19 pandemic crisis, Jesus is sending us as compassionate healers and comforters to our sisters and brothers to inspire hope and courage in them. Am I convinced of that and am I ready for it in my own little way?

God bless!