Thursday of PESAHA


Qeryana I (Old Testament Reading I): Exodus 12: 1-20
Qeryana II (Old Testament Reading II):

Zechariah 9:9-12+11:12-13+12:9-14 +13:7-9

Engarta (Epistle Reading):

1 Cor 5:7-8+10:15-17+11: 23-35

Evangalion (Gospel):

Mt 26: 1-5+26: 14-30

Click play to listen Bible verses of the day.

Today the Church enters the heart of the Passion Week, the three days (triduum) of Passover celebrations. Exodus 12:1-20 gives us a description of the great feast of ‘pesha’(Aramaic), Pascha (Greek) or ‘passing over’ or ‘deliverance’ from the slavery of Egypt which was the ‘root experience’ of the people as a nation under the charismatic leadership of Moses. First it was celebrated in each town and home (Ex 12:21-23) and later it became communal. The passage also speaks about the feast of Unleavened Bread which later became one with the Passover (Deut 16:1-8), which was to be celebrated in the first month of every year at full moon. Passover was originally a pastoral feast with a sacrifice to ward of evil spirits from animals and the feast of unleavened bread was agricultural and celebrated at the beginning of the harvest of barley, which also meant the offering of the first fruits. For the festal celebration, a one-year old male lamb without blemish was to be killed at twilight on the tenth of the month of Nisan and on the 14th of the month its blood was to be sprinkled over the doors of the houses. This blood rite was important and Moses told the elders: “Go and procure lambs for your families, and slaughter them as Passover victims. Then take a bunch of hyssop, and dipping it in the blood that is in the basin, sprinkle the lintel and the two doorposts with this blood,” which was to be a sign that spared them from destruction. It was a sacrifice and the meat had to be roasted and eaten the same night, not a bone was to be broken and what remained had to be burned. Unleavened bread or the ‘bread of affliction’ was eaten with bitter herbs in travel dress, all reminding the exodus or hurried departure from Egypt. The whole ceremony was a re-living of the experience of the ‘departure’ in which all generations were to participate. During the celebration children would ask, “What do you mean by this observance?” And the answer given was, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the house of the Israelites in Egypt.” Of course, passing over to freedom was more important here (Ex 12:26-27). The liberation that the Lord gave to his people was for a new bonding in love through the covenant in which the Lord declared, “You are my people and I am your God.”

 

 

Prophet Zechariah spoke about a liberator entering the city humbly seated on an ass (9:9-12). In 11:4-17 we have the parable about two shepherds, one rejected by the people but whose death is salvific. It reminds us of the Servant of the Lord Songs of Second Isaiah. The people are unwilling to be lead by the Lord and they are left to themselves. The people valued the Lord at thirty pieces of silver!  Mt (27:3-10;26:31) remembers it in the context of the betrayal of Judas.  Jerusalem is to repent and return to the Lord at the death of the one sent by him (Zech 12:10). There is a time of trial for Jerusalem; the shepherd will be stricken and the sheep will be scattered, but the final victory is for God’s people:


I will refine them as silver is refined;
I will test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name
and I will hear them.
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they shall say,
‘The Lord is our God”(13:9) [1].

 

 

St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians identifies Jesus with the paschal lamb and he invites the Christians to celebrate the feast freed from the old yeast of malice and evil, and in sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:7-8). Paul writes about the great tradition that he has received concerning the institution of the Eucharist by the Lord, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:23-25) [2]. Paul asks, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). Paul wants the believers to be convinced that by participating in the blessing of the cup and breaking of the bread, they are sharing in the body and blood of Christ.

 

According to St. Matthew 26:1-5, 14-26, the chief priests and the elders of the people plan to do away with Jesus, but not  during the festival as that would cause trouble. In the meanwhile, Judas agreed to the authorities that he would betray the master to them for thirty silver pieces. Prophet Zechariah has written about having received the same amount as wages for his work as shepherd (11:12). For Judas that was the worth of Jesus his Master!!

 

Jesus sent his disciples to a certain householder who was known to him and with his permission went to him with the disciples to celebrate the paschal feast, like a faithful Jew. Jesus appeared serious and earnest and sat in distress and, to the surprise of all, in the beginning itself announced that one among the twelve would betray him. Jesus was clear: “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him…”And the villain dared to assert as the villains often do: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” and Jesus replied, You have said so.” After this Matthew writes about the institution of the Eucharist.

 

The words of Jesus at the institution in Matthew are not much different from what we heard from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians. But there is a remarkable addition: “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28; Lk 22:20). According to the covenant ceremony on Mount Sinai, after sacrificing oxen “Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “see the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’ (Ex 24:8). Here Jesus speaks about the new covenant which is signed in his blood. What was to happen on the cross on Passion Friday now happens here symbolically, but really in the breaking of his body, symbolised in the bread and shedding of his blood in the wine that was poured out. This is well illustrated in the Anthem for the Washing of the Feet:


On this holy day, praise Christ
who gave His Body for
the remission of our sins,
and His Blood to save us all.
He washed His disciples’ feet
with His pure and holy hands,
thus giving an example
of wondrous humility [3].

 

With the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus authorized his disciples to perpetuate and make present his self-offering for all time. Here is a commemoration, dukhrana (Aramaic), anaphora (Greek), of what Jesus does for us; it is a full thanksgiving (eucharistia) to the Father that demands witnessing (martyria) and waiting for his coming again (parousia) as wecontinue to praying,THY KINGDOM COME! O OUR LORD, COME!” (Maran tha:1 Cor16:22). Hence in gratitude today we celebrate and thank the Lord in a very special way also for the institution of the ministerial priesthood in the Church, which enables the Church making present the eternal and only sacrifice of Jesus for generations to come.

 

Jesus established the Eucharist to be ever with us through the visible signs of bread and wine; he is with us as the one who gives his self as broken and divided to be shared among us. In the evening prayer of the day we have two significant karozutha prayers:


“O Christ, today, through the Mystery of the Bread and Wine which You handed over to Your disciples, You fulfilled Your words of promise: Behold, I am with you all the days of the world.” [4].


“O Christ, today You wrote Your New Covenant by the breaking of Your Body in the cenacle...”[5].

It is a perennial invitation to us to live for others even to the extent of losing our life. We eat and drink his glorified body and blood that we may become like him, more available to others even to the point of breaking and thus being more humane as also divine. On the eve of this Thursday we say in the ‘Sealing Prayer’ of the Evening Liturgy:


By His blood, shed on the Cross,
he has cleansed our trespasses.
By his passion, He gave up
His body to win life. [6]

The breaking and giving of the self continues in the world in those who offer their lives for others in families, hospitals, schools, and other fields of life like St Alphonsa, Blessed Theresa of Kolkata or Blessed Kunjachan and many others dead and living among us. There are so many saints living among us even today who break themselves and offer everything for the well-being and growth of others.


Lord Jesus, you emptied yourself and took the form of a servant when you became man as your servant Paul has written (Phil 2: 6-7); now on our altars you appear as bread and wine to be eaten and drunk by us so that we may grow in your divine life. Open our spiritual eyes to see your own self in this marvellous gift you are giving us. Teach us to give ourselves to our sisters and brothers by sharing our time, our energy, our love, our knowledge, and above all, our hope in and love for you. Amen.

 

References

 

1. Translation from the New Community Bible, St .Pauls, Mumbai, 2008.

2. This is the oldest narration concerning the Last Supper in the New Testament. The Syro-Malabar Church has it in the Holy Qurbana.

3. Passion week, P. 226, 228

4. Passion Week, P.208.

5. Passion Week, P.209.

6. Passion Week, P.208.

Father George Kaniarakath, CMI

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