He loved them to the end...

During the feasts we are used to see how the readings are connected and are forged, how they are explaining each other and complement each other. It looks a bit weird that today, at such a special and important feast, all the readings are speaking about various things. The first reading tells us about the lamb, the second about the Eucharist and the third about washing the feet. Those who prepared the liturgical readings chose the texts very precise. The biblical and liturgical rules were used strictly. If they chose these texts, they understood how close they are and how they explain each other. I´ll try to shed light into the Mystery of today´s readings and the celebration of Holy Thursday.

The Gospel tells us about the Last Supper of Jesus and the disciples before Passover. According to our calendar and counting of the days it was Thursday evening. For Jews it was Friday, because the day started with the sunset. On Thursday evening after the sunset started the preparing day before Passover, so for the Jews the Passover started on Friday evening. Why is this important for us? Because Jesus very precise chose the time of the supper with the disciples. He chose the time of his last supper and the time of establishing the Eucharist and the priesthood. Their supper started at the same time when the lambs were killed in the Jerusalem Temple. Because a lot of killed lambs were needed (a lamb for each family) they started to kill them on Thursday evening, when the day of preparation started. Jesus apparently links the Eucharist and the Passover lamb.

Jesus is the real Passover Lamb who sacrifices himself to save the mankind from worse slavery than was the slavery in Egypt. It was the slavery of Satan who tortured a man and hold him in the slavery of sin and death. His blood is the saving sign for the believers. And his body is a strengthening food on their way to freedom. Who eats his body has enough strength for the way into eternal land of freedom and happiness. Who drinks his blood will be saved from eternal death. We see the connection between establishing of the Eucharist and the Passover lamb, between the first and the second reading. Jewish celebration was the omen and the preparation for the New Testament concluded in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. That´s why Jesus was waiting till the sunset to celebrate the Eucharist in the time, when the lambs were killed in the Temple, so that what he celebrates was the same what happened in the Temple. Saint Paul had the same reason starting the part of his letter about the establishing of the Eucharist pointing out the time: „the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread..." (1 Corinthians 11, 23)

What is the connection between today´s gospel and these two readings? It is remarkable that John the apostle doesn´t have the notice about the establishing of Eucharist in his gospel. Why? On the same place where the others speak about the Eucharist, he writes about washing the feet. What made him to do it? Those who know the way of John´s thinking understand that his texts are all the time moving in different levels of meaning. They have usually another deeper symbolic meaning. The notice about washing the feet makes no exception. What was the purpose to tell it this way?

The reason of Jesus´ acts was love. „He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end." John uses this unusual word "to the end" twice in his gospel. For the first time when he writes about washing the feet and then for the second time right before his death: „ It is fulfilled." In the Gospel of John there is used the same word „tetelestai" which means: to go to the end of the ends, at the border of possible, to fulfil, to finish... John points that everything what happened between the washing of the feet till the end, till death on the cross, it is the expression of unique endless love, which loves to the end. That´s why washing the disciples´ feet expresses the service of lover who resigns himself because of love for the others and becomes a servant. In the other words that´s the Mystery of Eucharist, where Jesus resigns himself so that we can have life. And this is also the Mystery of the Cross where Jesus sacrifices himself for all of us.

In his gospel, John uses the wordplays which connect thy mysteries: Washing the feet, Eucharist, Cross. When John says that Jesus took off his clothes, he uses the same word which he used when Jesus was speaking about his sacrifice of life. „No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again." John uses the same word for taking off the clothes and dressing up and for the sacrifice of life and taking it up again. Washing the feet shows in a symbolic way what happens on the cross. It is a gesture of total self-giving. It follows that John identifies washing the feet with Jesus´ sacrifice on the cross. He writes about washing the feet on the place, where the others speak about Eucharist what means it is the very same mystery. Washing the feet as a service of love, Eucharist as a liturgy of love and the cross as a sacrifice of love. All of them tells us about the mystery of God´s love which loves to the end to save a man and to capture his heart.

According the Gospel of John, Jesus introduces himself as the Priest of the New Testament, who fulfils the promises of the Passover of the Old Testament. He is the Lamb who gives himself in the Eucharist as a food which will give us enough strength to get to eternal homeland. By His blood which was shed on the cross, he protects us before eternal death. And he does all these acts from his endless love, as the one who, „came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."(Mt 20,28)

This is the New Testament priesthood - to save the people from death, to love them to the end as Jesus did in the sacrifice of his in service and to die for them. The priest has to live what he celebrates. When he says: "This is my body", he says these words „in persona Christi (in the person of Jesus Christ), but also he has to say the words in his own person. It should be his very own confession that he wants to sacrifice his life for the others as Jesus did. „This is my body given for you." If a priest doesn´t want to sacrifice his life, if he doesn´t want to be obedient and if he doesn´t want to live in celibacy, he can´t celebrate the Mass because he is telling lies. He wouldn´t be able to say with Jesus these words in truth: „This is my body given for you." Priesthood of Jesus Christ is the celebration and living of endless love, which humbly serves the others by washing the feet, which offers for them the sacrifice of Eucharist and dies with Christ on the cross.

The Priesthood of New Testament is a foolish sacrifice of love to the end. No one is willing and freely offering himself to do this. Who wants to wash the feet to the others? Who wants to refuse to express his love in the intimacy of physical connection? Who wants to offer his life every day saying: „ This is my body given for you." Who wants to carry the cross heavy of all the sins of the others and to die for them in a humble and unappreciated service just because he cares for their eternal life? Do you think it is normal to expect that this is the best way how to live your life? No, it isn´t. It is not normal. It is the reason why I am convinced that when a young boy has a desire in his heart and he wants to become a priest, it is Lord´s calling. If you have a desire to love to the end and to sacrifice yourself for the others, it will be Lord´s calling. It is not something what comes to your mind and is surely your own idea. Especially when you know what the priesthood is. No, it is not normal and natural. It is supernatural. That´s why I want to encourage you to have enough courage to answer the calling.

I hope I shed light into the mystery, which we will celebrate these days. Actually, a lot is still under the veil. However, I wish you that what we will celebrate these days will capture and speak to your heart. I wish each of you will have these days the experience of Jesus loving to the end for you personally. When John wrote: „ Because he loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end," he was thinking of you, too. Do you believe it? The Paschal Mystery is about the love of God for you, about what God has done for you personally. Because he loved you and he loved you to the end.

I want to finish the sermon on the same topic I have started. As you see, Church knows what she is doing. If we don´t understand her acts, maybe it is because we don´t understand all the connections and maybe we still have not entered into her mystery. Maybe we should trust the Church more. And it is not only to trust her in choosing the liturgical readings.

fr. Martin Harčár