05 April 2007

Mandatum novum

An upper room had been prepared. The unleavened bread was baked. The Passover Lamb had been sacrificed and roasted. Jesus was at the head of the table with His Twelve, His new Israel. He took the large piece of unleavened flat bread. He gave thanks to His Father, He broke it and gave the pieces to His disciples. This had been a Passover like any another Passover, recalling God's grace to Israel when He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt into freedom, through the blood of the lamb smeared on their doorposts.

But then Jesus spoke. And what He said at that moment had never before been said at a Passover meal. "Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you." And again, after the supper, Jesus took a chalice of wine. He gave thanks and then said something that had never before been said at a Passover meal, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood." Jesus was treating the Passover as though it were His own. And of course, it was and is His own. Jesus is the Lord. This is the Lord’s Passover. And the Lord is the Passover Lamb.

And then Jesus gave a new commandment, the commandment to love. Not that love was new, but He told His disciples to receive His love in all the ways He has to give. They were to be loved by Him so that His love could flow through them to others. His love was poured out in His death. It is poured into us through Baptism and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and through all the sacraments. And this love bears fruit as it has its way with us. It was the Body and Blood bending down as a servant to wash the feet of His disciples. As we receive that Body and Blood into ourselves, so we are to join with Him in bending down to wash the soiled feet of one another, to cleanse, to forgive, to love one another.

"By this all will know that you are my disciples, when you have love for one another."

Jesus loved us to death, long before we loved Him. While we were yet His enemies, He loved us and laid down His life for us. His was "love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be." And we now receive His love so that we can love one another as He has loved each one of us. That is the commandment given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ – and with that truth, we celebrate this Holy Night so that we can be prepared for the glory of our Lord’s resurrection.